September 20, 2017, 10:00 PM, Wednesday
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Know about Iran deal in five minutes

- Helen Coster

September 20

On Tuesday the United States and five world powers struck a historic deal with Iran that will limit the country’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for sanctions relief. The deal is one of President Barack Obama’s most significant foreign policy achievements, and the culmination of 20 months of negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iran, which remains on the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, has been a major American adversary since the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The United States and its negotiating partners will lift sanctions against Iran, allowing Tehran to resume selling oil in international markets. The deal will also allow Iran to re-enter the global banking system; the U.S. Treasury Department has prohibited U.S. institutions from having financial dealings with Iran, among other restrictions. Under 35 years of sanctions, Iran’s economy has been plagued by inflation.

The six powers will also ease the international arms embargo against Iran, which has been in place since 2006. The embargo on ballistic missiles will be lifted after eight years of compliance with the nuclear deal. A ban on the purchase and sale of conventional weapons -- such as non-nuclear bombs -- will be lifted after five years. The International Atomic Energy Agency will supervise the lifting of these embargoes, and can speed up the process if it determines that Iran is indeed using its nuclear program for peaceful reasons, and has not cheated on the deal.

The agreement is designed to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities such that Tehran would need at least a year to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb. It will significantly limit the amount of nuclear fuel that Iran can keep in its stockpile -- from about 22,000 pounds to 660. Iran will reduce the number of its centrifuges -- which are used to enrich uranium -- by two-thirds, from about 19,000 to 6,104. Only 5,060 will continue to operate. All 6,104 centrifuges will be an older model that uses technology from the 1970s.

Iran will not conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment in its underground facility at Fordow, and will not have any fissile material at the site for 15 years. Iran will only enrich uranium at its Natanz nuclear facility.

Foreign Reaction

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement a “historic mistake” that would create a “terrorist nuclear superpower.”

Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, which has been battling Shi’ite-controlled Iran via proxy wars throughout the Middle East, has been less vocal about the deal. An anonymous Saudi official told Reuters: "We have learned as Iran's neighbors in the last 40 years that goodwill only led us to harvest sour grapes."

Reaction from U.S. presidential candidates

Republican presidential candidates have been lining up to condemn the accord. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called it a “diplomatic retreat.” Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said that he would roll back the deal if elected, calling it “one of the most destructive foreign policy decisions in [his] lifetime.” Florida Senator Marco Rubio said that the agreement “undermines our national security” and suggested that he would re-introduce sanctions if elected to the White House.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton offered cautious praise of the deal, emphasizing the need to police Iran in order for the agreement to be a success. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also expressed support for the deal; in a statement he said that it “could keep the United States from being drawn into another never-ending war in the Middle East.”

Neither side wants to risk alienating Jewish voters who are wary about the deal’s impact on Israel.

What’s next for the deal

The deal now goes to Congress, where President Obama is likely to prevail. He has the power to veto a negative vote by one or both houses, and has said that he’ll do so if necessary. Obama’s veto can be overridden by two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses -- an unlikely scenario because it would require dozens of Democrats to reject the historic accord.

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