Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)/ Iran nuclear deal


Recently, the US has restored sanctions waivers to Iran to allow international nuclear cooperation projects, as indirect American-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran enter the final stretch.


  • The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal,
  • It is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program reached in Vienna on 14 July 2015, between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany)together with the European Union.
  • Formal negotiations toward JCPOA began with the adoption of the Joint Plan of Action, an interim agreement signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries in November 2013.
    • Iran and the P5+1 countries engaged in negotiations for the next 20 months and, in April 2015, agreed on a framework for the final agreement. In July 2015, Iran and the P5+1 confirmed agreement on the plan, along with the “Roadmap Agreement” between Iran and the IAEA.
  • Under its terms, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections in exchange for billions of dollars worth of sanctions relief.
  • The deal was proposed so that it would help prevent a revival of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and thereby reduce the prospects for conflict between Iran and its regional rivals, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • After the Trump administration twice certified Iran’s compliance in 2017, in May 2018 the United States withdrew from JCPOA as Trump pledged he would negotiate a better deal. Trump left office without fulfilling that pledge and analysts determined Iran had moved closer to developing a nuclear weapon since the American withdrawal

Background of the Iran Nuclear Deal

In the 1970s, Iran received assistance in its nuclear program from the United States as part of the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program. The Shah of Iran even signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968 as a non-nuclear weapons state and ratified the NPT in 1970.

It all changed when the Iranian revolution threw the country’s nuclear programme into disarray as many talented scientists fled the country. The new regime was openly hostile to the United States and thus ended any hope for assistance from them.

In the late 1980s Iran reinstated its nuclear program, with assistance from Pakistan (which entered into a bilateral agreement with Iran in 1992), China (which did the same in 1990), and Russia (which did the same in 1992 and 1995), and from the A.Q. Khan network.

Although Iran stated that its nuclear programme was for peaceful purposes, Western powers and their allies in the Middle East suspected that this was not the case.

Back and forth negotiations between Iran and the western nations took place throughout the 2000s with little progress. Iran even created plants for heavy water and Uranium enrichment which led to economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union.

It would not be until 15 July 2015 that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would be created. So far it is the most clear headed and robust nuclear plan formulated so far.

What was the objective of the JCPOA?

The main objective of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was to slow down Iran’s nuclear program. If Iran decided to make a nuclear weapon, it would take a year for it to be complete, giving enough time for world powers to respond.

United States intelligence estimates that, in the absence of the JCPOA or a similar agreement. Iran could produce materials for nuclear weapons in a few months. If that came to pass then the entire Middle East would be pushed into a new crisis. Iran’s open hostility against Israel is well known.

In the past Israel has taken covert actions against nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria and there can be no doubt that they will do the same for facilities in Iran. Should that happen Iran will  respond through its proxies like the Lebanon-based Hezbollah or will directly interfere with shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf where most of the world’s oil passes through.

Added to this mix is Saudi Arabia signaling its willingness to get a nuclear weapon of its own if Iran successfully detonates one.

Prior to the JCPOA, the P5+1 had been negotiating with Iran for years, offering its government various incentives to halt uranium enrichment. After the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, who was viewed as a reformer, the parties came to a preliminary agreement to guide negotiations for a comprehensive deal.

Iran wants to sign the JCPOA so that it can get relief from the sanctions that have crippled its economy in the past year. In 2012-2014 alone Iranian economy sustained a loss to the tune of $100 billion.

Agreements accepted by the P5+1 and others

  • Sanctions relief: The European Union, the UN, and the United States agreed to lift the sanction on Iran with some US sanctions dating back to 1979 remaining in effect.
  • These sanctions were placed due to Iran’s support of terror groups, human rights abuses, and its ballistic missiles program.
  • The parties involved also agreed to lift sanctions on a Weapons embargo provided the United Nations confirms through the IAEA that Iran is only engaged in civilian nuclear activities.

How successful was the deal?

The agreement got off to a fairly smooth start. The IAEA certified in early 2016 that Iran had met its preliminary pledges; and the United States, EU, and United Nations responded by repealing or suspending the sanctions.

Most significantly, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration dropped secondary sanctions on the oil sector, which allowed Iran to ramp up its oil exports to nearly the level it was before sanctions. The United States and many European nations also unfroze about $100 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets.

But the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal jeopardized everything after that.

Iran’s present nuclear activity:

Iran started exceeding agreed-upon limits to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in 2019 and began enriching uranium to higher concentrations (though still far short of the purity required for weapons).

It also began developing new centrifuges to accelerate uranium enrichment; resuming heavy water production at its Arak facility; and enriching uranium at Fordow, which rendered the isotopes produced there unusable for medical purposes.

2020: Iran took more steps away from its nuclear pledges, following a series of attacks on its interests.

  • January: After the U.S. targeted the killing of a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, Iran announced that it would no longer limit its uranium enrichment.
  • October: It began constructing a centrifuge production centre at Natanz to replace one that was destroyed months earlier in an attack it blamed on Israel.
  • November: In response to the assassination of a prominent nuclear scientist, which is also attributed to Israel, Iran’s parliament passed a law that led to a substantial boost in uranium enrichment at Fordow.

2021: Iran announced new restrictions on the IAEA’s ability to inspect its facilities, and soon after ended its monitoring agreement with the agency completely.

What is the current status of the agreement?

The fate of the Iran nuclear deal remains uncertain. Biden has said the United States will rejoin the agreement if Iran returns to compliance, but has also said he wants to negotiate a broader agreement that addresses Iran’s other activities, such as its missile program. Meanwhile, Raisi has said Washington has to return to the original deal.

In April 2021, JCPOA signatories began talks in Vienna to bring Washington and Tehran back into the deal, but the negotiations stalled after Raisi’s election.

Challenges to the restoration of the Iran nuclear deal:

  1. The regional cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a major hurdle to the restoration of this deal.
    1. The US and Saudi Arabia have strengthened their relationship per US’s Middle East policy and to counter Iran as well.
  2. The traditional Shia vs Sunni conflict between these countries has made it difficult to negotiate peace in the region.
  3. Iran is currently in violation of several of its important commitments, such as the limits on stockpiles of enriched uranium, and the farther it goes, the more challenging the deal becomes.
  4. Iran is blaming US sanctions for its economic losses due to the Trump administration’s pullout from the deal and imposing sanctions again.

Impact on India of restoration of the deal:

  • Boost to regional connectivity: Removing sanctions may revive India’s interest in the Chabahar option, Bandar Abbas port, and other plans for regional connectivity. This would further help India to neutralize the Chinese presence in Gwadar port, Pakistan.
  • The International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC), which runs through Iran, is important to India to improve connectivity with five Central Asian republics, may also get a boost.
  • Energy Security: Due to the pressure of the US’ Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), India had to bring down oil imports to zero. Restoration of ties between the US and Iran will help India to procure cheap Iranian oil and aid in energy security.

Source: Indian Express

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