Iran nuclear deal: A brief history of what Tehran agreed to and how it all went wrong

After the US said on multiple occasions that it was ready to hold direct talks, Iran also said on Monday that it will consider the possibility of nuclear negotiations in what is being seen as a turning point in efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord.

FP Staff January 25, 2022 18:54:53 IST
Iran nuclear deal: A brief history of what Tehran agreed to and how it all went wrong

Despite all the posturing, the impetus for reaching a deal renewing the 2015 treaty remains strong for both sides. News18

After the US said on multiple occasions that it was ready to hold direct talks, Iran also said on Monday that it will consider the possibility of nuclear negotiations in what some are seeing as a last ditch attempt to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord.

Tehran has been engaged since last year in talks with the five other world powers still part of the agreement, which offered sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

In 2018, then-president Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal, reimposing US sanctions, and Iran later breached many of the deal's nuclear restrictions and kept pushing well beyond them.

Lately Washington has been taking part indirectly in the Vienna negotiations, which seek to bring the United States back into the nuclear accord and ensure Iran returns to its commitments.

On Monday Iran's foreign minister said his country would consider holding direct talks if doing so proved the key to a "good agreement" to salvage the floundering deal.

What was the deal, what did Iran agree to and how it all went south, let’s take a look at the Iran nuclear deal:

What was the Iran nuclear deal?

Iran nuclear deal, formally known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program reached in Vienna on 14 July 2015, between Iran and the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US) and Germany. The European Union was also part of the deal.

The aim of the deal was to have Iran unwind its nuclear program to an extent that if it decided to build a nuclear weapon, it would take at least a year, giving the rest of the world to respond.

Iran agreed to the deal and to dismantle much of its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief.

What Tehran agreed to under JCPOA

– According to the BBC, under the JCPOA, Iran was restricted to install no more than 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges at Natanz until 2026.

– Centrifuges are machines that spin at supersonic speeds and are used to enrich Uranium by increasing the content of its most fissile isotopes, U-235.

– Low-enriched Uranium can be used for fuel production, highly-enriched Uranium that has 20 per cent concentration of U-235 is used in research reactors. The weapons-grade Uranium has 90 per cent concentration of U-235. Restricting the number of centrifuges would also limit the country’s capacity to enrich weapons-grade Uranium.

– The country’s stockpile of enriched Uranium was also reduced to 300kg. Under the JCPOA, Iran was not to exceed this figure until 2031. It was also agreed that the stockpile’s level of enrichment must be kept at 3.67 per cent.

– Iran was asked to dismantle a heavy-water nuclear facility near the town of Arak. Spent fuel from a heavy-water reactor contains Plutonium that can be used for a nuclear bomb.

– Even though the reactor was not dismantled, Iran agreed that it would redesign the reactor so it does not produce any weapons-grade Plutonium and send all the spent fuel out of the country.

– Under the JCPOA, Iran also agreed that it will not build any more heavy-water reactors and will also not store excess heavy water till 2031.

– It was believed that JCPOA would prevent Iran from covertly building nuclear weapons. Under the terms, Iran agreed to implement a protocol that would allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog, to access any site in the country they consider suspicious.

– The inspectors were also tasked to monitor Iran’s declared nuclear sites and continuously verify that no fissile material is covertly moved to another location to build a bomb.

What the other parties agreed to under JCPOA

– The previously imposed sanctions by the UN, US, and EU that prevented Iran from Uranium enrichment had crippled its economy, costing it more than $160 billion in oil revenue from 2012 to 2016, according to a report by the BBC.

– By signing the JCPOA, all the signatories agreed to lift all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran and it was able to resume selling oil in international markets. The country also gained access to more than $100 billion in frozen assets.

– The parties also agreed to lift an existing UN ban on Iran’s transfer of weapons and ballistic missiles after five years if the nuclear watchdog certified that the country engaged only in civilian nuclear activities.

How it all went wrong

– The deal got off to a smooth start as the IAEA certified in 2016 that Iran was complying to the agreement. The US, UN and EU also responded by either repealing or suspending their sanctions on the country.

– In May 2018, then-US President Donald Trump pulled out of the JCPOA and reinstated all US sanctions the next month.

– Trump believed to “get a better deal” as he intended to compel Iran to negotiate a deal that would restrict its ballistic missile programme and its involvement in regional conflicts.

– Iran refused to agree to Trump’s deal as inflation soared to the highest levels in decades. Eventually as the sanctions further tightened in 2019, the country started to breach the JCPOA’s restrictions.

– According to the BBC, Iran accumulated a stockpile of enriched Uranium that was way larger than permitted in November 2021.

– Iran also started enrichment activities at Fordo, one of the two Uranium enrichment plants in the country, by installing advanced centrifuges.

Efforts to bring Iran and the US back to JCPOA

In April 2021, JCPOA signatories started talking in Vienna to bring the US and Tehran back into the deal.

Later in the year President Joe Biden said that the US will rejoin the JCPOA and lift the sanctions if Iran goes back on its violations.

His Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, said the US has to make the first move.

On Monday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said it was "possible" to reach an agreement on the release of Iranian and US prisoners and the nuclear deal.

"They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time," spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters.

Khatibzadeh's comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who a day earlier said it was unlikely Washington would strike an agreement on the nuclear deal unless Tehran releases four of its citizens.

The four US citizens are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

Washington is also holding  four Iranian nationals.

With inputs from agencies

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