Understanding Iran Nuclear Deal Trump Loves to Hate: QuickTake
Iran’s nuclear capabilities have been the subject of global hand-wringing for more than two decades. While Iran’s leaders long insisted the country was not building nuclear weapons, its enrichment of uranium and history of deception created deep mistrust. After more than two years of negotiations and threats to bomb the country’s facilities, Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to settle the dispute. The deal set limits on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that crimped oil exports and hobbled its economy. However, hostility toward Iran under U.S. President Donald Trump raises the risk that the agreement will fall apart.
Trump has called the pact the “worst deal ever” and has repeatedly threatened to upend it one way or another. Under the agreement − which was signed by Iran, the U.S., China, France, Russia, Germany, the U.K. and the European Union − Iran maintains the ability to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It retains about 5,000 centrifuges capable of separating the uranium-235 isotope from uranium ore. For 15 years, it agreed to refine the metal to no more than 3.7 percent enrichment, the level needed to fuel nuclear power plants, and pledged to limit its enriched-uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms, 3 percent of its stores in May 2015. The International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran eliminated its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which can be used to make medical isotopes and to power research reactors but could also be purified to weapons-grade at short notice. Inspectors also confirmed that Iran destroyed a reactor capable of producing plutonium. Subsequent IAEA assessments since the deal took effect found Iran sticking to its obligations. U.S. officials estimated that the pact extended the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a bomb from a few months to a year. Trump says that, because of its sunset clauses, the deal will “give” Iran nuclear weapons. He also objects that Iran’s long-range missile program was not curtailed by the agreement. Concerned that the U.S. will disrupt the accord, European officials have held discussions with their American counterparts on how to moderate Iran’s missile program.