On July 14, after 12 years of difficult negotiations between the international community and Iran over the country’s nuclear program and as a result of the unprecedented commitment demonstrated by the two sides over the past 20 months, an agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue has been reached.
Since April 2, when the parties announced a framework agreement in Lausanne, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran had been working on drafting the final text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): this is a complex and detailed document of about 150 pages (comprising a main text and five technical annexes), outlining the obligations of both sides for the next 10 years. In line with the key parameters of the framework agreement and building on the Joint Plan of Action, which the P5+1 and Iran signed in Geneva in November 2013, the JCPOA ensures the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program and its positive contribution “to regional and international peace and security”.
The agreement is intended to block all possible pathways through which Iran could acquire fissile material necessary for building a bomb, while extending the so-called breakout time (the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material to build one bomb) from the current 2-3 months to at least one year for the next decade. Iran’s installed centrifuges, currently amounting to nearly 20,000, (of which 9,000 are operational), will be reduced by two-thirds. For the next 10 years, the enrichment capacity of Natanz, with its 5,060 first-generation centrifuges (IR-1), will remain unchanged. For the next 15 years, at Fordow, which will be converted into a civilian nuclear, physics and technology center, 1,044 centrifuges will continue to be operational, but only for research scopes and without enriching uranium.
During a 15-year period, Iran will maintain its uranium stockpiles under 300kg, a fraction of the amount required to produce one single bomb, removing 98% of its current stockpile of enriched uranium. Furthermore, Iran will no longer produce highly enriched uranium, capping its levels to 3.67%, significantly below the level needed to create a nuclear weapon.
In order to guarantee that it will no longer produce any weapon-grade plutonium, Iran also agreed to redesign and modify its Arak heavy water reactor in cooperation with the US and other international partners, while shipping out all the spent fuel rods of the reactor out of the country.
Finally, the JCPOA includes a number of confidence-building measures and provisions increasing the level of monitoring and transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities, with the aim of ensuring that the country will not secretly pursue the weaponization of its nuclear program. Through the implementation of the Additional Protocol, the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be able to always have eyes on the ground, accessing the country’s nuclear facilities where and when necessary, to control that no fissile material will be covertly diverted to build a bomb. Through the JCPOA, by October Iran will also implement the Roadmap for Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding issues (also known as PMD) agreed with the IAEA, a fundamental step to clarify the nature of Iran’s past nuclear activities.
A series of balanced and reciprocal concessions will be granted to Iran in exchange for the country’s commitment to curb its nuclear program. First of all, Iran will achieve its long-sought goal of having its right to enrich exclusively for civilian purposes recognized. Furthermore, Iran will be able to continue its research and development activities by testing higher generation centrifuges (from IR-4 to IR-8), more capable than the current generation IR-1 currently operational, “in a manner that does not accumulate enriched uranium”. In 10 years, these centrifuges could then become operational in Iran.
As Iran implements its key obligations (the conversion of the Arak facility, the shipping of the stockpiles out of the country and the reduction of the number centrifuges in particular) and pending verification by the IAEA by December, all UN and unilateral sanctions imposed against the country as a result of its nuclear activities will be lifted in a phased way. If Iran violates its end of obligations, sanctions will however “snap” back into place, creating a real incentive for Tehran to follow through.
A Joint Commission consisting of the P5+1 and Iran will be established to verify that all the provisions of the JCPOA will be effectively implemented by the parties involved and will be in charge of handling the dispute resolution mechanism.
The announcement of the JCPOA constitutes only the first step, dubbed Finalization Day, toward the implementation of the agreement. The next step will require the P5+1 to submit a draft Resolution to the UN Security Council endorsing the agreement, and 90 days after, at Adoption Day, the commitments of both sides will come into effect. Implementation Day will occur when the IAEA will verify Iran’s compliance with its end of obligations and will entail the termination of EU and US nuclear-related sanctions. Transition Day, eight years after Adoption Day, will be linked to the conclusions of the IAEA that the nuclear material in Iran remains for peaceful activities only, after which Iran will ratify the Additional Protocol. The last stage of the implementation of the agreement will be marked by Termination Day, when the UN Security Council Resolution endorsing the JCPOA will be terminated, ten years after Adoption Day.
Albeit a historic day, July 14 therefore constitutes only the beginning of a long journey which, if successful, will ultimately result in the closure of the Iranian nuclear dossier and the normalization of the international community’s relations with Tehran.