The Iran Nuclear Crisis: Questioning Iran’s Honesty and Reaching for an International Deal

By Jenny Park

On March 3, 2015, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressed Congress regarding the Iranian nuclear crisis. Netanyahu called for Iran to completely abandon its nuclear program and for the US and Europe to impose tougher sanctions against Iran. Subsequently, Republican senators warned Iran that any international deal on the Iranian nuclear program could be revoked when President Obama leaves the office. This strong rhetoric attempts to undermine the current negotiations among Iran and the six world powers, scheduled for preliminary agreement by the end of March and to be finalized by the end of June.

Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires all signatory states to use nuclear material, if any, only for peaceful purposes. As part of this commitment, the signatory states must work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an independent branch of the UN that works to ensure that states do not use nuclear material for military purposes. After a signatory state implements safeguards and submits a declaration of the state’s nuclear materials and facilities to the IAEA, the IAEA verifies its implementation and its continuing compliance. 

Iran’s nuclear program became publicly known and an international concern in 2002. Iran secretly built a uranium enrichment plant, at which enriched uranium could be used to make nuclear fuel as well as weapons. Although the IAEA was allowed to inspect this premise, it was unable to confirm that Iran did not develop nuclear weapons. World powers urged Iran to stop enriching uranium, but when talks failed, the IAEA referred Iran to the UN Security Council for failing to comply with the NPT. Subsequently, the UN Security Council adopted six resolutions requiring Iran to stop enriching uranium, and sanctions by the US and Europe followed. Notwithstanding these sanctions, the IAEA in 2011 claimed that Iran carried out activities related to developing nuclear weapons, specifically at the Parchin military complex, which the IAEA was not permitted to inspect. (BBC summarizes key nuclear sites in Iran.)

Consequently, international sanctions expanded to reach Iran’s financial sector in 2012, including sanctions against Iranian oil exports and banks. Although the IAEA was satisfied with Iran’s later explanation of its Parchin nuclear activities, the IAEA’s latest report continues to question Iran’s overall past research and other nuclear activities, with Iran yet to clarify issues with its nuclear program and yet to implement additional safeguards.

Iran has suffered from these international sanctions, which exacerbated Iran’s inflation of about 45 percent. The loss of oil revenue, which accounted for half of the government’s spending, and the inability to utilize the international banking system caused Iran’s currency to lose more than half of its value compared to the US dollar.

Currently, there are two tracks of negotiations with Iran: first, between the IAEA and Iran; and second, between Iran and the so-called P5+1, which is composed of China, France, Russia, UK, US, and Germany. The P5+1 signed an interim deal in November 2013 that required Iran to “curb sensitive nuclear activities” in exchange for relief from sanctions, valued between $6 and $7 billion. When the sanctions were lifted in January of last year, inflation decreased to about 27 percent. The deadline to reach a comprehensive solution was extended from July 2014 to July 2015, with a political agreement to be reached by late March of this year. 

This 2013 interim deal corresponded with President Obama foreign policy. Obama telephoned with Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, in September 2013, in what is considered to be a historic conversation as it was the first between the US and the Iranian heads of state in more than 30 years. Despite the strong rhetoric by Netanyahu and Senate Republicans against any international deal with Iran, President Obama and other negotiating parties counter that such stance is unrealistic and unhelpful. The rhetoric is unrealistic because Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear development as a signatory state to the NPT, while it is unhelpful as Iran has rolled back many of its nuclear programs during the interim period between 2013 and the present.