To read the full text of the final nuclear accord agreed to by the P5+1 and Iran, please click here.
Negotiators from the P5+1 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 over 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 it's 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. (NY Times, July 14, 2015) Missile restrictions against Iran will remain in place for 8 years under the deal, and the UN Arms Embargo ban on the Iranian purchase and sale of conventional weapons will remain in place for 5 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 seperate “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 would not be able to be vetod 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 will receive relief from both international sanctions against their economy and oil industry, worrying critics of the deal. The deal freed up an estimated $100-$150 billion in frozen Iranian assets around the world, which many global officials are concerned they will use to fund their terror proxies. The deal opened up Iran to the international business community and global financial networks, which will help generate steady revenue for the Islamic Republic. To read the full text of the final nuclear accord agreed to by the P5+1 and Iran, please click here.
In response to the deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that the Iranian people's “prayers have come true.” (NY Times, July 14, 2015) According to U.S. 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) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to the deal as a, “bad mistake of historic proportions,” and stated that, “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.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, circulated a draft legally binding resolution to the Security Council in the days following the announcement of the deal. This resolution would give the deal the council's seal of approval, making it significantly harder for Congressional opponents in the United States to push back against the agreement. The United Nations Security Council voted on and approved this resolution on July 20, 2015, adopting it as UNSCR 2231. All fifteen members of the Security Council co-signed the resolution. Under the agreed-upon resolution, 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 are to be lifted. The Security Council resolution also includes a snap-back provision, to quickly re-impose sanctions on Iran if it is discovered that they are not abiding by the rules of the deal. The deal was also voted on and approved by the European Union on the same day. Two weeks later, the nuclear accord was voted on and approved by the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council 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)
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, and some members of Congress were upset by the fact that the Obama administration presented the agreement to the Security Council before they had the chance to review it. In response to the displeasure expressed by some members of Congress, John Kerry stated on the ABC television show “This Week,” that, “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 may be too long and the Iranians may be able to effectively hide traces of their nuclear ambitions and avoid detection. Former weapons inspector in Iraq and current president of the Institute for Science and International Security, David Albright, stated that in his opinion this three week period may be ample time for the Iranians to dispose of any evidence of prohibited nuclear practices. Albright went on to say that the Iranian leaders are “practiced at cheating,” and the United States “can't count on them to make a mistake.” Ribert 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. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State and Chief Negotiator John Kerry met with their colleagues in late July, hoping to explain the benefits of approving this particular agreement with Iran. Many Congressmen and Senators expressed disappointment with the deal, and wondered whether the IAEA would be able to adequately monitor Iranian nuclear activity. A poll by CNN released on July 27, 2015, demonstrated the American public's opinion: 52% of people surveyed said that they think Congress should reject the deal, while 44% said that Congress should approve the deal, and 5% did not offer their opinions. To read the results of the poll, click here.
General Martin E. Dempsey, the United States top military official, testified before Congress about the Iran deal on July 29, 2015. He lamented that the deal would not prevent Iran from funding it's worldwide network of terror proxies, but confidently stated that the deal significantly decreased the likelyhood of a war erupting between the U.S. and Iran. According to General Dempsey the Iranian government is involved in at least five other “malign activities” that the nuclear agreement does not address, including the pursuit of balistic missile and other weapons technology, weapons trafficing, funding of proxies, and the use of naval mines.
Influential Democratic Representative from New York Steve Israel revealed on a morning radio talk show on August 2, 2015, that he was “extremely skeptical” about the Iran deal, even after attending three classified briefings and reading the whole document. After speaking with experts, attending congressional panels, and reading the document thoroughly, Representative Israel still stated that, “Nothing that I have seen, read, or heard has alleviated any of the skepticism that I had initially.”(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, Democrats Steve Israel, Nina Lowey, and Ted Deutch came out against the agreement and clarified that they would be voting against it. The most influential Jewish Democrat in Congress, Senator Chuck Schumer, announced with a lengthy statement on August 6, 2015, that he would be voting against approving the nuclear agreement. Schumer cited his chief concern as the fact that the deal may just push a nuclear Iran down the road, and after the deal expires Iran might develop nuclear capabilities. While evaluating the agreement Senator Schumer spent hours meeting with President Obama and his Congressional colleagues, and even met with the P5+1 negotiating team, where he asked and recieved answers to 14 pages worth of questions. The influential Senator criticized the inspections regime, calling it “weak,” and stated that reimposing sanctions on Iran, should they cheat the deal, would be a Herculean task. Schumer argued during the following week that even if the deal is rejected by the United States and all other countries lift their sanctions on Iran per the deal, Iran would still feel, “meaningful pressure,” from U.S. sanctions. Two more Democrats, Senators Brian Schatz and Amy Klobuchar, announced on August 10 that they would be voting in support of the deal.
