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5 Things You Need to Know About the Iran-U.S. Deal Over Nuclear Program

The interim deal over the nuclear energy program marks a new era for U.S.-Iran relations.

Photo Credit: AFP


History was made Saturday night when Western powers and Iran struck an interim deal over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program.  After weeks and weeks of tough negotiations, which followed years of unfruitful talks, the P5 plus 1 (permanent members of the Security Council and Germany) traded sanctions relief for some Iranian steps to halt the country’s uranium enrichment program.

The West has long believed that Iran’s enrichment program is a cover for building a nuclear weapon, which Iran denies.  Both U.S. and Israeli intelligence have concluded that the political decision to make a weapon has not been made by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. The Obama administration hailed the deal as one that would halt progress towards becoming a nuclear weapons state.

“Simply put, [the negotiators] cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb,” said President Obama in a speech after the deal was signed.

It marked a new era for U.S.-Iran relations.  After decades of mistrust, complete with a shadow war waged around the world, the U.S. and Iran came together to talk and hash out their differences.  While the deal is only an interim one, it buys six months of time in order to negotiate an even more far-reaching accord.  It also sparked intense opposition from members of Congress and Israel.

Here’s what you should know about the deal that was inked in Geneva on Saturday night:

1.  Sanctions Relief for Curbs to Nuclear Program

The basic parameters of a deal have been known for a while, and not much shifted from those parameters when it came to the deal reached in Geneva.  Iran will halt enriching uranium above the 5 percent level and “neutralize” its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium; that makes the level of enrichment further away from the 90 percent needed to make a nuclear weapon.  Iran will stop installing new centrifuges, the equipment needed to enrich uranium, according to the deal. Additionally, the Islamic Republic will stop working on the Arak reactor, a heavy-water facility Western powers suspect could be used to produce plutonium, which is an alternate path towards a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s side of the bargain will be monitored by unprecedented levels of inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  

In return, the U.S. has agreed to sanctions relief that could result in about 7 billion for Iran .  The country has been under crippling economic sanctions over its uranium enrichment.  The measures the U.S. agreed to will allow Iran temporary access to oil assets that have been inaccessible.  The U.S. has also agreed to suspend sanctions on gold and metals, the auto sector, and allow for Iranian petrochemical exports.  Europe and the U.S. also agreed not to impose new sanctions over the next 6 months, something that some members of Congress are none too happy about.  

2. Israeli and Congressional Opposition

The run-up to the Geneva talks was marked by vociferous objections from the Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most ardent backers in Congress. They are opposed to the deal because it allows Iran to continue enriching uranium, a capability they want completely dismantled--a condition Iran will never agree to. Left unsaid is that Israel has its own nuclear weapons program.

Nevertheless, Israel and Congress have continued to stand against the deal after it was signed.   Netanyahu said that the dealwas a “historic mistake” that has “ made the world a much more dangerous place...For years the international community has demanded that Iran cease all uranium enrichment. Now, for the first time, the international community has formally consented that Iran continue its enrichment of uranium.” Many Congressional members--most of them Republicans, but some Democrats as well--agree.

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