Negotiators reached a historic agreement on July 14, 2015 to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions. Currently, the deal is pending in Congress. Congress has the right to review the deal, to approve or disapprove it, and then to overrule a presidential veto if a sufficient number of members of Congress choose to do so. While it is likely that the deal will pass, should Congress disapprove, it would cast doubt on the United States’ ability as a global leader and would likely send the international community into chaos.
For America, France, Britain, China, Russia, and Germany, the deal is an opportunity to prevent Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear warhead. The goal is to extend Iran’s “breakout capability”—the amount of time needed to create enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. The current time was estimated to be somewhere between two months and a year. The Iran deal seeks to expand the breakout capability to a decade or more.
For Iran, the repeal of sanctions will allow for robust economic growth. The country has long suffered under the severity of these sanctions, which have crippled Iran’s resource-driven economy particularly their crude petroleum production and exportation.
In order to increase Iran’s breakout capability, the deal outlines two systems by which to curb the uranium and plutonium paths to creating a nuclear warhead. To curb uranium, Iran has agreed to convert or shutdown nearly half of its centrifuges and to limit enrichment to 3.7%. This is considered insufficient for a bomb rush. To curb plutonium, Iran has agreed to redesign the Arak reactor so it cannot produce weapon-grade plutonium. Furthermore, they agreed to not build any more heavy nuclear reactors for fifteen years.
The Iran deal has been highly discussed over the past month since President Obama announced the agreement’s accord. The deal has ardent critics and supporters. Those against the deal believe that it merely delayed the inevitable and in fact structured a timeline for Iran to build a bomb over the next decade. Furthermore, critics believe that the billions of dollars soon to pour into Iran due to the repeal of sanctions will be used for state-funded terrorism in the Middle East.
However, critics have yet to propose viable alternatives. The two most debated are war and increased sanctions. Most America’s are vehemently against going to war in Iran over the production of a nuclear bomb; however, war is likely the backup plan in D.C. should Iran make sudden movement towards a bomb rush. The other alternative would likely cast Iran into massive economic decay. The country’s leadership, elected on the basis of economic recovery, would be ousted, and anti-American leadership would likely take hold and revolt against the severity of increased sanctions. Of course the reasoning behind both of these alternatives is hypothetical; however, neither seems to pose a serious alternative to diplomacy.
All in all, the opportunity in the Iran deal lies in a stable Middle East and a potential ally in Iran. Ideally this will be accomplished by time: President Obama’s hope is that as the years pass, the more moderate democratic Iranian youth will begin to lead the country to a more pro-western outlook. It is hard to say that this is entirely likely or that the deal will do anything but extend the timeline for a nuclear warhead, but without viable alternatives, diplomacy, in a time of chaos, seems like our best hope.