When it comes to nuclear weapons and the Middle East, any deal is a big deal. As the epicentre of the earth in geography, energy, and theology, the last thing the world needs is a nuclear arms race in this strategic tinderbox of a region. That’s why for many years, the world has viewed with alarm the prospect of an atomic Iran.
Iran has consistently said that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes; nevertheless, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wanted nuclear weapons. In addition, the doctrine of taqiyya, which means to conceal a religious (apocalyptic) agenda when revealing it could bring danger, is well-known among western decision makers.
Israel sees the potential development of an Iranian nuclear device as an existential threat. Even Europe is perspiring at the brow: Iran’s missiles can reach many places in Europe. That’s why the United States (US), the United Nations (UN), and the European Union (EU) has slapped sanctions on Iran, which have been biting into its economy.
For this reason, the key members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, have been negotiating with Iran for the last 2 years to limit its nuclear program. The 100 page agreement reached in July 2015 is the most significant multilateral agreement in many years.
The goal of negotiations: To limit Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years. Please note: limit, not eliminate. This is because Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is entitled to peaceful nuclear energy (though why does a nation that has 10% of the world’s oil need nuclear energy, too?).
It is up to the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor the deal and the UN Security Council to approve on it.
First, the United States has a long history of negotiating on nuclear weapons, either with the Soviet Union during the Cold War or Bill Clinton with North Korea. Let’s face it: negotiation is much more preferable than war.
Second, despite Iran’s reputation as an exporter of revolutionary Islam and supporter of militant groups, it is a major regional power with pragmatic leadership. Though not stated out loud, President Obama may be hoping to bring Iran ‘out from the cold’ to engage its support in defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
What’s the Deal? In short, the world gets:
1. Centrifuges: Iran needs to limit its uranium-enriching centrifuges from 20,000 down to 6,104;
2. Uranium stockpile: For 15 years its nuclear stockpile will go from 5 tonnes to 300 kg.
3. Arak: The heavy water reactor in Arak is to be reconfigure so that it cannot produce plutonium;
4. Increased inspections: Iran must allow an unspecified amount of increased inspections of its facilities.
5. UN Arms Embargo of 2007: To remain in place for another 5 years (Russia has violated this already by selling Iran S-200 anti-aircraft missiles; it hopes to sell Iran another $7 billion in arms).
What does Iran get?
1. Sanction relief: All US, UN, and EU sanctions will be lifted;
2. Funds: $100-150 billion in Iranian assets will be unfrozen without any restrictions on how they can spend the money, including buying weapons or funding militant groups;
3. UN Resolutions: All resolutions declaring Iran’s nuclear program illegal will be repealed.
4. Centrifuges: Iran can keep all its centrifuges.
5. Facilities: Iran is allowed to keep its entire nuclear infrastructure, including the reactor at Bushehr and enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow.
6. No ‘on the spot’ inspections: Yes, there will be inspections but not ‘on the spot:’ Iran can delay them for up to 24 days.
7. Sunset clause: There is a sunset clause which means after 8 years Iran can begin enrichment again.
8. Dispute process: What if there is a violation? Then there is a dispute resolution process that can take up to 75 days. If the UN Security Council deems that Iran is in violation of the agreement and wishes to re-impose sanctions, there is the danger of a Russian veto.
Needless to say, there are many who are unenthusiastic about this deal. Israel is clearly alarmed, has declared it a ‘bad deal,’ and has not ruled out military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Jewish state has a track record of bombing Arab nuclear facilities, like in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. Iran, with its vast distances, numerous facilities located in deep underground locations, with SS-200 missiles to guard them, will be a far greater challenge - not to mention a potentially massive retaliation.
As was said earlier, talk is better than war. Even a bad deal need not be terminal; there are checks and balances in the process and the route can change. The main thing for any thinking person of faith: watch and pray (Mark 13:33).