The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran deal, is an agreement made between Iran, the P5+1 (the five lasting individuals from the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, in addition to Germany) and the European Union that puts restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programs. Iran decided to comply with not making weapons-grade plutonium, abiding to limitations on the amount of uranium enrichment they are allowed to reach, and allowing the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) from the United States to come and inspect sites of interest. In exchange for these restrictions, the United States will slowly lift sanctions on Iran, part of a multi-year bargain, although they will not all be lifted at once. The deal includes a snapback clause where sanctions can be reinstated if Iran violates the terms agreed upon.
The birth of the JCPOA was initiated under the Obama administration in 2013. This deal was constructed through communication between Ali Asghar Khaji and Iranian authorities based in Oman, along with Foreign Service Officer William Joseph Burns and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan from the United States. After rounds of dealings, on July 14, 2015, Iran and the P5+1 declared a comprehensive deal. Iran and the IAEA agreed upon terms regarding the cap put upon the use of nuclear weapon resources that included “no production of additional IR-1 centrifuges [and] 15 years level of uranium enrichment capped at 3.67 percent uranium 235,”1 halting Iranian advancement of nuclear weaponry and locking Iran in for 15 years.
Why did the US pull out?
On May 8, 2018, the Trump administration pulled out of JCPOA, imposing the previous US sanctions on Iran prior to the JCPOA agreement. The largest factor that struck the most support and reasoning for the US pulling out was “its unconditional sunset clauses.” This is a condition where the different limitations forced on Iran’s nuclear program terminate, in which pundits state that the clauses furnish Iran with a patient pathway to obtaining nuclear weapons.4 The arrangements components are time-restricted, such as the quantity of centrifuges that can be in use, or the measure of low-enriched uranium that Iran can have at any time. Former President Donald Trump and other critics of the deal were worried about Iran’s behavior after these restrictions lapse, leaving this deal to be nothing more than a kick-the-can-down-the-road agreement where “one can almost set the countdown clock to when Iran can resume its nuclear weapons program”4 according to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
On the other hand, JCPOA supporters thought the premature pull out of the deal made the US come across as distrustful and inconsistent. This rash decision made by the Trump administration can very well hinder the United States’ ability to induct themselves into future agreements. Obama’s take on the administration’s decision was that it “puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.”2 This decision will continue to promote destabilization in the Middle East and does not appear to benefit any parties. After the pull out, “Iran then announced that it would take the next step and begin enriching beyond the 3.67% level allowed by the deal, to 4.5% […] Iranian officials said that Iran had begun activating advanced centrifuges that spin much faster than the ones they were using previously.”5 This is deemed a violation despite the United States’ noncompliance, but wouldn’t have happened if the administration had stayed consistent.
What does the change in administration mean for the JCPOA?
Since the United States has progressed passed the Trump administration for now and has welcomed the Biden administration into the White House, President Joe Biden has made promises to reconcile with the Iranian government and revisit the JCPOA in order to reenter the deal. Regardless of Biden’s campaign trail promises, Iran is willing to renegotiate but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demands “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, challenging President Joe Biden to take the first step toward renegotiation.
Iran does not intend to twiddle their thumbs forever, leaving the United States limited time to initiate reentry talks. Iran now has new demands that are not guaranteed to be met by President Joe Biden. Iranian leaders said they had a “precondition that all US sanctions against Iran must be lifted unconditionally”6 back in 2021 when Biden first took office.
More recently, the hopes of revival of the deal have strayed further from reality. Last week, the United States designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a “foreign terrorist organization,” obstructing possibilities for the JCPOA’s revival, which was something that President Biden was very vocal about reentering during his campaign. Revival of this deal seems to be a longshot as the JCPOA leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of Republicans who don’t see the deal as completely blocking Iran’s ability to create nuclear weapons. Due to Republicans being projected to win the majority in the upcoming congressional election, Biden’s ambitions to enter the deal seem to be straying further out of reach.
The United States’ inconsistency due to administration changes can heavily deteriorate its ethos and has thrown Iran into a deeper distrust of the West, along with the parties involved. Maximum pressure sanctions do not seem to be the road to travel since Iran is still attempting to prevail and expand its program despite economic hardships. The United States needs to take into consideration how these sanctions affect innocent civilians, as they cause them not only to suffer economic hardships but have stifled imports of medical supplies due to restricted trade, increasing the spread of disease. Not only do the sanctions affect innocent civilians directly but also further climate change as well since nuclear energy is “one of the most efficient sources to produce electricity without contributing to global warming.”7 What is needed is diplomatic action, with an unconditional compromise, leaving all parties satisfied with the safety and well-being of their country and the globe.
Raehaneh Tork is an Iranian American who was born and raised in Reston, Virginia. She was an active member of the debate team in high school, taking her school to both Districts and States competitions. Her involvement in the debate team fueled her interest in political science when she entered college at George Mason University. She graduated as an honor student all the while sustaining a job throughout working towards her undergraduate degree in Government and International Politics. Raehaneh is also a big supporter of local small businesses and tries to shop small and sustainable as much as possible.
- Al Jazeera. “Iran's Rouhani Denounces US Sanctions as 'Economic Terrorism'.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 8 Dec. 2018, www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/iran-rouhani-denounces-sanctions-economic-terrorism-181208065401014.html
- Macfarlane , Julia. “Jittery World Leaders Rethink Iran Nuclear Deal after US Pullout.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 9 May 2018, abcnews.go.com/International/jittery-world-leaders-rethink-iran-nuclear-deal-us/story?id=55043074.
- Landau, Emily B. Iran’s Nuclear Violations: JCPOA and Beyond. Institute for National Security Studies, 2019, www.jstor.org/stable/resrep19382. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.
- Section 3: Understanding the JCPOA, Arms Control Association, www.armscontrol.org/print/7141.
- Murphy, Francois. “Explainer-How Close Is Iran to Producing a Nuclear Bomb?” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 4 Jan. 2021, www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-explainer/explainer-how-close-is-iran-to-producing-a-nuclear-bomb-idUSKBN2991DK.
- Kenyon, Peter. “Iran Demands U.S. Lift Sanctions Before It Reenters Nuclear Deal.” NPR, NPR, 20 Feb. 2021, www.npr.org/2021/02/20/969703376/iran-demands-u-s-life-sanctions-before-it-reenters-nuclear-deal.
- Gonçalves, André. “Is Nuclear Energy Clean and Ecological?” Youmatter, 10 Feb. 2020, https://youmatter.world/en/is-nuclear-energy-clean-zero-emissions-and-ecological/.