Iran Nuclear History: The Final Deal
by Mitchell Bard
To read the full text of the final nuclear accord agreed to by the P5+1 and Iran, please click here.
The Final Deal
Israel Feels Sandbagged
Selling the Deal
The Final Deal
Negotiators from the P5+1 (USA, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia) and Iran announced on July 14, 2015, after 20 months of negotiations, that a comprehensive agreement aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities had been reached, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The agreement required Iran to reduce their stockpile of low enriched uranium by 98%, presumably by shipping the excess to Russia, and also required the Iranians to shut down 2/3 of their centrifuges spinning at the Natanz facility.
The negotiators from the P5+1 concluded that these measures combined would extend Iran’s potential breakout time from a few months to more than a full year. American officials clarified that although this marked a historic day, the deal would have to be revisited in a decade to continue to prevent Iran from weaponizing its nuclear materials. Chief negotiator John Kerry stated during a press conference following the conclusion of negotiations that, “Iran will not produce or acquire highly enriched uranium or plutonium for at least 15 years,” under the agreement (New York Times, July 14, 2015). Missile restrictions against Iran will remain in place for eight years under the deal, and the UN Arms Embargo ban on the Iranian purchase and sale of conventional weapons will remain in place for five years. Both of these restrictions have been in place since 2006. The Iranians also agreed to a ban on designing warheads and conducting tests on detonators and triggers that could be weaponized.
The Iranians signed a separate “road map” agreement with the IAEA regarding the potential military dimensions of their nuclear program, which provides for meetings between nuclear experts and Iranian nuclear scientists, and further technical discussions regarding the program. If this “road map” agreement is followed, according to IAEA experts all questions left regarding Iran’s nuclear program will be answered by the end of 2015.
Under the agreement Iran has to provide international inspectors access to suspicious sites within 24 days of their request. If Iran refuses these inspectors access within the 24-day period, international sanctions against Iran can be “snapped back” in place. This “snap-back” of sanctions could not be vetoed by members of the Security Council. IAEA experts reassured the international community in the days following the deal that 24 days is not enough time for Iran to whitewash unauthorized nuclear activities. A true “anywhere, anytime” inspections regime would only be possible if Iran were to be militarily conquered by another country, diplomats close to the negotiations stated.
In return for limiting their nuclear program for at least a decade, the Iranians over the course of the following months were to receive relief from both international sanctions against their economy and oil industry. The deal freed up an estimated $100-$150 billion in frozen Iranian assets around the world, which critics said would be used to fund their terror proxies. The deal also opened Iran to the international business community and global financial networks, which will help generate steady revenue for the Islamic Republic.
According to President Barack Obama, “Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off, and the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place. Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb. Today’s announcement marks one more chapter in our pursuit of a safer, more helpful and more hopeful world” (Roll Call, July 14, 2015).
In response to the deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that the Iranian people’s “prayers have come true” (New York Times, July 14, 2015).
Israel Feels Sandbagged
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had a very different reaction, referring to the deal as a, “bad mistake of historic proportions.” He added, “Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons” (Washington Post, July 14, 2015).
During the days following the announcement of the deal, Netanyahu appeared on multiple American television programs to voice his opinions. Netanyahu told Lester Holt of NBC News that, “We think this is not only a threat to [Israel]... We think this is a threat to [the United States] as well. Iran has killed more Americans than anyone other than Al-Qaeda. They’re going to get hundreds of billions of dollars to fuel their terror and military machine”(NBC News, July 16, 2015). Leaders of opposition parties in the Knesset, including Isaac Herzog, Yair Lapid, and Ehud Barak, joined Netanyahu in voicing their opposition to the nuclear deal.
The Israelis came to believe that Obama was more interested in a foreign policy achievement he could claim for his legacy than risk walking away from negotiations without a stronger deal. Yaakov Amidror, Jacob Nagel, Jonathan Schachter cite a report that deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes reportedly said in January 2014, “This is probably the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy. This is healthcare for us, just to put it in context.” This revealed “that the US wanted an agreement even more than Iran needed one.” This was evident, they say, when Israel learned the administration was secretly negotiating weaker terms than the Israelis had been led to expect, such as allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium instead of demanding Iran cease all enrichment and destroy all its centrifuges. Netanyahu had also been assured “that Iran’s nuclear breakout time would be measured in years (the official emphasized the plural). Yet the JCPOA’s authors would later boast of the one-year breakout time the agreement had dubiously guaranteed” (Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2020).
