On 14 July 2015, Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal, capping more than a decade of on-off negotiations with an agreement that could potentially transform the Middle East, and which Israel called an “historic surrender:.
Under the deal, sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations would be lifted in return for Iran agreeing long-term curbs on a nuclear programme that the West has suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.
Reaching a deal was a major policy victory for both US President Barack Obama and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist elected two years ago on a vow to reduce the diplomatic isolation of a country of 77 million people.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, called the deal “a bad mistake of historic proportions.”
Final talks in Vienna involved nearly three weeks of intense round-the-clock negotiations between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, entirely unprecedented between the two countries.
Western diplomats said under the final agreement, Iran had accepted a “snapback” mechanism, under which some sanctions could be reinstated in 65 days if it violated the deal. A UN weapons embargo would remain in place for five years and a ban on buying missile technology would remain for eight years.
There was a strong reason for the United States to improve its relations with Iran, as the two countries face a common foe in Islamic State, the Sunni Muslim militant group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq.
For Iran, the end of sanctions could bring a rapid economic boom by lifting restrictions that have drastically cut its oil exports and hurt its imports. The prospect of a deal had already helped push down global oil prices because of the possibility that Iranian supply could return to the market.
As per sgreement terms, Iran will reduce its installed enrichment centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,000, only 5,000 of which will be spinning. All of them will be first-generation centrifuges: none of its more advanced models can be used for at least 10 years, and R&D into more efficient designs will have to be based on a plan submitted to the IAEA.
Fordow, Iran’s second enrichment facility (its main one is at Natanz) which is buried deep within a mountain and thought to be impregnable to conventional air strikes, will cease all enrichment and be turned into a physics research centre. It will not produce or house any fissile material for at least 15 years. Iran also said it will reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (which can be spun further into weapons-grade material) from 10,000kg to 300kg for the next 15 years.
Iran’s alternative plutonium path to a bomb also appears to have been satisfactorily dealt with. The heavy-water reactor at Arak will be redesigned and its original core, which would have produced significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be removed and destroyed. No other heavy-water reactor will be built for 15 years.