You’ve heard it called the ‘Iran Nuclear Agreement,’ the ‘Iran Nuke Deal’ or even simply the ‘Iran Deal.’ The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an international agreement on the nuclear programs and activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran was signed on July 14, 2015 in Vienna, Austria by the E3/EU + 3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union) and has been a hot topic of debate ever since. The majority of Republicans say that the deal virtually gives Iran a nuclear bomb, while the majority of Democrats say that the agreement eliminates the chance of Iran getting a nuclear weapon. Of course, someone’s lying, and it’s probably both of them.
Iran hasn’t always been a state ruled by despotic, Islamic fundamentalists, there was a time when Iran was a democratic country – until the United Kingdom and the United States overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in a coup d’état in 1953. As it currently stands, as the Islamic Republic, Iran was founded on April 1, 1979, and the constitution was adopted on October 24, 1979, following the Iranian Revolution that ended the rule of the Shah (essentially put in place and supported by the US and UK). That same year, coincidentally, fifty-two American citizens and diplomatic officials were held hostage for 444 days after a group of Iranian students who were members of the group Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. It wasn’t until President Ronald Reagan’s first day in office on January 20, 1981, that the hostages were released.
So that’s how U.S.–Iran relations in the modern era began.
Then, the United States supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war that lasted from 1980-88, aiding them with military equipment, loans, and other strategic techniques to help on the attack of Iranian targets. The war ended in a ceasefire, and was ultimately fruitless for both sides, costing an estimated 500,000 military lives and a similar number of civilian casualties. There were also no changes in the borders of Iraq and Iran, a primary reason the war began. Then, of course, there was the Gulf War, which began in 1990, in which the United States led the charge in freeing Kuwait from Iraqi rule. Oh, well, you know what they say – keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
In 1986, in what was known as the Iran-Contra Affair, the US helped to sell weapons to Iran, and used the money to aid the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua. The Reagan Administration originally denied that the US had sold arms to Iran. A week later, Reagan recanted, and confirmed that weapons had in fact been transferred, with President Reagan addressing the nation and saying, “what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.” (PBS)
In 1995, President Bill Clinton imposed an embargo, declaring that American countries were no longer allowed to trade with Iran. Not long after, Congress passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which put further limitations on investing in energy from Iran.
After 9/11, President George W. Bush included Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, into his ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, claiming that if these three countries obtained nuclear weapons or long-range missiles they would pose a terroristic threat to the U.S. Since 2003, the US has been obtaining (or attempting to obtain) intelligence on Iran’s nuclear programs by flying drone-like vehicles over the country.
Although there have been several other quarrels and disputes over the years, the aforementioned events bring U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations essentially to date.
As for Iran’s nuclear capability, you can also, believe it or not, trace it back to the United States. Iran’s nuclear program began in the 1950’s with help from the US as part of the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program, and the first nuclear reactors in Iran were built with the help of American Machine and Foundry, a company more well known for making bowling equipment. Iran’s first nuclear power plant was built and completed in 2011, with significant help from Rosatom, a state-corporation owned entirely by the Russian government. If you’ll remember back to the beginning of this piece, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. They helped Iran build a nuclear power plant four years ago.
To make a long story short, as of now, no one wants Iran to have nuclear abilities. This is perhaps due in large part to their Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who says things like, “Of course, yes, death to America.” (The Times of Israel) That statement sums up Iranian feelings toward the West, and that is why diplomats from countries all over the world spent 20 months negotiating this deal. The chart below details the key points of the deal. (Sources: The Economist, and The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. Graph from Wikipedia)
(for 10-year period)
|After 15 years|
|19,138||capped at 6,104||Unconstrained|
|Advanced centrifuges installed||1,008||0||Unconstrained|
|7,154 kg||300 kg||Unconstrained|
|196 kg||0 kg||Unconstrained|
That is very technical and confusing, but the things to look at are the ‘After JCPOA’ and ‘After 15 Years.’ After the JCPOA, the number of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and uranium stockpiles goes down significantly, which limits their nuclear capabilities. The problem arises after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ends. At that point, all of the progress made by the JCPOA is essentially null-and-void, as Iran’s nuclear program goes unconstrained. This is where most of the debate in recent months has been centered. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the deal was a “historic mistake for the world.” (The Wall Street Journal) Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said that, “this proposed deal is a terrible, dangerous mistake.” Others, of course, have supported the deal. Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered the negotiations for the US, said, “history may judge it a turning point, a moment when the builders of stability seized the initiative from the destroyers of hope, and when we were able to show, as have generations before us, that when we demand the best from ourselves and insist that others adhere to a similar high standard. When we do that, we have immense power to shape a safer and a more humane world.” (Huffington Post)
Despite bipartisan objection to the deal, it will pass congress, as the White House recently swayed uneasy Democrats over to the pro-deal side. Around a dozen Democrats met at the Capitol with the diplomats from all over the world, including the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France, and were assured by the foreign powers that the JCPOA was the best deal that could be achieved, and that there was no intention of returning to Vienna to negotiate a new deal. Whether or not this deal truly is the best deal, and whether or not it really does solve the global issue of Iranian nuclear proliferation, time will tell. Until then, all we can do is listen to our elected representatives and hope they made the right choice. Though all we need to do is look at history, and I think we’ll find our answer.