U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, circulated a draft to the Security Council in the days following the announcement of the deal to give it the council’s seal of approval and make it harder for Congressional opponents to derail the agreement. The Council unanimously approved resolution 2231 on July 20, 2015. The resolution specifies that when Iran completes a specific series of steps to curb their nuclear program, and the IAEA concludes that all nuclear activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes, seven Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran would be lifted. The resolution also includes a snap-back provision, to reimpose sanctions if Iran does not comply with the terms of the deal.
The same day, the European Union approved the agreement. Two weeks later, it received the backing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Members of the GCC released a statement following the vote, explaining that the deal “fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” and “once fully implemented, the JCPOA contributes to the region’s long-term security, including by preventing Iran from developing or acquiring a military nuclear capability” (AL Monitor, August 9, 2015).
Selling the Deal
President Obama refused to submit the deal to Congress as a treaty because he knew he could not get the required two-thirds majority in the Senate to ratify the agreement. Instead, he needed only to get enough votes to prevent Congress from torpedoing the deal. He presented the nuclear accord to Congress to allow them to begin their 60-day review period on July 19, 2015. Some members of Congress were upset that the Obama administration presented the agreement to the Security Council before they had the chance to review it. In response, Kerry said, “It’s presumptuous of some people to suspect that France, Russia, China, Germany, Britain ought to do what the Congress tells them to do. They have a right to have a vote” (New York Times, July 20, 2015).
During the week following the announcement of the deal, German and Iranian officials announced that they would be engaging in their first joint economic conference since 2002. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh stated that the conference would be aimed at laying the groundwork for business in both countries to work together, as the sanctions are eventually lifted.
Several experts with past experience monitoring nuclear facilities came forward with questions and concerns following the conclusion of negotiations. A former high-ranking official at the IAEA who spoke under the condition of anonymity, stated that the 24-day period to grant access to inspectors following the discovery of a potential breach of the deal was too long and the Iranians might be able to avoid detection of their nuclear activities. David Albright, a former weapons inspector, similarly argued the three-week period would be ample time for the Iranians to dispose of any evidence of prohibited nuclear practices. Albright added that the Iranian leaders are “practiced at cheating,” and that the United States “can’t count on them to make a mistake.” Robert Einhorn, who served as part of the American delegation to the Iran talks from 2009-2013, explained that, “‘No notice’ inspections were clearly not achievable, but a limit shorter than 24 days would have been desirable. While evidence of some illicit activity – construction of a covert enrichment facility or work with nuclear materials – would be difficult or impossible to hide or remove in 24 days, incriminating evidence of lesser activities probably could be removed” (New York Times, July 23, 2015).
The Obama administration began the uphill battle of selling the Iran nuclear deal to U.S. lawmakers during the last week of July. Kerry and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi met with their colleagues to explain the benefits of the deal. Many members expressed disappointment with the deal, however, and wondered whether the IAEA could adequately monitor Iranian nuclear activity.
The public was also suspicious. A poll by CNN released on July 27, 2015, found that 52% believed Congress should reject the deal, while 44% favored approving it.
General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress on July 29, 2015. He said the deal significantly decreased the likelihood of a war with Iran, but admitted the Iranian government was involved in at least five other “malign activities” that the nuclear agreement failed to address, including the pursuit of ballistic missile and other weapons technology, weapons trafficking, funding of proxies, and the use of naval mines.
Influential Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) said he was “extremely skeptical” about the Iran deal, even after attending three classified briefings and reading the whole document. “Nothing that I have seen, read, or heard has alleviated any of the skepticism that I had initially,” he said (Buzzfeed News, August 4, 2015).
