Nuclear Iran: How and Why The JCPOA Will Work

Even before the negotiations started, President Obama's detractors were saying that his efforts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program would fail. Now that we have an actual plan to review, we can weigh the merits of that plan. I have read the plan and it is my opinion that the plan is a good plan that will work.
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Even before the negotiations started, President Obama's detractors were saying that his efforts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program would fail. Now that we have an actual plan to review, we can weigh the merits of that plan. I have read the plan and it is my opinion that the plan is a good plan that will work.

How the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Will Work

There are four agreed upon ways that Iran could pursue a nuclear weapon. These include: blocking uranium production at 1) Natanz and 2) Fordow 3) blocking the plutonium pathway at the Arak reactor; and 4) blocking a covert weapons program. There are many factors to consider under each of these four pathways.

With respect to the first two pathways at Natanz and Fordow, the White House states on its website a summary of what we can find in the plan. Specifically, the JCPOA states in sections B.2-B.4, that under this deal, Iran must reduce its centrifuges to 6,104 for the next ten years. The White House stated that right now, Iran has nearly 20,000 centrifuges between their Natanz and Fordow facilities. Iran would need tens of thousands of centrifuges to create highly enriched uranium for a bomb.

Additionally, it is well known that enrichment would need to be near the 90 percent level to have weapons grade uranium. The JCPOA blocks this.

B.5 -- Iran will carry out its uranium enrichment-related activities, including safeguarded R&D exclusively in the Natanz Enrichment facility, keep its level of uranium enrichment at up to 3.67 percent and, at Fordow, refrain from any uranium enrichment and uranium enrichment R&D and from keeping any nuclear material.

Not only will Iran reduce the number of centrifuges needed to produce enough material at Fordow and Natanz, keeping the enrichment level significantly below what would be needed to produce a weapon, Iran

B.7 -- will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg of up to 3.67 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms.

With respect to the third way Iran could produce a nuclear weapon, the plutonium production at the Arak heavy water reactor will change. The JCPOF states in section:

B.8 -- Iran will redesign and rebuild a modernized heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on an agreed conceptual design, using fuel enriched up to 3.67 percent, in a form of an international partnership which will certify the final design. The reactor will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production for medical and industrial purposes. The redesigned and rebuilt Arak reactor will not produce weapons grade plutonium.

With respect to the last and, to critics of the plan, perhaps most concerning pathway to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, covert attempts to producing a nuclear weapon have been blocked. In section C of the JCPOA, it is agreed that:

C.15 -- Iran will allow the IAEA to monitor the implementation of the voluntary measures for their respective durations, as well as to implement transparency measures, as set out in this JCPOA and its Annexes.

C.16 -- Iran will not engage in activities, including at the R&D level, that could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device, including uranium or plutonium metallurgy activities, as specified in Annex I.

C.17 -- Iran will cooperate and act in accordance with the procurement channel in this JCPOA, as detailed in Annex IV, endorsed by the UN Security Council resolution.

Why the JCPOA Will Work

If any of these or other provisions of the JCPOA are violated, there is an agreed upon Dispute Resolution Mechanism that beings in section 36 of the plan.

Section 36 talks about the process for submitting a concern over a breach in the agreement. It continues:

36 -- If the issue still has not been resolved to the satisfaction of the complaining participant, and if the complaining participant deems the issue to constitute significant nonperformance, then that participant could treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part and/or notify the UN Security Council that it believes the issue constitutes significant non-performance.

This section is saying that there is a way for the U.S. to file for a complaint that Iran is in breach of its obligations.

Section 37 states that:

37 -- If the resolution described above has not been adopted within 30 days of the notification, then the provisions of the old UN Security Council resolutions would be re-imposed, unless the UN Security Council decides otherwise

One reassuring thing about this provision is that U.S. could veto if the four other members of the UNSC decided otherwise. What this section is doing is effectively snapping back into place the sanctions that were in place before this plan would take effect if the US or any party decides that Iran is in non-compliance of its obligations agreed to under the plan.

24 Days?

There is a lot of concern about the 24-day provision but there need not be. First of all, 24 days is not specified in the JCPOA. There is a multiple step process that arrives at 24 days. Second, if Iran would to cheat and try to produce nuclear materials for a weapon at an undisclosed location, nuclear experts are in agreement that it could not be cleaned up in 24 days. Nuclear materials leave trace particles that can be detected by IAEA inspectors. Fourth, Iran agreed that access "will be exclusively for resolving concerns regarding fulfilment of the JCPOA commitments and Iran's other non-proliferation and safeguards obligations." And finally, the JCPOA states that if Iran is unable to:

Q.78 -- verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the specified locations within 14 days of the IAEA's original request for access, Iran, in consultation with the members of the Joint Commission, would resolve the IAEA's concerns through necessary means agreed between Iran and the IAEA. In the absence of an agreement, the members of the Joint Commission, by consensus or by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members, would advise on the necessary means to resolve the IAEA's concerns. The process of consultation with, and any action by, the members of the Joint Commission would not exceed seven days, and Iran would implement the necessary means within 3 additional days.

What this means is that the dispute resolution mechanism kicks in and the snapback provision takes effect putting the crippling sanctions back on Iran.


The contrast between the way President Bush addressed Iraq's suspected WMD program and the way that Obama addressed Iran's nuclear program could not be starker. The sanctions that were placed on Iran under President Obama were effective in getting Iran to negotiate. Sanctions hurt Iran: Iran's unemployment rate is well over 10 percent. Inflation has been up to nearly 40 percent in recent years and is down to about 15 percent right now. Their economy was suffering from a recession and negative growth in recent years. The sanctions were working.

Iran agreed to this plan and has everything to gain by adhering to it. Without the sanctions Iran would not have negotiated. Without the JCPOA, there would be no inspection process. With no inspection process, Iran may or may not pursue a nuclear weapon, something it has said many times that it is not and will not pursue.

The alternatives that have been proposed by several candidates running for President in the U.S. have no chance of any support in the international community. It was only because the U.S. led international effort to sanction Iran that the sanctions were effective. The U.S. cannot and should not do it alone, as several of the presidential candidates have suggested.

Centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon. The JCPOA blocks this. Covert action is a concern for many. The JCPOA blocks this and has several mechanisms to address this or cheating. If Iran cheats under this plan, the plan still ensures success by snapping back the sanctions.

All of this scrutiny comes on the heals that the West and the EU don't trust Iran. But let us not forget that there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program, and there is no evidence that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapon capability. The 2007 NIE stated: We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. Any belief to the contrary is in error, or at the very minimum, the critics need to prove there is a nuclear program designed to cause harm.

PAUL HEROUX is a state representative from Massachusetts who previously lived and worked in the Middle East, was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, and is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations discussing the Middle East. Paul has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at

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