Saturday 22 September, 2018

Iran nuclear deal: Trump poised to unveil decision

(Image: AP: File image of Donald Trump)

(Image: AP: File image of Donald Trump)

US President Donald Trump is set to reveal whether he will abandon the Iran nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions at 02:00PM Washington time on Tuesday. The announcement follows months of deliberation over the deal, agreed under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Loop looks at what’s at stake:

What was the deal?

The Iran nuclear deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - was reached in July 2015, after years of antagonism between Iran and the West over Western suspicions Tehran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

In simple terms, Iran agreed measures to limit its ability to produce nuclear weapons in return for removal of tough sanctions that had harmed its economy. It was negotiated between Iran, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.

What exactly was agreed?

To make nuclear bombs you need uranium-235 (made by enriching uranium using centrifuges) or plutonium. Iran agreed to reduce both its stockpile of enriched uranium and its number of working centrifuges, and stipulated it would not enrich uranium beyond the level needed for nuclear power. It also agreed to modify another reactor so it could no longer produce weapons-grade plutonium, and to allow inspectors from the UN nuclear body, the IAEA, to monitor its compliance with the deal. Several of the limits and prohibitions are for fixed periods – for example 10 or 15 years - only.  

What did Iran get?

In return, a raft of nuclear-related international sanctions and blocks were suspended, and Iranian assets frozen overseas were released.  

Why doesn’t Trump like the deal?

Trump says the deal is too lenient as it limits Iran's nuclear activities for only a fixed period and doesn’t ban ballistic missile development. He also says it doesn’t address Iran’s role in regional conflicts like Iran and Syria, and says the money it was able to access after sanctions were suspended “served as a slush fund for weapons, terror and oppression”.

What’s he done so far?

Under the agreement, the US president has to sign off on the deal every 90 days – and Trump refused to do this in October 2017. So far, however, he has not moved to re-impose sanctions. He last waived the sanctions – as he is required by law to do every 120 days – in January 2018 - but set a deadline of 12 May (the next waiver date) to decide what to do.

What do other nations say?

The consensus is that Iran has kept to its part of the nuclear agreement - the IAEA director general confirmed this in March - and Trump is under pressure from European allies not to withdraw from the deal. It is widely acknowledged that the deal is not perfect but its supporters have argued the time limits were to encourage more discussion with Iran in the future that could help address wider concerns.

In recent days European leaders have been lobbying Trump to stick to the deal, including British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. He wrote in the New York Times on 6 May that “every available alternative [to the deal] is worse”, suggesting it should be improved rather than broken. "Of all the options we have for ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, this pact offers the fewest disadvantages,” he wrote.

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