The Slatest

Iran Nuclear Deal Is Now Officially Underway, Putting the Country on the Clock to Make Cuts

Secretary of State John Kerry with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) before a negotiation session over Iran’s nuclear program in March 2015.

Photo by Brian Snyder/AFP/Getty Images

The Iran nuclear deal officially began being carried out on Sunday, formally beginning the process of de-escalating a decade-long diplomatic standoff between Washington and Tehran that, if all goes to plan, will allow for a reduction in Iran’s nuclear activity and greater international oversight of its program, in return for the alleviation of economic sanctions imposed on the country. Sunday comes 90 days after the U.N. Security Council ratified the agreement and is formally considered “adoption day” on the scheduled timeline of the nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, agreed to by Iran, the U.S., Germany, France, Britain, China, and Russia.

“Iran’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, told state TV that Tehran was ready to begin taking steps to comply, and awaited an order from President Hassan Rouhani, [saying]: ‘We are hopeful to begin in the current or next week,’ ” the Associated Press reports. “As part of the nuclear agreement, President Barack Obama on Sunday issued provisional waivers and a memorandum instructing U.S. agencies to lay the groundwork for relieving sanctions on Iran.”

“I hereby direct you to take all necessary steps to give effect to the U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions described in (the Iran deal),” President Obama said Sunday in a memo to the secretaries of state, treasury, commerce, and energy.

The full extent of the nuclear agreement will play out over the next decade, but NPR’s Peter Kenyon has a succinct summary of what are Iran’s first steps.

Reduce its stockpile of low enriched uranium by some 98 percent, either shipping it out of the country or diluting it down to its natural state … Remove thousands of centrifuges from the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, leaving a total of 5,060 working centrifuges … Take out the core at the Arak heavy water reactor and fill it with concrete. The reactor will eventually be converted so that it produces only a minimal amount of the other main nuclear fuel, plutonium.

Iranian officials have said they should be able to complete these steps in a couple of months. U.S. officials have cautioned that while the Iranians have a clear incentive to proceed as quickly as possible to loosen international trade restrictions, it could take longer to ensure compliance. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog, must first confirm Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement before the sanctions relief goes into effect. Diplomats involved in negotiating the deal expect that to happen by early 2016.

“Twelve years after Iran was found concealing some nuclear activities, prompting concern it had weapons ambitions, the deal has been described as a victory of diplomacy over the potential use of force,” Bloomberg notes. “Once the restrictions are removed, relief is expected to fuel economic growth by lowering barriers to Iran’s oil exports and ending the isolation of its banks.”