Two Months In: A Look at the Iran Deal

The Iran Deal, customarily known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is the international agreement between Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and the European Union (EU). The deal was formally agreed upon on 14 July 2015 and officially implemented on 16 January 2016.

Image courtesy of US Department of State © 2015, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of US Department of State © 2015, some rights reserved.

Historic in nature, the deal did not come into fruition easily. Drafted and debated for over 20 months, it is hailed as a successful feat of diplomacy—where action was accomplished over the negotiating table and not on a battlefield. The agreement was signed by eight foreign ministers who collectively represent 37 countries worldwide.

However, the JCPOA was not signed without its fair share of criticism. The clear opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement were nearly 200 retired U.S. generals and admirals, much of the U.S. congressional GOP, and most of Israel, including opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Many of these government leaders and policy makers held the pessimist view that Iran’s motives were only for immediate economic relief, and once the deal met its expiration date, Iran would return to its nuclear ambitions. In light of these concerns, the U.S. President Obama guaranteed that, although not perfect, the deal would span across fifteen years, ensuring nonproliferation and disbarment of nuclear weapons in Iran and in the greater Middle Eastern region during that time.

Under the Deal, Iran must eliminate in its entirety the stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and cut the current amount of low-enriched uranium by 98 per cent. Additionally, Iran has agreed to not build any new heavy water facilities and reduce its gas centrifuges by two-thirds.

After the previous glaring criticism and concern in the spring and summer of 2015, there seems to be a lull two months after the deal was implemented in January 2016. ‘So far, the agreement appears to be working, with Iran meeting the nuclear commitments that paved the way for lifting of nuclear-related sanctions,’ argued Dalia Dassa Kaye, a journalist who has been visiting the region over the last year.

The most recent IAEA report, derestricted on 9 March 2016, commended Iran for its continued cooperation leading up to and throughout the process of implementing the JCPOA agreement. Iran’s transparency with the agency about centrifuge manufacturing and inventory, activities related to enrichment and fuel, and activities related to heavy water and reprocessing was also noted.

It is likely that the Iranians will continue to meet their nuclear commitments to maintain the economic relief experienced in the country following the lifting of major sanctions by Western Powers. The lifting of economic sanctions on Iran unlocks potential investments worth up to $200 billion. Iran’s domestic economy is home to almost 80 million people, and is believed that it will grow at a faster rate than China in 2016 because of its industries with significant foreign interest like energy, aviation, automotive, banking and consumer goods.

In an interview with an Iran expert, she explained that despite the positive impact of some of the sanctions being lifted, Iranians are saying more will need to be done on the economic front. Iran wants more foreign investments, as the previous sanctions left the country outside of the global economy for over a decade.

Iran’s President Rouhani explained on 20 March 2016 that the government’s main policy after the nuclear deal is to, ‘attract foreign investment, expand non-oil exports and make optimum use of [unfrozen] foreign exchange reserves’.

Although many European companies can engage in business with Iran, many American firms are finding themselves held up by ‘primary sanctions’ and many companies are waiting for detailed guidelines from the U.S. Treasury before doing business with Iran.

Interestingly, the Iran Deal has allowed Western criticism of Iran to shift away from the conceptual framework of Iran as a ‘nuclear problem’ to Iran as a ‘regional problem’. Human rights issues as well as strong concerns that Iran is still funding terrorist organizations including the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shi’a militias in Iraq and Yemen were on the top of the Iran expert’s list.

The already unsteady relationship between Iran and the UN Security Council and the EU, is further complicated by Iran’s role in the Middle Eastern region, Iran’s involvement in proxy wars, and Iran’s own internal governance structure.

For all of the concerns voiced, the fear Iran will ‘cheat’ may be the greatest among them. President Obama assured the U.S. Congress, the American people, and the international community that the Iran Deal ‘is not built on trust, it is built on verification’.

The JCPOA specifically states (paragraph 26) that all nuclear-related sanctions will be re-imposed or ‘snap back’ if at any point Iran fails to fulfill the obligations outlined in the JCPOA agreement or is caught ‘cheating’ the IAEA verification system.

Furthermore, the JCPOA agreement in no way prevents or limits the international community’s ability to impose sanctions on Iran for other non-nuclear criminal activities. U.S. Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, Colin Kahl, stated, ‘If Iran diverts some of the resources they get from sanctions relief to ratchet up their support for terrorism and other criminal activities, none of our tools—our sanctions tools to go after terrorism or human rights abuses—fall away as a consequence of this [JCPOA] agreement.’

To date, Iran has stayed true to its side of the deal and the Iran nuclear agreement’s implementation has gone smoothly. Feeling the benefit of having its over decade-long sanctions lifted, Iran is eager to benefit from foreign investment and develop its growing economy. However, two months of honest disarmament is not enough. If Iran’s goal is to be a trusted stakeholder in the international system, it will have to pay closer attention to human rights issues and make sure not violate internationally-recognized laws about non-state terrorist organizations.