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. The Democrats 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 even if the U.S. rejects the deal. A spokesperson from the British Embassy stated under the condition of anonymity that, “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 Khamanei. Liberals in Iran have pointed out that the lifting of sanctions will have economic benefit for the Islamic republic, and have argued for the benefits of the agreement.
Iranian Supreme Leader 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 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 John Kerry wrote a letter to Iranian government officials at the start of these secret negotiations in 2011, allegedly officially recognizing Iran's rights regarding nuclear enrichment.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with 22 Democrats from the U.S. Congress on August 9, 2015, in a 2-hour meeting in which he attempted to sell the Congressmen on the idea that the Iran deal will be detrimental to global security and will provide Iran a path to a nuclear weapon. The Prime Minister stated that he was not going to tell the Congressmen how to vote, but according to those present at the meeting he made his position abundantly clear. This meeting was organized by AIPAC, who are staunch opponents of the deal.
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 final Iran deal that was reached is the, “most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” The group of former military leaders stated with conviction that, “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.” To read the full letter, click here. During the previous week, a team of 29 of the nation's leading scientists delivered a letter to President Obama in which they referred to the deal as, “technically sound, stringent and innovative.” The scientists went on to assert that 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) In response to these letters of support, during the final week of August 2015 a letter signed by 200 former Generals, intelligence officials, and Washington insiders was delivered to Congress urging them to reject the deal. The authors of the letter argued that, “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) To read the full letter, please click here.
Chief U.S. negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry clarified during a press conference on August 11, 2015, that Iranian violations of the arms embargo against them or the restrictions on their missile program will not force a snap-back of sanctions that were negotiated to be lifted. Kerry stated in no uncertain terms that the arms embargo and missile restrictions were not in any way tied to the snap-back of sanctions. Other specific UN resolutions are designed to deal with these potential violations and have been in place, argued Kerry. Addressing his critics, and critics of the deal as a whole, Kerry went on to explain later in the day that there was not a, “better deal” to be gotten. He railed against opponents of the deal, calling them naive and stating that they have misread and misunderstood the last 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 that, “"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)
Gary Samore, former nuclear advisor to President Obama and President and founder of the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, resigned from his position on August 11, 2015, when the group decided as a whole that it was going to work to oppose the Iranian nuclear accord. After leaving his post, Samore said that, “I think President Obama’s strategy succeeded. He has created economic leverage and traded it away for Iranian nuclear concessions.” (New York Times, August 11, 2015) The organization immediately replaced Samore, who founded United Against Nuclear Iran in 2008, with former Senator from Connecticut Joseph Lieberman. Samore does not think the deal is a perfect or final solution however, but he acknowledges the fact that the deal has bought the international community a couple of years to figure out how to permanently deal with Iran.
General Clarles Krulak, Former Commandant of the United States Marine Corps and former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced his opposition to the JCPOA on August 14, 2015 via a statement in conjunction with the Birmingham Alabama Jewish Federation. Referring to the negotiations, Krulak lamented that, “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 including former head of AIPAC Thomas Dine urged the U.S. Congress to approve the JCPOA with Iran. The ad was taken out to demonstrate that the deal has support from the Jewish community in the U.S., and states that, “while not perfect, this deal is the best available option to halt Iran’s nuclear program.”(Haaretz, August 20, 2015)
Independent Senator from Maine Angus King stated on August 20, 2015, that, “A nuclear-armed Iran would be a serious threat to the United States and to the world, but this agreement, if implemented effectively, would prevent Iran from obtaining the capacity to build a nuclear weapon for at least another fifteen years.”(Haaretz, August 20, 2015)
Harry Reid, Senate Minority leader and top ranking Senate Democrat, endorsed the deal as expected on August 23, 2015. Explaining his support for the deal, Reid posted on his social media accounts, “I believe a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, and the security of Israel is of the utmost importance to me. 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) As of August 23, 2015, twenty-seven Senate Democrats had endorsed the deal.
Jewish Congressman from New York Jerrold Nadler, who represents the largest Jewish constituency in the United States, came out in support of the deal on August 14, 2015. President Barack Obama began pushing for a Democratic filibuster in the Senate in favor of the deal on August 28, 2015.
In an interview on Syrian TV in late August 2015, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad affirmed that in his opinion the nuclear agreement between Iran and P5+1 strengthened and benefited Iran.
