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Understanding Iran and the Nuclear “Joint Plan of Action”

Foreign Minister of Iran Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry

Foreign Minister of Iran Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry

On November 23rd, a “Joint Plan of Action” was reached in Geneva between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, Russia, China, France and the UK) and Germany, known collectively as the P5+1. This temporary agreement is the first of its kind between the international community and Iran concerning Iran’s nuclear program. There is a lot of debate over the deal itself and how Iran is expected to act, but the base reality is that this is an important and symbolic first step to possible progress. The “Joint Plan of Action” is not a comprehensive deal; Iran is not going to immediately shut down all its nuclear infrastructure, but it has not in any way been given a free pass to building nuclear weapons either.

The biggest takeaway is that this is purposely a tentative first step that will last six months with the possibility of renewal. This plan should be met with provisional optimism rather than immediate condemnation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the interim plan a ‘historic mistake‘ and said the world today is more dangerous because of it. Private opposition groups highlight the Iran of the past in Youtube ads calling for more sanctions. However, much of this criticism is based on a deep mistrust of Iranian intentions rather than a disagreement than the content of the plan itself. Iran’s attitude towards Israel and its history warrants a level of skepticism, but refusing to acknowledge the possibility of taking mutually beneficial steps forward is shortsighted.

The text of “Joint Plan of Action” includes provisions stating:

1. Iran does not increase uranium enrichment over 5%, reduces its level of uranium enriched to 20%, and agrees to not advance activity at key nuclear sites such as adding new centrifuges

2. Iran allows for increased monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

3.  The US and European Union will provide sanctions relief and not impose any new nuclear-related sanctions

President Obama stated that the plan cuts off Iran’s primary route to a nuclear bomb. Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has indicated before he is against nuclear weapons in Iran, also supported the deal.  Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani, generally regarded as significantly less aggressive than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, praised the outcome as well. Rouhani went on to say that the world has recognized Iranian nuclear rights and affirmed that Iran had no intentions of seeking nuclear weapons. Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear the plan does not condone Iranian enrichment, but hailed the joint plan for its step in the right direction.

Skeptics argue that this plan is just a false front for the Iranians in order to have sanctions lifted. Regardless of Iran’s intentions, the opening of nuclear sites to international inspectors is critical to a more comprehensive understanding of Iran’s nuclear program and its future ambitions.Over the next six months, time will tell just how sincere Iran is about clearly pursuing a peaceful nuclear program. The provisions in the plan suggest that at least at face value the Iranians do wish to negotiate, which opens up options for both sides to move forward constructively.

The plan is non-binding, so if Iran were to shirk from any of the provisions it has agreed to, the international community can and should respond by returning sanctions and increasing pressure against Iran. However, if IAEA inspectors confirm that Iran is abiding by the provisions of the plan and reversing its nuclear enrichment, such skepticism should be tabled. Bashing a plan before it has a chance to work is counterproductive, because there is a definite opportunity for the international community to learn more about Iran’s true goals and capabilities. Iran is signaling that it is willing to come to the table on the nuclear issue, but the extent to which they are serious about scaling down their nuclear ambitions can only be proven over time. The US and international community should treat the plan and Iran’s willingness to move forward with cautious optimism in the months ahead.

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