Seven facts about Iran’s nuclear program

On July 14, 2015, a historic agreement was reached in Vienna between Iran and the international community, setting out ways for Tehran to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes after 12 years of bitter negotiations. In 2018, US President Donald Trump announced his country’s withdrawal from the agreement, calling it “the worst deal the United States has ever signed.” 

A year after the US abandoned the nuclear deal, Iran suspended some of its obligations under it. And for those who did not follow the transformations that have occurred since the year 2002, the following are answers to the most prominent 7 questions posed:

  •  What is the Iranian nuclear program?

In 2002, the international community began to suspect that Iran wanted nuclear weapons and was concerned about it. The Iranian dissident, Ali Reza Jafarzadeh, has revealed that his country is secretly building a uranium enrichment site in Natanz and a heavy water facility in Arak. This information was corroborated by satellite imagery, which prompted the Americans to accuse the Iranian authorities of secretly developing “weapons of mass destruction” in the post-September 11, 2001 attacks. IAEA inspections also confirmed those concerns. In the following years, Tehran openly sought to develop its program and did not hesitate to announce it when its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, confirmed in 2006 that “Iran has joined the nuclear states,” while ensuring that its program remains restricted to civilian use.

  •  What does the nuclear agreement say?

The 100-page agreement is based on three pillars: restricting Iran’s nuclear program to a minimum duration of 10 years, lifting sanctions on Tehran, and tightening controls over its facilities. The principle is to limit the number of places to be inspected, and at the same time define the material to be monitored by imposing ceilings.

The materials intended here are uranium and plutonium. What is required is to limit uranium enrichment and plutonium production. To achieve this, the Arak Heavy Water Reactor is being modified to prevent Iran from possessing the ability to produce plutonium for military purposes. On the other hand, economic sanctions against Iran will be gradually lifted, including the release of assets frozen abroad, which amounted to about $150 billion. Tehran directly benefited from the first round of the lifting of sanctions in January 2016, especially in the area of ​​increasing growth in its economy, and supporting its militias in the region to increase its influence.

  •  Why does Iran want nuclear energy?

Firstly, the desire to possess a nuclear weapon after the results of its war with Iraq (1980-1988), which printed its then new regime emanating from the “Islamic Revolution” in 1979. The main reason that Tehran declares is the growing nuclear capabilities of Israel, which it and its allies consider “the great enemy.” ” It can be said that this Iranian pursuit denotes a desire to sit within the club of powers that possess nuclear energy, so that the “Islamic Republic” has a greater influence in the regional and international arenas.

  • Does Iran have the right to obtain nuclear technology?

For civil use, yes. As for military use, no. In practice, civil nuclear energy consists of enriching natural uranium in relatively small proportions (between 3 and 5%), enough to cause a fission reaction in nuclear power plant reactors. Iran already has a nuclear power plant for civilian use on its soil, called Bushehr, in the south of the country.

It plans to build a second station near the Iraqi border. As for the military use of nuclear energy, it will enrich uranium to 90% through a more complicated, longer, and more costly process. Regarding Iran, the use of this aspect is strictly regulated by the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (TNP) signed in 1986, which entered into force in 1970. This treaty is limited to 5 countries: the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, and the former Soviet Union (currently Russia). Iran, which has signed and ratified this treaty, can enrich uranium for civilian purposes only, provided it accepts the international supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over its activities.

  •  Was Tehran really close to obtaining a nuclear bomb?

The diplomats who participated in the Vienna talks and who defend the agreement say that the Iranians were in any case about to build the bomb, and it was therefore urgent to defuse the escalating conflict that has lasted for nearly a decade. In the opinion of experts, the imposition of increasingly binding international sanctions slowed the development of Iran’s nuclear program, but it did not stop it.

During the first negotiations, in 2003, Iran had only 160 centrifuges to process uranium, compared to nearly 20,000 later. In 2009, the New York Times revealed a secret report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirming that “Iran has acquired enough knowledge to be able to develop and manufacture an atomic bomb.”

  • Why did the negotiations take 12 years?

The first negotiations to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear program began in 2003, at the initiative of 3 European countries: France, Germany and the United Kingdom. After a period of cooperation, Iran entered a period of tension in the year 2005 following the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who adopted a hard line demanding his country’s right to develop a civil nuclear program. In 2006, negotiations expanded to include the United States, China and Russia, which together with the Europeans formed the “Group 5 + 1” (the five members of the Security Council plus Germany). As the talks deteriorated, the United Nations sent several warnings to Iran and imposed international sanctions. After the change of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the coming of Hassan Rouhani, the parties returned to negotiations only in 2013. It took less than two years to reach a “principled agreement” in Geneva on November 24, 2013, and the final settlement was on July 14, 2015 in Vienna.

  • Does this mean that Iran will certainly not have a nuclear bomb?

No, the agreement is supposed to prevent the making of an Iranian nuclear bomb, but there is no indication that current or future Iranian leaders will not return to the ball by reviving a secret military program. However, supporters of the agreement bet that it would be beneficial to lift international sanctions on Tehran, gradually release its outstanding assets abroad, and cool ties with the United States, rather than leave it isolated and working in enrichment for military use. But the US withdrawal from the agreement announced by President Donald Trump and the recent increase in US sanctions on Tehran opened the door again to the stage of uncertainty in this file.