By Arianna LaMarca | Staff Writer
You've probably flipped past the words in your local newspaper or seen them while scrolling down your newsfeed: the notorious "Iran Deal.” What is this deal and why does it seem to matter so much? Well, let’s break it down. To summarize, the Iran Deal is the moniker given to the historic deal between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council—the US, the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany as well as the European Union—regarding Iran's nuclear material. Under the provisions of this deal, Iran's potential pathways to creating a bomb have been blocked.
Basically, there are two main materials used to create nuclear bombs: uranium and plutonium. Iran's previous stockpile of uranium could provide fuel for 8 to 10 nuclear weapons. Under the deal, however, Iran has reduced its uranium stockpile by 98%, leaving it without the means to manufacture such a weapon. In addition, the 20,000 centrifuges needed to create highly enriched uranium are being reduced to a mere 6,000—again, not enough to quickly create a weapon.
Moreover, their ability to manufacture plutonium (the other path to nuclear weapons) has been cut off entirely, with Iran's main reactor in Arak having been entirely redesigned so as to be unable to produce weapons-grade plutonium. According to the official statement on the White House website, Iran has also agreed to allow outside officials to rigorously inspect their nuclear activity. In short, Iran's paths to building nuclear weapons have been blocked, or at the very least severely delayed. If Iran decided to construct a nuclear weapon, it would take them roughly a year to accomplish, as opposed to the two to three month span it would take them before the deal was accomplished.
It's important to note that this deal does not prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the future—it merely delays that possibility for 10 to 15 years. Thus, we should not put Iran out of our minds for too long, but allow ourselves to breathe a little easier for the time being.
Of course, Iranian officials didn't agree to this deal purely out of the kindness of their hearts. In exchange for their cooperation, the UN and the US have agreed to lift their extensive economic sanctions, allowing the Iranians renewed access to the oil market as well as approximately $100 billion of frozen funds and assets. Should Iran violate any aspect of the agreement, the US/UN/EU claims they will snap the sanctions back into place.
At its best, the deal has been hailed internationally as a historic step in the name of diplomacy and a big turning point towards normalizing EU-Iran relations. BBC notes that critics of the deal, most notably Israel, worry that Iran’s new access to international markets will strengthen their already powerful position in the region. And despite the recent release of American and Iranian prisoners, some are skeptical of a thaw in the historically frosty US-Iran relationship.
Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the main architects of the deal, acknowledges the flaws but insists that the deal allows for a renewed focus on civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the ongoing conflict in Libya, and North Korea's continued nuclear ambitions. Only time will tell, but one thing’s for sure—this deal marks a significant shift in the international political structure, and we would all do well to keep an eye out for long-term consequences.