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 stated that, “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 as well as eleven Jewish former Congressmen endorsed the deal, the latter with a large ad in the New York Times. The six current members penned a "Dear Colleague" letter to their peers, asking for their support of the deal and referencing the New York Times ad.
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 in 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 Obama administration with enough Democrat votes to sustain the President's veto should Republicans vote to not approve the deal. Under the U.S. Constitution it takes 34 votes in the Senate to sustain a Presidential veto, and Mikulski was the 34th Senator to announce her support for the deal. Later that week eight more Democratic Senators spoke out in support of the agreement, further strengthening Obama's position.
2016 Presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz spoke at a rally against the deal outside of the Capital building on September 9, 2015.
Senate Democrats blocked a vote to reject the JCPOA on September 10, 2015, handing Obama one of the most significant diplomatic victories of his presidency. Following hours of intense debate in the Senate, a vote was called to reject the agreement that fell just short of the 60 votes that would have been required to silence the Democratic filibuster in support of the deal.
On October 1, 2015, legislation titled the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act was approved by the House, sporting a bipartisan majority. The bill, which passed with a 251-73 vote, would bar the Obama administration from releasing millions of dollars to Iran in the form of sanctions relief, following the signing of the JCPOA earlier in the year. The legislation has very little chance of going into effect, considering that President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation that comes to his desk trying to derail the implementation of the nuclear agreement. To read the text of this legislation, please click here.
The initial conditional sanctions waivers for Iran were approved by United States officials on October 18, 2015, although the deal does not go into effect until Iran has fulfilled all of it's obligations. Many officials close to the negotiations clarified that actual sanctions relief was likely at least two months away for Iran. This day was dubbed “adoption day” by both lawmakers and the media, and the day that the deal takes effect has been 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. Israeli nuclear experts heading the commission agreed through months of deliberation after reading the final accord, that the JCPOA would indeed prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The commission went on to say that any Iranian violation of the agreement would be easily noticable by the observer entities, and that they were extremely satisfied with the changes that are to be made to the Arak heavy-water reactor.
Israeli and U.S. Defense officials forged an agreement during November 2015, including aid packages and military equipment to be delivered to Israel. As a part of this package, the U.S. government approved the sale of V-22 Osprey aerial vehicles to the IDF, 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 it's financial support for proxy groups Hamas and Hezbollah. The expected large influx of cash from sanctions relief emboldened the Iranian officials, and they commenced funneling thousands of dollars all 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 are explicitly laid out in the agreement that the Iranians signed. (Free Beacon, July 22, 2015) Iran's ability to import and export arms and missiles was a major sticking point during the negotiations. Araghchi also claimed that the Iranian negotiators fully acheived their goal of refusing to allow any inspections of nuclear facilities.
Echoing other Iranian officials, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei's trusted advisor Ali Akbar Velayati stated during an interview with Al Jazeera on July 31, 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 and alleged secret nuclear weapons program could be completed without access to these individuals. Earlier in the day, the Director-General met with members of Congress to discuss the agreement.
Satellite images presented to U.S. intelligence services in early August 2015 showed recent activity at the secretive Parchin nuclear facility in Iran, prompting suspicions that the Iranian regime were already trying to hide nuclear activity. The photos allegedly showed bulldozers and other heavy construction material being moved in and around the Parchin facility, possibly an Iranian effort to clean and sanitize the facility before planned IAEA inspections. When pressed about this suspicious activity during the following week, 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 in order 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 included claims that the Iranians had allegedly built an extension to the Parchin nuclear complex. The authors of the report said that, “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 seperate from the JCPOA in late August 2015, pertaining to inspections of the secretive Parchin nuclear complex. Iran will be allowed to use it's own nuclear inspectors to investigate the site and report nuclear development activity to the IAEA, privy to the agreement. The IAEA document states that the watchdog organization will “ensure the technical authenticity of the inspections,” but does not detail how it would do so. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano released a statement after the deal was revealed, where he asserted that the IAEA is completely satisfied with the deal it struck for inspections of the Parchin nuclear facility.
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 towards the top two enemy's of the Islamic Republic. On September 2, 2015, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei explained during a press conference 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” in order to fight the “Zionist regime.” (JCPA, August 16, 2015)
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that he is in favor of Iran's parliament voicing their opinion and voting to approve or reject the JCPOA, during a televised statement on September 3, 2015. “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) Khamenei's decision to allow the parliament to vote on the deal was supported later in the day by the Iranian Parliament's official speaker in New York, Ali Larijani, adding that he supports the deal.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asserted on September 9, 2015, that the nuclear agreement did not open up Iran to further direct talks or diplomatic interactions with the United States pertaining to different issues.
