Standing before the projected words “Iran Lied,” Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu revealed Monday that Iran had not only violated the terms of the nuclear deal limiting its nuclear weapons program, but also lied to negotiators about the nature of that program when the deal was being written.
It was a damning accusation. If it proves true, which is simultaneously both a big “if” and not that unbelievable, it may mean certain doom for the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 agreement struck between the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia that dismantled the nascent nuclear ambitions of Iran.
It’s no secret that President Donald Trump positively hates the deal, frequently calling it terrible, “one of the worst and most one-sided” deals in the country’s history. In January, he called for an ultimatum to fix the deal and just a few days from now, he will finally decide whether or not the U.S. will officially pull out of what’s officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
But what is the nuclear deal, and why is everyone making such a big deal out of it?
At its core, the JCPOA is an agreement between six countries and Iran that lifts a bevy of sanctions placed on Iran in exchange for a number of concessions for its nuclear program. Among those concessions, Iran will limit the number of centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium from 20,000 to just over 5,000. Uranium-235 is the nasty stuff, and while low-enriched uranium can be used to power nuclear power plants, enrichment levels of around 90 percent can be used to make a nuclear warhead.
In addition to a limit on the level of allowed enrichment and a broad agreement to let the U.N.’s atomic regulators, the International Atomic Energy Agency, inspect facilities at any time, these limits have timelines between 10 and 15 years, drastically increasing the amount of time it would take for Iran to hypothetically manufacture a warhead, the so-called ‘breakout time’ to about 10 years, down from two or three months pre-JCPOA.
So far, so good. So why does Trump hate it?
Part of it is certainly its connection to the Obama administration. Trump has made no bones about his mission to dismantle as much of Obama’s legacy as possible, and in the arena of foreign policy, there is no greater Obama legacy than the JCPOA.
But more than that, there are some legitimate concerns that Iran may not adhere to its side of the deal, and with Monday’s reveal by the Israelis, those concerns are now only more real. If Iran has lied to the IAEA or to negotiators making the deal in the first place, it’s not wholly unreasonable to expect Trump — no friend to Iran to begin with — to want to pull out of the deal.
So why should you care?
It’s a valid question. The president of the United States has more latitude over foreign policy than any other issue area, and if you’re just a regular undergrad here at the University of Nevada, Reno, there really isn’t much you can do to stop Trump from pulling out of the deal.
And unlike the Paris Climate Accord, which can be executed on the local and state level, there isn’t a way for proponents of the JCPOA to legally sidestep the president, not this time.
But despite all this, the deal is of monumental importance. The Middle East is a tinderbox, and the long-standing feud between Iran and Israel isn’t going away anytime soon. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, it could be a major destabilizing force in the region, and as citizens of the world, just knowing the details and knowing the stakes is half the battle. But for now, we just have to watch and wait.
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