The Middle East has undoubtedly been a central part of American foreign policy over the last 15 years. One of the many problems for the region was Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Since 2013, the United States, Russia, France, Great Britain, and China have been working with Iran to propose a deal that would end their development of such weapons.
That deal has finally come to fruition, and here in the United States, there's no shortage of criticism for the Obama administration for this deal. Republican opposition to this agreement hinges upon the notion that such a deal would actually destabilize the region and allow a pathway for Iran to develop weapons in secret.
My contention is that this deal is the appropriate course of action, and contains enough provisions that will encourage Iran to avoid developing a nuclear weapon. It represents a foreign policy success for all parties.
The agreement itself creates serious limitations on Iran for key elements in developing a nuclear weapon. Iran is sacrificing quite a bit. Here's what's at stake:
Tens of thousands of centrifuges are required for uranium enrichment. Iran currently has about 20,000 and under this agreement, they will reduce that number to approximately 6,000.
The level of uranium enrichment is also another significant point of interest. Uranium that occurs naturally contains less than 1% of the special uranium isotope needed for nuclear weapons. To make weapons grade material, laboratories must take that uranium and "enrich" it to the point where the level of the special isotope is making up about 90% of the uranium. Under this agreement, Iran will not enrich its uranium to a level greater than 3.67%.
Additionally, under this agreement, Iran will agree to reduce the amount of uranium stockpile by 98%. Even if they chose to attempt developing weapons, they would need over a year to accumulate and process the necessary stockpile of fissile material. This agreement will still permit Iran to use uranium for energy purposes, with its spent fuel rods being shipped from the country, so they cannot be processed into plutonium.
To ensure that Iran is complying with the provisions of this agreement, they have agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect all sites, monitor the transport of fissile materials outside of the nation, and examine any sites that may arouse suspicion.
Most of the provisions Iran agreed to occur for a minimum of 15 years, while some of them last for greater terms, including a few aspects that they agreed to on a permanent basis. If Iran breaks any part of the agreement, the United Nations and the United States would be justified in implementing the same sanctions again.
In return, the United States and allies will agree to lift the economic sanctions that have crippled Iran. Over the last 10 years, the United States, the European Union, and United Nations have all imposed serious sanctions. Iran's ability to trade internationally has come to a near halt. Travel restrictions have been imposed. Banking institutions, weapons industries, shipping, the energy sector, etc. have been limited to the point where Iran's people are suffering because of the restrictions.
The effects of the sanctions have become apparent over the last three years. Iran's gross domestic product (GDP) peaked in 2011, with a value of approximately $576 billion. Over each of the last four years, the GDP of Iran has steadily decreased, with a reported $415 billion GDP from this past year. That translates to a reduction of GDP by an astonishing 28%.
It's also significant to address that the Iranian economy is struggling with an unemployment rate that is conservatively estimated at 10%, but according to the World Bank, could be as high as 20%. The youth of Iran are the demographic affected most by the high levels of unemployment. Lifting these sanctions will allow for more trade and economic development, which will, in turn, less the chances of these youth becoming radicalized. If people have jobs and economic opportunity, they are less likely to become involved in any terrorist activities.
Trade and economic development not only benefits Iran, but the United States as well. The reserves of oil Iran holds will allow more access and drive down the price, which assists American consumers. The opening of trade allows for investment from foreign sources and allows American businesses the opportunity to grow and expand. With a population of nearly 80 million, Iran also becomes a marketplace for American goods and services.
While there are plenty of good reasons to move forward with this deal, many Americans raise objections to crafting a deal with Iran, and those deserve consideration. One of the major concerns is that Iran, free from economic sanctions, will be flush with cash and have access to convention weapons and arms that will allow it to advance its own agenda in the Middle East. I can understand why people are concerned about Iran, because they are so antithetical to what the United States represents. But they, as a sovereign nation, have a right to pursue their goals and objectives just as any other nation. Their attempts at dominance in the region will be checked by a nuclear armed and American backed Israel and an already strong Saudi Arabia.
The objection has also been raised that Iran has historically not been very trustworthy, and any negotiations with them would be suspect. I can understand this critique, but this does not excuse completely removing ourselves from diplomacy. The allegations of mistrust also cut two ways. Iranians have plenty of reasons not to trust the United States, including the CIA coup d'état of the Iranian government in 1953. The United States and Great Britain have a long history of exploiting the oil resources of Iran, and they haven't forgotten. Part of breaking through that mistrust is sitting down and discussing problems. That's precisely what both sides have done.
Critics of this deal also point to the fact that the State Department lists Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. They have either directly or indirectly supported terrorist groups, and this does represent a problem. But should this preclude us from working out a deal that will keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon? Absolutely not. The United States has negotiated with far worse and more dangerous regimes than Iran.
During both the Bush and Obama administrations, we have reached out to North Korea to extend opportunities for dismantling their nuclear programs. North Korea already has nuclear weapons, and is the world's leader in human rights violations.
The presidency of Ronald Reagan helped to create a diplomatic relationship with the Soviet Union, the same nation he labeled as the "Evil Empire." Diplomacy eased tensions with a threat that rivaled the United States in terms of their nuclear arsenal.
President Richard Nixon responded to overtures from China and Mao Zedong in the 1970s. His efforts allowed the United States to drive a wedge between China and the Soviet Union. The diplomatic efforts didn't change Mao's terrible policies of the past, but it did create a stepping stone for the future.
This diplomatic solution allows for economic development for everyone and it will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It also has the potential for preventing the radicalization of future terrorists in the long term. While Iran has other problems and shortcomings that we want to change, we cannot broach those problems today.
Many of the critics of this agreement falsely believe the United States can project power by being one-sided in its approach to diplomacy. This is no diplomacy at all, but the same line of thinking that created tension with Iran in the first place.
In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy delivered a significant statement about diplomacy. He noted, "So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."
The negotiations and agreement with Iran are not a sign of weakness, but of strength. The sanctions imposed upon Iran were put in place because they began developing nuclear weapons. Now, they have agreed to stop pursuing that goal. This is the right move at the right time.