Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy
22 September 2015
Negotiation is an essential tool of diplomacy, as weapons are of war. The recently concluded Iran deal represents a major diplomatic achievement arrived at by long and patient negotiation. Its significance is likely to go far beyond the terms of the accord itself and must be judged in a broader diplomatic and strategic context. The Iran nuclear deal is important first and foremost for the stringent limits it places on Iran’s nuclear programmes – the principal goal of the negotiations. US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been quick to deny that expectations of broader detente were in any way the premise for the negotiation. But the agreement does, in fact, have the potential to open up the frozen dialogue between the US and Iran and permit a broader discussion of urgent regional issues. This potential unblocking of the relationship could be one of the agreement’s great rewards.
The principal features of the Iran nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have been amply discussed elsewhere. Coming into the negotiations, Iran possessed a large stockpile of enriched uranium and some 20,000 centrifuges. Before the E3/EU+3 and Iran concluded the November 2013 interim deal, Iran was rapidly expanding its centrifuge capacity at a rate of 700 per month, and was preparing to operate even more capable centrifuges. It possesses an underground uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow that is less vulnerable to airstrikes, and was about a year or so away from completing a heavy-water reactor at Arak that would potentially provide a plutonium path to a nuclear weapon. According to US estimates, Iran possesses enough uranium (if enriched further) to produce eight to ten bombs. Its breakout time (the time it would need to produce enough uranium enriched to the 90% U-235 level needed for a nuclear weapon) was estimated at two to three months.1