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, Iran signing the CTBT would satiate opponents of the deal, who claim that after 15 years time the Iranians will be able to produce a weapon. 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 UNSCR 2231, a Security Council Resolution that encompasses the JCPOA as well as other restrictions on Tehran's activities. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani clarified his cabinet's positioning, stating that he views UNSCR 2231, the Security Council Resolution endorsing the agreement, as seperate from the JCPOA itself. UNSCR 2231 imposes additional restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program as well as the development of other weapons.
For the first time since the JCPOA was reached and the parties left the negotiating table, John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad 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 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, issued a report stating that, “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 Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on October 7, 2015. Khamenei posted 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 Gaurd 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 took a backseat to the more mainstream moderate Parliament members. In a final step, after being approved by the Parliament, the deal must be approved by the Iranian Gaurdian Council. Following the restrictions set out in the JCPOA, much of Iran's nuclear infrastructure is to be shut down in the coming months.
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 it's 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. Under the separate agreement with the IAEA, Iran had to provide the agency with information needed to complete an assessment of Iran's past nuclear activity by October 15, and they met that deadline. The IAEA issued an official statement, 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)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly expressed his support for and approval of the JCPOA for the first time on October 21, 2015. The support of the Supreme Leader was crucial to the implementation of the agreement. Although he approved of the deal, Khamenei cautiously stated that if all promised sanctions on Iran were not lifted Iran would not hesitate to walk away from the deal. To read the letter Khamenei wrote to Rouhani expressing his tepid support for the agreement, please click here.
Khamenei had a personal interest in the lifting of sanctions against Iran and Iranian companies, it was revealed during the months following the deal. Setad, one of Iran's largest conglomerates, is partly owned by Khamanei and is due to have many sanctions on it lifted after the implementation of the deal. Sanctions against Setad prohibited banks that did business in the United States from doing business with Setad. If the sanctions are completely lifted American banks, companies, and individuals will still not be able to do business with Setad, but outside businesses who work with Setad would be able to do business in the U.S.
Iranian officials were invited by envoys from the United States to participate for the first time ever 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.
Past Iran President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani admitted in an interview published on October 28, 2015, that his government at one time sought nuclear weapons to be developed for military purposes. Rafsanjani was quoted speaking with a reporter from Iran's Nuclear Hope website, saying that, “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].” Later in the interview, Rafsanjani revealed that during his Presidency officials sought to develop the Arak heavy water reactor facility into a plutonium processing facility, specifically for military purposes. (Jerusalem Post, October 28, 2015)
Iran began implementation of the JCPOA by begining to take their centrifuges offline in November 2015, according to international news sources. In a development that seemed to support these claims, 20 hardline conservative members of Iranian Parliament penned a letter to President Rouhani complaining about the deactivation of centrifuges during the following week. (Reuters, October 28, 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.
The Iranian government issued a blockade on U.S. goods instituted by the Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade, in early November 2015.
It was reported by U.S. Central Command on November 4, 2015, that 14% of U.S. troops killed in Iraq were a direct result of Iranian terrorism.
U.S. officials reported on November 4, 2015, that Iran's Revolutionary Gaurd Corps (IRGC) had hacked the emails and social media accounts of Obama administration officials and other Washington higher-ups. Iranian entities have often engaged in cyber-warfare with the United States, but these incidents became increasingly more common during the previous year.
According to the IAEA board 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. This announcement came as meetings between Putin and Iranian President Rouhani concerning the Syrian civil war came to a close. Putin signed a decree lifting the ban on the export of uranium enrichment equipment to Iran during the visit, and on November 24, 2015, it was reported than Iran had begun exporting enriched uranium to Russia, following implementation steps laid out in the JCPOA. In accordance with the deal, Iran must get rid of 98% of it's enriched uranium, much of which it agreed to ship to Russia. It was reported on December 21, 2015, that Iran would begin shipment of nine tons of enriched uranium to Russia before the new year. As a part of the exchange deal, Iran is importing 140 tons of lower enriched uranium from Russia, to support peaceful activities. (Fox News, December 21, 2015)
The IAEA board report set to be released in mid-December 2015 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 found no evidence of current activities, stating “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) To read this IAEA board report, click here.
The United States began facilitation of sending part of Iran's nuclear fuel stockpile to Kazakhstan as part of the JCPOA, in December 2015.
Following the revelation that Iran had pursued military dimensions to their nuclear program prior to 2003 and periodically until 2009, but not since then, the IAEA voted to close their file on the past military application of Iran's nuclear program on December 15, 2015. This announcement 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.