Senate Democrats Tim Kaine, Barbara Boxer, and Bill Nelson were the first to announce that they would be voting in favor of the deal, on August 4. On the same day however, Israel, Nita Lowey, and Ted Deutch said they would be voting against it. The most influential Jewish Democrat in Congress, Senator Chuck Schumer, joined the opposition, citing as his chief concern the fact that the deal would only delay Iran’s push a nuclear device, and that they might build one after the deal expired. Schumer also called the inspections regime “weak” and said that reimposing sanctions on Iran, should they cheat the deal, would be a Herculean task. Schumer argued that even if the deal was rejected by the United States, and all other countries lifted their sanctions, Iran would still feel, “meaningful pressure,” from U.S. sanctions.
Officials from Britain, Russia, and China met with a group of 30 Senate Democrats in an attempt to sell the deal during the first week of August 2015. They were told by British officials that the chances of negotiating a better deal were “far-fetched” and that the international sanctions against Iran would more than likely fall apart if the U.S. rejects the deal. A spokesperson from the British Embassy said, “If Congress rejects this good deal, and the U.S. is forced to walk away, Iran will be left with an unconstrained nuclear program with far weaker monitoring arrangements, the current international consensus on sanctions would unravel, and international unity and pressure on Iran would be seriously undermined”(Foreign Policy, August 6, 2015).
Criticism of the deal from inside Iran grew during the second week of August, with conservative Iranian media denouncing the accord. Conservative publication 9 Dey ran editorials that claimed the deal overstepped the limits placed on concessions by Supreme Leader Khamenei. Liberals in Iran, meanwhile, argued the removal of sanctions would benefit the economy and end Iran’s diplomatic isolation.
Khamenei delivered a speech on June 23, 2015, in which he claimed that talks between Iran and the U.S. began in 2011 at the request of the United States, and were based originally on U.S. recognition of a nuclear Iran. According to Khamenei, the Sultan of Oman came to him in 2011 with a message from the Obama administration that insinuated the U.S. wanted to solve the nuclear issue and lift sanctions within six months, while recognizing Iran as a nuclear power. Khamenei went on to say that Kerry wrote a letter to Iranian government officials at the start of these secret negotiations in 2011 recognizing Iran’s rights regarding nuclear enrichment.
The pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, organized a meeting for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu with 22 Democrats on August 9, 2015. The Prime Minister tried to convince them the deal would be detrimental to global security and provide Iran a path to a nuclear weapon.
Twenty-nine of the nation’s leading scientists delivered a letter to President Obama which said they believed the deal was “technically sound, stringent and innovative.” The scientists added the deal would certainly “provide the necessary assurance in the coming decade and more that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons” (Washington Post, August 11, 2015).
A group of 36 retired generals and admirals from the U.S. military wrote an open letter to lawmakers and the American people on August 11, 2015, in which they argued that the Iran deal was the “most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” The group added, “There is no better option to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Military action would be less effective than the deal, assuming it is fully implemented. If the Iranians cheat, our advanced technology, intelligence and the inspections will reveal it, and U.S. military options remain on the table. And if the deal is rejected by America, the Iranians could have a nuclear weapon within a year. The choice is that stark.”
In response to these letters of support, a letter signed by 200 former generals, intelligence officials, and Washington insiders was delivered to Congress urging them to reject the deal. The authors argued “the agreement will enable Iran to become far more dangerous, render the Mideast still more unstable and introduce new threats to American interests as well as our allies” (Times of Israel, August 26, 2015).
Kerry admitted that Iranian violations of the arms embargo or the restrictions on their missile program were unrelated to the nuclear agreement and would not trigger snap-back sanctions. Other UN resolutions, he said, dealt with those violations. Kerry also reiterated that it was not possible to get a “better deal” and railed against opponents of the deal, calling them naive and asserting that they had misread and misunderstood the decade of efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed her support for the nuclear agreement at a political rally in New Hampshire on August 10, 2015. The former first lady and frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 stated, “I’m hoping that the agreement is final-approved and I will tell you that if it’s not, all bets are off... You play the hand you’re dealt. And we played that hand to get them to the table to make unprecedented concessions.” Clinton pledged to continue the work of the negotiators, confidently claiming that as President she would, “do everything necessary to make sure the lid stays on the nuclear weapons program” (Washington Post, August 11, 2015).
General Charles Krulak, former Commandant of the United States Marine Corps and former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced his opposition to the JCPOA. He said, “we went into this process with specific goals as a baseline and came out with many of those goals either partially achieved or not achieved at all” (The Tower, August 14, 2015).
