Foreign Policy

One year later, the Iran nuclear deal is a success by any measure


This past Monday, January 16, marked a full year since the oft-debated nuclear agreement between the United States, its negotiating partners, and Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was officially implemented.

Contrary to the doubts of critics, the agreement has been a certifiable success in its first year, achieving its objects of blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and increasing visibility into Iran’s nuclear activities.

{mosads}The agreement has placed significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity, effectively blocking paths to both a uranium-based and plutonium-based nuclear weapon.


Under the agreement, Iran is permitted to keep only a small amount of low-enriched uranium and is forbidden from enriching it beyond 3.67 percent (for reference, 90 percent is considered weapons-grade uranium).

To comply, Iran removed 97 percent of its low-enriched uranium, dramatically reducing its nuclear proliferation capabilities in a verifiable and irreversible way.

The agreement has also frozen and reversed Iran’s dramatic increase in centrifuges to enrich uranium. In 2006, Iran had 164 centrifuges. Despite international condemnation, sanctions, and sabotage, Iran grew its capabilities to nearly 20,000 installed centrifuges, with plans to continue expanding and advancing its technology.

Under the agreement, Iran is permitted to operate around 6,000 first generation centrifuges. To comply, Iran has removed two-thirds of its centrifuges, and is permitted only limited testing of advanced technologies.

The agreement has also effectively blocked Iran’s path to a plutonium-based nuclear weapon.

Before the agreement, Iran was preparing to operate a nuclear reactor capable of producing enough plutonium annually for two nuclear weapons. Under the agreement, Iran has removed the core of the reactor and rendered it inoperable.

The facility is being redesigned to ensure it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, and all spent fuel produced by the facility will be sent out of the country to prevent Iran from obtaining plutonium from the radioactive waste.  

These restrictions have been, and will continue to be, enforced and verified primarily by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a nuclear watchdog organization tasked with ensuring Iran’s limited nuclear activity has only peaceful purposes.

IAEA inspectors have been granted unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, allowing for consistent monitoring through the use of technology and physical inspections, effectively cutting off a covert path to a nuclear weapon. The core restrictions of the deal last at least 10 years, with others, including some key verification clauses, stretching 25 years and beyond.     

In return, the United States, European Union, and United Nations have waived sanctions applied on Iran for its nuclear weapons activity and granted Iran access to assets previously restricted in foreign accounts. International sanctions on Iran for other nefarious activities, including its violation of human rights and sponsorship of terrorism, are still in effect.

Although the total value of sanctions relief that Iran has received is difficult to estimate, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, stated in a congressional hearing that it would be about $56 billion.

Overall, it has been a successful year for the agreement. When disputes have arisen, either through an honest mistake or in an attempt to test the waters, the situations have been resolved quickly and without incident.

Twice in 2016, Iran has briefly exceeded the cap on heavy water, a material used in the operation of some nuclear reactors. In both instances, the IAEA raised concerns and Iran reduced its inventory.

As the JCPOA enters its second year of implementation, and its first year under the new Trump administration, it is critical that the United States continues to actively monitor and enforce the agreement.

The United States must ensure the IAEA has the resources it needs to thoroughly monitor Iran. The U.S. also must live up to its obligations to refrain from reimposing sanctions on Iran, if they are not warranted for other activities.

This will require a smooth hand-off between the outgoing and incoming presidential administrations.

While President-elect Trump has previously expressed discontent with the agreement, both his nominee for Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis, and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), have advised that the United States should continue to implement it.  

The JCPOA’s successful first year of implementation is a cause for optimism for the international community, placing the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon under lock and key for the foreseeable future.

The agreement addresses key concerns about Iran’s nuclear program in a peaceful, verifiable way, without removing any future options from the U.S. playbook, and all without firing a shot.

John F. Tierney is a former nine-term Congressman and current Executive Director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Council for a Livable World.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Bob Corker Jack Lew

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video