How We Finally Arrived At A Nuclear Deal With Iran
After more than 10 years of negotiations to address Iran’s nuclear policy, a nuclear deal has finally been reached. We have certainly entered a new phase in our relationship with Iran. This is the end of a long and harrowing diplomatic journey.
Iran Was Our Ally
Under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran launched a civilian nuclear program as part of President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace initiative, which promoted the use of civilian nuclear technology in less-developed countries in 1953. The initiative aimed to conclude non-proliferation agreements with the newly nuclear nations that would prevent them from pursuing atomic weapons in the future.
The Tehran Nuclear Research Center was established in 1967 with a reactor fueled with highly enriched uranium; however, in 1968 Iran and 51 other countries signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, thereby pledging never to become nuclear-weapon states.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran was established in 1974, which trained personnel and concluded nuclear deals with countries including France, the United States and West Germany. A West German company began building two light-water reactors at the Bushehr nuclear complex, 760 kms (470 miles) south of Tehran. In 1978, after years of refusals from a United States increasingly wary of Iran’s ultimate nuclear ambitions, the U.S. agreed to let Tehran reprocess US-supplied nuclear fuel in exchange for implementing additional safeguards.
Islamic Revolution of 1979
The Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah, and his successor canceled the $6.2 billion contract for constructing power plants at the Bushehr complex. The United States reneged on its former deal with Tehran and stopped supplying enriched uranium for the Tehran research reactor. All nuclear cooperation with the United States is suspended when a hostage crisis erupts in January at the US embassy in Tehran, which lasts until January 1981.
Iran-Iraq War (1980-88)
During it, the Ayatollah Khamenei secretly restarted Iran’s nuclear program and sought German assistance to complete construction at Bushehr. With help from China, Iran established a nuclear research facility at Isfahan in 1984 that eventually became Iran’s second-largest nuclear complex and the suspected focus of the country’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. In the late 1980s, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, sold uranium enrichment technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Iran announced its intention to sign an $800 million contract with Russia in 1995 to build one of two light-water reactors at the Bushehr nuclear facility. Amid growing fears that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, then president Bill Clinton in 1996 imposes US sanctions on foreign companies investing in Iran.
George W. Bush
As The Guardian outlines, the opening for these negotiations began in August 2002 when the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled Iranian opposition group, released details of the location of a heavy-water production facility at Arak and a nuclear fuel production facility being built at Natanz, prompting international fears that Iran was on track to develop nuclear weapons.
As the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces loomed in February 2003, Iranian President Khatami acknowledged the existence of the Natanz facility claiming it was only intended to produce low-enriched uranium fuel for nuclear power plants. Iran agrees to a request from UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to visit the Natanz site. IAEA visits in late February and Iran promises to submit to inspections.
Iran allowed IAEA to visit the Kalaye Electric Company in May 2003, but refused to allow IAEA inspectors to take samples. Then in June, the IAEA report concluded that Iran failed to meet its obligations under the safeguards agreement. Following the IAEA report, in June, the UK, Germany and France (the EU-3) launch a joint diplomatic effort to address Iran’s nuclear policy. The US refused to be involved in the talks. Under threat of referral to the UN security council, Iran reached an agreement with the EU-3, known as the Tehran Declaration, where they agreed to cooperate fully with the IAEA and suspend all uranium enrichment.
In August 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a supporter of the country’s nuclear program, is elected President of Iran. Almost immediately afterwards, the EU-3 deal began to fall apart as Iran resumed the conversion of uranium at the Isfahan facility. This was solidified when Ahmadinejad gave a speech at the United Nations stating that Iran has the right to develop a nuclear power program.
The IAEA voted to report Iran to the UN security council in February 2006. After the vote, Iran announced it will resume enrichment of uranium. In April, Ahmadinejad announced Iran has joined the group of countries that have nuclear technology, but adds that this is purely for providing power, not producing weapons. Many were surprised at the speed which the Iranians could produce enriched uranium.
This prompted China, the US and Russia join the UK, Germany and France to form the P5+1 in June 2006. The term refers to the five permanent member states of the UN security council, plus Germany, which is one of Iran’s key trading partners.
In July 2006, the UN security council passed its first resolution demanding Iran stop its uranium enrichment and processing activities. From 2006 through 2010, the security council adopted a total of six resolutions and imposed gradual sanctions on Iran, including freezing assets of individuals and companies related to the enrichment program and banning the supply of nuclear-related technology to the country.
By November 2007 Iran says it has at least 3,000 centrifuges for enrichment, which in theory would allow it to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb in less than a year. Today it has nearly 20,000, of which half are active. In December 2007, a US National Intelligence Estimate report says “with high confidence” that in 2003 Iran halted efforts to develop nuclear weapons, but “at a minimum” is keeping open an option to resume.
In September 2009, President Obama revealed the existence of an underground enrichment facility in Fordow, near the Iranian city of Qom. In October, Iran agreed to swap low-enriched uranium for reactor fuel, but the deal unraveled and in February 2010 Iran begins enriching uranium close to bomb-grade for “nuclear medicine” it said. Another fuel swap plan, this time involving Brazil and Turkey, fell apart, and in 2011, the Russian-completed Bushehr power reactor, first begun by Germany’s Siemens, begins operating.
In November 2011, an IAEA report, collating “broadly credible” intelligence, says that at least until 2003 Iran “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”. The following month the US Congress passes legislation sanctioning lenders who dealt with Iran’s central bank.
In January 2012, the EU banned all member states from importing Iranian oil. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose country is widely assumed to have nuclear weapons, brandished a diagram of a bomb at the UN General Assembly, calling for a “clear red line” to be drawn under Iran’s program. In March 2013, the US began a series of secret talks with Iranian officials, which are kept from its partners in the P5+1.
In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran. He was considered more moderate, pragmatic and willing to negotiate than Ahmadinejad so much so that in September 2013, Obama telephoned Rouhani, the first contact between leaders of the US and Iran since 1979. The phone call, as well as a meeting between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, a day earlier, is seen as the beginning of a new era of cooperation between the countries.
In November 2013, Iran and the P5+1 reach an interim agreement, known as the joint plan of action. The agreement limited Iran’s nuclear program. Production at the Arak heavy-water reactor ceased and Iran depleted much of its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium. Sanctions against Iran were partially lifted and assets werre unfrozen.
Deadlines for a comprehensive agreement were not met throughout 2014, with a final deadline being set at the end of June 2015. In March, leaders met in Switzerland to finalize an agreement. The beginning of April saw Iran and world powers announce a framework deal to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief and commit to finalizing a comprehensive deal by the end of June. Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, describes the deal as a “decisive step”. Iranians celebrate in the streets at the prospect of a deal and the lifting of sanctions.
This past June and July saw a lot of posturing from leaders and countries over walking away from the deal, the ability to shock the world, and bad faith. In other words, a typical negotiation. Finally, a deal was announced last night.