In a full page ad in the New York Times on August 20, 2015, twenty-six senior American Jewish leaders urged Congress to approve the JCPOA. The ad said, “while not perfect, this deal is the best available option to halt Iran’s nuclear program”(Haaretz, August 20, 2015).
Senate Minority leader Harry Reid backed the president and endorsed the deal while contradicting Israeli leaders’ concerns. “I believe a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, and the security of Israel is of the utmost importance to me,” he said, suggesting that his vote would help Israel. “My support for the safety and security of the Israeli people has been at the core of my views on the Middle East”(Foreign Policy, August 23, 2015).
The president got additional cover to mollify Jewish critics when Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who represents the largest Jewish constituency in the United States, came out in support of the deal on August 14, 2015.
Still, the deal did not have the votes for approval in the Senate. To prevent a loss that would almost certainly scuttle the agreement, Obama began pressuring Democrats to filibuster and prevent the deal from coming to a vote.
President Obama appeared on a live webcast from the White House on August 28, 2015, during which he fielded questions from Jewish organizations and citizens expressing their skepticism about the JCPOA. The question and answer session was meant to clear up concerns from the Jewish community in particular, and was moderated by Stephen Greenberg, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Michael Siegal, the chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America. Obama told his audience, “We’re all pro-Israel, and we’re all family, and Jewish members in Congress that are supporting this deal, I don’t need to give you their biographies” (New York Times, August 28, 2015).
During the weekend of August 28, six Jewish House Democrats penned a “Dear Colleague” letter to their peers, asking for their support of the deal and referencing an ad in the New York Times in which eleven Jewish former members endorsed the deal.
In the months following the announcement of the JCPOA, Iranian and Russian officials held a series of meetings aimed at mutual economic and military cooperation. Iran and Russia reached agreements on joint helicopter manufacturing, joint airplane manufacturing, and defensive missile systems training and implementation. The two nations also finalized a deal for Russia to sell an upgraded S-300 missile system to Iran. The S-300 missile system delivery began in December 2015.
Maryland Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski threw her support behind the JCPOA on September 2, 2015, providing the administration with enough Democratic votes to sustain the President’s veto should Republicans vote to disapprove the deal. Later that week eight more Democratic senators spoke out in support of the agreement, further strengthening Obama’s position.
Senate Democrats staged a filibuster during the debate on the JCPOA on September 10, 2015. Following hours of intense debate, a vote was called to reject the agreement that fell short of the 60 votes needed to end the Democratic filibuster, handing Obama one of the most significant diplomatic victories of his presidency.
On October 1, 2015, a bipartisan majority in the House approved the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act that would bar the Obama administration from releasing millions of dollars to Iran in the form of sanctions relief as part of the JCPOA. The legislation never had any chance of becoming law, however, as Obama vowed to veto any legislation that might interfere with the implementation of the nuclear agreement.
The initial conditional sanctions waivers for Iran were approved by United States officials on October 18, 2015, although the deal did not go into effect until Iran fulfilled all of its obligations. Officials close to the negotiations clarified that actual sanctions relief was at least two months away. This day was dubbed “adoption day” by both lawmakers and the media, and the day that the deal took effect was referred to as “implementation day” (Reuters, October 19, 2015).
Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, the body that advises the government on nuclear issues, endorsed the Iran deal on October 22, 2015. Contradicting the government, Israeli nuclear experts heading the commission agreed that the JCPOA would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The commission said any Iranian violation of the agreement would be easily noticeable by the observer entities, and that they were extremely satisfied with the changes that were to be made to the Arak heavy-water reactor.
To cushion the blow of the nuclear deal, and reassure Israel of America’s commitment to its security, the administration approved an aid package in November 2015. It included V-22 Osprey aircraft, which are capable of reaching Iran and damaging their nuclear infrastructure. Israeli authorities requested the Ospreys originally in 2012 when they were considering a strike on the Iranian Fordow enrichment facility, but did not follow through on the purchase.
Various sources reported in the months following the deal that Iran had begun using the money gained from sanctions relief to increase its financial support for Hamas and Hezbollah. The expected influx of cash from sanctions relief emboldened the Iranian officials, and they commenced funneling thousands of dollars to their allies across the Middle East.
