The nuclear deal with Iran has been in place for a year now. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was the result of complex negotiations between Iran and six world powers — the United States, France, Germany, the U.K., China and Russia. It lengthened the time that Iran would need for “nuclear breakout,” ensuring that it could not rush to build a nuclear bomb undetected.
Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the key authors, believes the deal has “made the world safer.” However, the deal has not resolved many concerns about Iranian behavior in the region and around the world.
Republicans are waging a legislative battle with the Obama administration over the deal and presidential candidate Donald Trump has threatened to tear it up (a stance some Iranian hardliners applaud). Many Democratic lawmakers, too, have their doubts about the deal, though White House hopeful Hillary Clinton has described it as a “deal worth supporting.”
Let’s look at some of the key questions about how the nuclear deal is working.
How has the nuclear deal been implemented?
By most accounts, Iran has complied with its nuclear obligations under the deal. According to the State Department, Iran has put 19,000 centrifuges in storage and under international scrutiny. It has shipped out 98 percent of its low-enriched uranium. It has also opened up nuclear facilities to international inspectors.
The goal of this was to make sure Iran wouldn’t be able to rush to develop a nuclear bomb. Before the deal went into effect, Iran was weeks or months away from having enough material for a bomb. Now, experts believe Iran is a year away from that. Critics worry that these restrictions are temporary and will mostly disappear after 10 to 15 years.
What has Iran gotten out of this?
Iran argues that it is not getting the economic benefits it expected. However, the U.S. and the European Union have suspended the sanctions they said they would. Iranian oil sales have risen to pre-sanction levels, and European business leaders have announced some major deals.
The Treasury Department says Iran has opened more than 300 new bank accounts with foreign banks, negotiated billions of dollars of new lines of credit and has seen plans for direct investment increase by more than $3 billion.
Secretary of State Kerry met with European bankers in May to let them know that “legitimate business” is available to them. He faced some criticism at home from those who said it was not his job to help Iran’s economy.
What about U.S. businesses?
Boeing announced provisional plans to sell Iran’s national carrier some $20 billion in new planes and aircraft services. Some American lawmakers, though, are trying to block that. At a recent roundtable with reporters, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s “not happy” about the Boeing deal.
“I would have preferred American companies deferring at this time,” he said, describing Iran as “one of the worst actors in the world” because of its destabilizing influence in Syria, Yemen and other parts of the Middle East. Still, Cardin doesn’t think Republican moves to block the deal will pay off.
The Obama administration has vowed to veto any legislation that violates the Iran nuclear deal. Cardin says rather than passing “veto bait” legislation, such as blocking the Boeing deal, Democrats and Republicans should work together to make sure Congress has more oversight on how the deal is being implemented. He also says Congress should extend the Iran Sanctions Act so that those sanctions can “snap back” if Iran violates the nuclear deal.
Has the nuclear deal improved relations?
No. Critics of the Iran deal say it has done nothing to ease their concerns about Iran’s behavior in the region. The JCPOA focuses solely on the nuclear file and does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, its poor human rights record and its support for groups on the U.S. terrorism list.
Iran has continued to carry out ballistic missile tests and continues to support President Bashar Assad in Syria, the Lebanese group Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq. It is also still holding two Iranian-Americans, Baquer and Siamak Namzi, as well as a U.S. green card holder, Nizar Zakka, despite calls from Washington for their release. Former FBI agent Robert Levinson remains missing, nine years after he disappeared on Iran’s Kish Island.
What about domestic Iranian politics?
The Iranian leadership is divided between anti-American hardliners and relative moderates. The Obama administration clearly hoped this deal would give a boost to more moderate Iranian politicians, including President Hassan Rouhani.
Iran’s presidential elections are less than a year away, and Rouhani is trying to walk a fine line. He told his cabinet recently that Iran could move quickly to regain its nuclear achievements if the U.S. and others breach their side of the deal with more sanctions.