By Meyer Thalheimer
Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of an important milestone in the ongoing attempt to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Adoption Day occurred 90 days after the endorsement of the agreement by the United Nations Security Council, and marked the beginning of the agreement’s movement from paper into reality. Starting on Adoption Day, the parties to the JCPOA — China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union and Iran — began preparation for the implementation of their JCPOA commitments.
On Iran’s part, this included preparation for the removal of most of its centrifuges used for the production of weapons-grade uranium, reduction of its existing enriched uranium stockpile, and removal of the Arak heavy-water reactor core as part of its modification into a hybrid water reactor. Iran also began preparation for provisional application of the Additional Protocol, which grants IAEA greatly increased access to Iranian nuclear sites for inspection and verification.
On Adoption Day, the other parties to the deal, most notably the U.S. and the EU, created waivers to nuclear-related sanctions that would come into effect beginning on Implementation Day, January 16, 2016. Importantly, Adoption Day also served as a time benchmark for the implementation of future deal provisions, with major events occurring after a certain number of years from the date.
Adoption Day was the effective culmination of more than two years of concentrated diplomatic efforts and international pressure aimed at delaying and ultimately ending Iran’s race towards a nuclear weapons capability. In 2013, experts estimated that Iran was 1–2 months away from acquiring enough fissile material to fuel a nuclear weapon. Now, with the continuing implementation of the JCPOA, Iran is more than a year from nuclear breakout. More than 10,000 Iranian centrifuges have been dismantled and its uranium stockpile has been reduced by 98 percent, with large amounts of nuclear materials shipped out of the country. Additionally, existing Iranian nuclear facilities have been redesigned to prevent them from producing any weapons-grade plutonium.
It is important that we recognize the success of the JCPOA in light of the ongoing and largely unsubstantiated attacks made on it by President Trump. Despite widespread agreement that Iran has adhered to its obligations from our allies, nuclear and national security experts, and high-ranking members of the administration, the President has chosen to decertify the Iran Deal and threatened to unilaterally withdraw from it, throwing the continued status of critical sanctions relief provisions into jeopardy. To be clear, there is no realistic better deal. Today, we have less leverage and less credibility than when the JCPOA was originally negotiated. If Congress chooses to re-implement nuclear-related sanctions, the United States will be in violation of its obligations. This will give Iran the moral high ground and justification to resume its nuclear weapon activities. It will also undermine American diplomatic credibility at a time when it is a critical component in the search for a non-violent resolution to disputes with North Korea.
We already have one potential nuclear crisis; we can ill afford to create another.