Senior Iranian official and top negotiator Abbas Araghchi vowed on July 22, 2015, that despite the nuclear deal Iran would continue to “buy weapons from wherever possible... and provide weapons to whomever and whenever it considers appropriate.” He insisted that “if you want to have an agreement in which sanctions imposed on us for weapons and missiles will continue, then we will not agree,” even though those restrictions were explicitly laid out in the agreement the Iranians signed. Araghchi also boasted that the Iranian negotiators achieved their goal of preventing any inspections in the “defense and missile spheres” (Free Beacon, July 22, 2015).
Echoing other Iranian officials, Khamenei’s trusted advisor Ali Akbar Velayati stated during an interview with Al Jazeera that “we in Iran will independently determine what military equipment we need in order to defend our land, the regime of the Islamic Republic, the Iranian people, and the interests of our country. Therefore, we will not hesitate to obtain these weapons.” He added, however, that the regime would not attempt to obtain or manufacture nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Velyati went on to insist that “regardless of how the P5+1 countries interpret the nuclear agreement, their entry into our military sites is absolutely forbidden”(MEMRI, July 31, 2015).
IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano stated during an interview on August 5 that the Iranians were still completely barring the agency from interviewing key Iranian scientists and military officers. Amano expressed concern about whether the investigation into the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program could be completed without access to these individuals.
In early August 2015, satellite images were revealed showing recent activity at the Parchin nuclear facility in Iran, prompting suspicions that the Iranians were trying to hide nuclear activity. The photos showed bulldozers and other heavy construction material being moved in and around the Parchin facility, which suggest the Iranians were sanitizing the area before planned IAEA inspections. When pressed about this suspicious activity, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif asserted that the construction materials were simply present at the site because there were crews engaging in road construction in the area. Zarif accused the opponents of the deal of spreading lies to drum up public opposition.
Although the construction material was provocatively placed, further information released during subsequent weeks revealed that the construction equipment had just been placed there for storage and parking, had been there for a long time, and was not being used. An IAEA report released in August 2015, however, included claims that the Iranians had allegedly built an extension to the Parchin nuclear complex. The authors of the report said, “Since (our) previous report (in May), at a particular location at the Parchin site, the agency has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment, and probable construction materials. In addition, a small extension to an existing building.” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA responded, stating that, “It’s funny that the IAEA claims there has been a small extension to a building... Iran doesn’t need to ask for the IAEA’s permission to do construction work on its sites” (Reuters, August 28, 2015).
The IAEA and Iran announced a side agreement separate from the JCPOA in late August 2015, pertaining to inspections of Parchin. Iran was allowed to use its own nuclear inspectors to investigate the site and report nuclear development activity to the IAEA. The IAEA said it would “ensure the technical authenticity of the inspections,” but did not detail how it would do so. After the deal was revealed, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano released a statement asserting that the IAEA was completely satisfied with the agreement.
During the months following the signing of the JCPOA Iranian leaders continued their verbal tirade against the United States and Israel, insisting that signing the deal did not change their policy toward the top two enemies of the Islamic Republic. On September 2, 2015, Supreme Leader Khamenei explained that “the Americans wish to infiltrate Iran with the [JCPOA] agreement, whose fate in Iran and in the U.S. is still unknown. But we have decisively blocked this path, and we will do anything to keep them from infiltrating Iran economically, politically, and culturally.” Chants of “death to America” and “death to Israel” still filled Iranian streets, and Khamenei vowed to, “strengthen the fists of our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and elsewhere” to fight the “Zionist regime” (JCPA, August 16, 2015).
Khamenei said it was up to Iran’s parliament to decide the fate of the JCPOA. “Parliament should not be sidelined on the nuclear deal issue,” said Khamenei, adding that, “it is up to them [the lawmakers in parliament] to decide,” whether to approve or reject the agreement with the P5+1 (Reuters, September 3, 2015).