In violation of a United Nations ban on testing of missiles that could possibly deliver a nuclear warhead, Iran tested a new missile known as the Emad in early October 2015. The Emad is a precision-guided long range missile, and is the first guided weapon in Iran's arsenal capable of striking Israel. It is estimated that the missile has a range of over 1,000 miles and an accuracy range of within 1,600 feet. Israeli Military professional Uzi Rubin stated cautiously that, “The Emad represents a major leap in terms of accuracy. It has an advanced guidance and control system in its nose cone.” (Reuters, October 11, 2015) The United States announced during the following week that officialls would soon be discussing the incident before the United Nations, as a violation of UN sanctions and Security Council resolution 1929. The UNSC was told in a report that the Emad rocket could possibly deliver a nuclear warhead, and that the test was a “serious violation” of UNSC resolutions against Iran. The Iranians tested another rocket, the medium range ballistic missile Ghadr-110, on November 21, 2015. The Ghadr-110 is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and is a new and improved version of the Iranian Shabab-3 missile. The Security Council reached the conclusion that Iran had violated UNSCR 1929, on December 15, 2015. In response to this revelation, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stressed that the Iranians would not accept any limitations on their missile program. Deghan told reporters on December 16, 2015 that, “Since the nuclear deal we have not stopped our (missile)tests, production and research even for a day, an hour or a second... We tested Emad to show the world that the Islamic Republic will only act based on its national interests and no country or power can impose its will on us.” (Reuters, December 16, 2015)
A Russian ship left Iran on December 28, 2015, carrying with it a massive haul of enriched uranium. Russia assisted the Iranians in fulfilling a major step in the implementation of the JCPOA, taking enough uranium to leave the Iranians unable to produce a nuclear weapon. This represented a major foreign policy achievement for the Obama administration, and “one of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitment,” according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. (New York Times, December 28, 2015)
As the United States contemplated imposing more stringent sanctions on businesses and individuals associated with the Iranian government in response to their recent missile tests, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered his Defense Minister to oversee the accelerated development and production of ballistic missiles. “As the United States seems to plan to include the names of new individuals and firms in its previous list of cruel sanctions in line with its hostile policies... the program for the production of the Armed Forces' needed missiles is required to continue more speedily and seriously,” Rouhani wrote, in an order to the Defense Minister. (Fars News, December 31, 2015)
Iranian state television aired footage of a previously undisclosed underground missile depot filled with Emad precision-guided missiles on January 5, 2016. United States officials believe that the Emad missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Democratic lawmakers, both supporters and opponents of the nuclear deal, signed a letter sent to President Obama on January 6, 2016, urging his administration to impose sanctions on Iran in response to it's recent missile tests. The Congressmen wrote that they, “call on the Administration to immediately announce new, U.S. sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program to ensure Iran is held accountable for its actions.” To read the full text of this letter, please click here.
Video was released on January 9, 2016, showing an Iranian military vessel firing multiple unguided rockets near the U.S. warship Harry S. Truman in the Strait of Hormuz on December 26, 2015. The Iranian vessel sent out a warning to ships in the area 20 minutes prior to launch, but Iranian officials repeatedly denied the incident took place, citing the claims as U.S. propaganda. The incident was described as “unsafe, unprofessional, and inconsistent with international maritime law,” by a U.S. Navy spokesman. (Marine Corps Times, January 11, 2016)
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 it's major obligations in the implementation of the JCPOA, on January 11, 2016, the Iranian government announced 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. Iranian officials denied these claims over the following days, claiming that plans to fill the reactor with concrete had been put on hold while Iranian-Chinese negotiations to modify the reactor continue.
Two U.S. Navy vessels carrying 10 crew members accidentally strayed into Iranian territorial waters on the evening of January 12, 2016, and Iranian authorities immediately sent assurances to U.S. officials that the sailors were safe and would be released promptly. 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 U.S. boats broke down approximately 12 nautical miles from Iran's coastline. The sailors were released on their own boats 16 hours after they were taken into custody, and were picked up by U.S. Navy aircraft and brought to Qatar. Officials alleged that Republican lawmakers in the United States contacted the Iranian government during negotiations for the sailors release, and asked them if they would keep the sailors prisoner until after the 2016 Presidential election. Top Iranian and French lawmakers claimed that the Republicans, worried about Obama and the Democrats winning a public relations victory so close to the 2016 election, urged the Iranian officials to not release the prisoners immediately and instead wait until it was politically convenient for them.
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. President Obama has promised to veto any legislation that hinders implementation of the deal, and the legislation did not garner enough support to override a Presidential veto. Another vote on the bill was scheduled for January 26, 2016.