On the one-year anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal, US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said the accord has successfully curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities and has made the world safer, proving the critics wrong.
“As of today, one year later, a program that so many people said will not work, a program that people said is absolutely doomed to see cheating and be broken and will make the world more dangerous, has, in fact, made the world safer, lived up to its expectations, and thus far produced an ability to be able to create a peaceful nuclear program with Iran living up to its part of this bargain and obligation,” said Kerry, one of the main architects of the accord.
However, as he touted the diplomatic victory, Kerry conceded that deep differences with Iran remain.
“Nobody pretends that some of the challenges we have with Iran have somehow been wiped away,” he said.
One year ago, on July 14, 2015, the United States, six other world powers and Iran finalized almost two years of negotiations on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The pact outlined what Tehran had to do to pull back its nuclear program from the brink of weapons-making capacity. And it spelled out the West’s obligations to end many financial, trade and oil sanctions that had battered Iran’s economy.
“The Iran deal has succeeded in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, avoiding further conflict and making us safer,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House on Thursday.
Fragile, but holding
The Iran nuclear accord is fragile at its one-year anniversary.
Upcoming elections in both the US and Iran could yield new leaders determined to derail the deal. The Mideast’s wars pit US and Iranian proxies in conflict. Iran’s ballistic missiles are threatening American allies in the Middle East. Congressional opposition remains.
But for now, the seven-nation nuclear pact is holding. Washington and Tehran are expanding cooperation. And Boeing’s recent announcement of a multibillion-dollar plane deal with Iran Air suggests some of the agreement’s early problems may be getting resolved.
Iran appears to have lived up to its end of the deal. It shut down thousands of centrifuges for enriching uranium and exported almost its entire stockpile of the bomb-making material. It disabled a heavy water plant that would have produced plutonium usable in a weapon. It opened up its supply chain to far greater scrutiny. An underground enrichment facility near Fordo operates under strict limits.
Obama said that Iran has sent away 98 percent of its enriched uranium and taken apart two-thirds of its centrifuges, as well as filling a plutonium reactor with concrete, calling the oversight regime “the most intrusive inspection and verification program ever negotiated for a nuclear program.”
“IAEA reports have confirmed that Iran is complying with its commitments,” he said, “As a result, all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon remain closed, and Iran’s breakout time has been extended from two to three months to about a year.”
The US and its partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — say that is enough time to discover the effort and intervene. Before the deal was struck, the time frame for Iran to “break out” toward a bomb was a couple of months.
Iran’s compliance and the expanded breathing room have eliminated for now the threat of a military confrontation.
In the presidential campaign, discussion about the Iran deal focuses largely on the implications of the agreement and today’s limited US-Iranian cooperation, no longer on whether to attack Iran. Presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton backs the deal; GOP rival Donald Trump has spoken of “renegotiation.”
Situation is uneasy in Iran
A year before elections, President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure to show his people the benefits of the agreement. Iran is struggling to attract big investments, with banks and companies fearful of US prosecution or fines.
June’s Boeing announcement, involving dozens of planes and worth as much as $25 billion, could open the floodgates — if it survives challenges from many of the same Republican and Democratic critics who opposed last year’s nuclear deal. Last week, the House passed two measures that would block the sale. The Senate hasn’t acted yet; if it does, Obama would likely veto the bill.
Obama said that the US and its five negotiating partners have held up their part of the bargain in lifting sanctions and will continue to do so “as long as Iran continues to abide by the deal.”
But Iranian threats to renege on the deal have the Obama administration on the defensive. It sees Rouhani’s success as critical to the accord’s survival. To that end, Kerry has lobbied European banks to make greater investments in Iran and US officials even have explored softening financial restrictions on Iran. Such considerations haven’t gone over well with Republican critics.
Obama’s Iran outreach is “a textbook example of the failure of appeasement,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, wrote in a 23-page national security agenda published last month.
And Rouhani on Tuesday warned Iran could restart the nuclear program if the world powers don’t hold up their end of the deal.