Lassina Zerbo, head of the United Nations Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, encouraged Iran to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) during mid-September. According to Zerbo, by signing the CTBT, Iran could mollify opponents of the JCPOA who claim the Iranians would be able to produce a weapon after the agreement expired in 15 years. One hundred and ninety six countries have signed the CTBT, but it has not yet been ratified by some countries who were originally involved in the negotiations, including Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan, North Korea, the United States and China.
Members of the IAEA, including Director-General Yukiya Amano, were granted access to the Parchin facility for the first time in a decade in late September 2015. Amano met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his visit, and the two spoke about implementation of the JCPOA.
Iranian officials vowed during September 2015 that they would follow only the JCPOA and not abide by the restrictions on its non-nuclear activities required by Security Resolution 2231. Rouhani said he viewed the resolution’s endorsement of the JCPOA as separate from the JCPOA itself.
For the first time since the JCPOA was reached, and the parties left the negotiating table, Kerry and Zarif met to discuss implementation of the JCPOA on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in late September 2015.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) provided their evaluation of the JCPOA in October 2015, following weeks of pouring over the details of the agreement. The council, led by President Rouhani, issued a report stating, “It is evident that, based on the JCPOA, access to Iranian military sites has become possible... Implementation of this inspection regime could lead to unprecedented information gathering and exposes to danger the security infrastructure, human, scientific, military and security resources of Iran”(Yahoo, October 4, 2015).
All further negotiations between Iran and the United States were banned by Khamenei on October 7, 2015, who said on his personal website that “negotiations with the United States open gates to their economic, cultural, political and security influence. Even during the nuclear negotiations they tried to harm our national interests.” Separately, during a meeting with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Commanders, Khamenei stated, “through negotiations Americans seek to influence Iran... but there are naive people in Iran who don’t understand this. We are in a critical situation now as the enemies are trying to change the mentality of our officials and our people on the revolution and our national interests” (Reuters, October 7, 2015).
The Iranian Parliament approved the JCPOA on October 13, 2015, with 161 members voting in favor of the deal, 59 against, and 13 abstaining. More conservative Iranian lawmakers who worried that the JCPOA would open Iran to further Western influence were outvoted by more moderate Parliament members.
Trade sources reported on October 13, 2015, that Iran had been boosting oil exports in the months since the deal was signed in anticipation of sanctions relief. Allegedly this oil was being sold with labels claiming origins in Iraq, and other falsified paperwork (Reuters, October 13, 2015).
The United Nations disclosed on October 15, 2015, that Iran had fulfilled its obligation under the parallel deal struck with the IAEA and met a deadline to give the agency information about the past military dimensions of their nuclear program. The IAEA issued an official statement confirming that “in the period to 15 October 2015, activities set out in the ‘road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program’ were completed”(Reuters, October 16, 2015).
The support of the Supreme Leader was crucial to the implementation of the agreement and Khamenei publicly expressed his support for the JCPOA for the first time on October 21, 2015. He also warned, however, that if all sanctions were not lifted, Iran would not hesitate to walk away from the deal.
After the deal was signed, it was revealed that Khamenei had a personal interest in the lifting of sanctions. Setad, one of Iran’s largest conglomerates, which would benefit from sanctions relief, is partly owned by Khamenei. Once sanctions were removed, American banks, companies, and individuals were still prohibited from doing business with Setad, but non-U.S. businesses working with Setad would be allowed to do business in the United States.
Iranian officials were invited by envoys from the United States to participate for the first time in discussions over the future of Syria in October 2015. The United States and Russia, took a gamble inviting Iran into the Syria discussions, as Iran played an increasingly central role in the Syrian conflict over the previous year. Other countries invited to join the Syria discussions in October 2015 included Great Britain, France, Germany, Jordan, and the UAE.
Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani admitted in an interview in October 2015 that his government had indeed sought nuclear weapons. “As I have said, when we started the [nuclear] work, we were at war, and we wanted to have such an option for the day our enemies wanted to use nuclear weapons. This was [our] state of mind, but things never become serious. The principle of our doctrine was the use of nuclear [energy] for peaceful purposes, even though we never abandoned [the idea] that if we were some day to face a certain threat, and if it became necessary, then we would have the option of going to the other side [to develop nuclear weapons].” Rafsanjani also revealed that during his presidency Iran planned to develop the Arak heavy water reactor facility into a plutonium processing facility for military purposes (Jerusalem Post, October 28, 2015).
