The United States and Iran, in conjunction with the P5+1 world powers, have struck a historic accord that paves the way for a final settlement of the long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. On the fourth day of the most recent round of talks, in bargaining that lasted until 3 am, the P5+1 and Iran concluded an interim agreement, as widely expected, to freeze Iran’s nuclear program at roughly its current state. In exchange, the United States and the P5+1 have agreed on a modest but significant relaxation of economic sanctions on Iran. The next step, which the parties expect to take up to six months, is to complete a deal in which an end to sanctions is exchanged for a continued freeze and partial rollback of Iran’s program, in a way—guaranteed by more intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—that provides clear assurances that Iran is not on the path toward nuclear weapons.
The substance of the accord reached in Geneva is a breakthrough, but the politics of the agreement is equally important. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry signed the deal in explicit, full-frontal defiance of American hawks, neoconservatives and hardliners, the Israel lobby, and anti-Iran partisans in Congress. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his team, backed by President Hassan Rouhani—elected in June with a mandate to do exactly this—have similarly defied their own country’s hardliners and skeptics, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and by what Zarif calls Iran’s own Tea Party. And the United States struck the deal despite outright hostility, bordering on hysteria, from its two chief allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
According to the terms of the agreement, Iran has agreed to halt all uranium enrichment above the range of 3.5 to 5 percent purity, which is low-enriched, fuel-grade uranium. Its stockpile of medium-enriched, 20 percent purity uranium will be neutralized by conversion into a product that cannot be used for weapons. It will not produce any new centrifuges except those needed to replace ones that break down, and it will not start spinning those now in place, including advanced centrifuges, that aren’t currently in use. It will not add to its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium, either, although it can continue to refine uranium to 5 percent purity as long as some of it is converted to fuel rods and other, nonmilitary product. Its heavy water reactor at Arak, which could produce material to process into plutonium, will be frozen. And Iran has agreed to far more intrusive IAEA inspections, including daily inspections at Natanz and at the underground facility at Fordow.
Both President Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, have endorsed the accord, in part because for the first time the United States and the P5+1 have tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium under the terms of the Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, by agreeing to permit Iran’s continuing enrichment to 5 percent. Rouhani said that the deal seals Iran’s “nuclear rights,” and, according to Al Arabiya, Khamenei said: “The nuclear negotiating team should be thanked and appreciated for this achievement. God’s grace and the support of the Iranian nation were the reasons behind this success.”