Iran began implementation of the JCPOA by starting to take their centrifuges offline in November 2015. Iranian scientists abruptly stopped taking the centrifuges offline a week after the initial announcement that they were being dismantled, due to pressure from conservative Iranian lawmakers who feared they were rushing into implementation of the agreement (Reuters, October 28, 2015).
Rather than result in a change in Iran’s attitude toward the United States, as forecast by supporters of the deal, Iran remained belligerent and stepped up anti-American activities. In early November 2015, for example, the Iranian government issued a blockade on U.S. goods. The U.S. Central Command reported on November 4, 2015, that 14% of U.S. troops killed in Iraq were a direct result of Iranian terrorism. The same day, officials said that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps had hacked the emails and social media accounts of Obama administration officials. On December 26, 2015, an Iranian military vessel fired multiple unguided rockets near the U.S. warship Harry S. Truman in the Strait of Hormuz. The incident was described as “unsafe, unprofessional, and inconsistent with international maritime law,” by a U.S. Navy spokesperson. Iranian officials denied the incident took place, calling it U.S. propaganda (Marine Corps Times, January 11, 2016).
According to the IAEA report released on November 18, 2015, the Iranians had begun to made good on their promise to scale down their nuclear program. Since the previous IAEA report, Iranian scientists had cut the number of centrifuges at Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility by 3,000, leaving 11,308 of them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran for the first time since 2007, in mid-November 2015. While there meeting with Iranian officials, Putin ordered an easing of restrictions on Russian companies working in Iranian nuclear sites, meaning that Russian experts may help Iran redesign the Arak heavy water reactor and modify centrifuges. Putin also signed a decree lifting the ban on the export of uranium enrichment equipment to Iran during the visit.
On November 24, 2015, it was reported than Iran had begun exporting enriched uranium to Russia. The JCPOA requires Iran to get rid of 98% of its enriched uranium, much of which it agreed to ship to Russia (some was to be sent to Kazakhstan). It was reported on December 21, 2015, that Iran would begin shipment of nine tons of enriched uranium to Russia before the new year and would receive 140 tons of lower enriched uranium to support peaceful activities (Fox News, December 21, 2015). After a Russian ship left Iran on December 28, 2015, carrying enriched uranium, Kerry said this represented “one of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitment” (New York Times, December 28, 2015).
The IAEA’s December 2015 report confirmed that Iran had indeed pursued nuclear weapons for military purposes prior to 2003, but had halted all research into military applications as of the end of that year. U.S. officials noted the information included within the IAEA report was consistent with a U.S. national intelligence estimate from 2007. The report also said, “the Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009”(Washington Post, December 2, 2015).
The IAEA subsequently voted to close their file on the past military application of Iran’s nuclear program. This marked the end of a decade-long inquiry by the IAEA into the potential military applications of Iran’s covert nuclear program and facilities. IAEA officials stated that closing this portion of the investigation would allow them to fully focus on the complete and stringent implementation of the JCPOA.
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said on January 11, 2016, that she expected that Iran sanctions could be lifted “rather soon,” because the “implementation of the agreements is proceeding well” (Reuters, January 11, 2016).
Fulfilling one of its major obligations in the implementation of the JCPOA, the Iranian government announced on January 11, 2016, that they had removed the core and officially filled the Arak reactor with concrete. This was one of the final, and most important steps in implementing the deal; however, Iranian officials later said plans to fill the reactor with concrete were put on hold while Iranian-Chinese negotiations to modify the reactor continued.
Tensions flared between the United States and Iran when two U.S. Navy vessels accidentally strayed into Iranian territorial waters on the evening of January 12, 2016, and the 10 crew members were detained. The situation was reportedly resolved after phone calls between Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, during which Kerry assured Zarif that the issue stemmed from mechanical problems with the boats. The sailors were released 16 hours after they were taken into custody.
In a vote of 191-106 on January 13, 2016, House lawmakers approved the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act. This legislation afforded Congress increased oversight of the implementation of the JCPOA, including giving them power to restrict or prevent certain groups and individuals from being taken off sanctions lists. The legislation did not pass the Senate and would have been vetoed by President Obama.