On the 14th of July 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was agreed upon and signed by Iran, the P5+1(United States, United Kingdom, China, France, Russia plus Germany) and the European Union. This agreement is a key moment in the history of relations between Iran and the West as it finally ends the negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear plans, which date back to 2003.
This deal is believed to be a win for Rouhani and the Iranian people as the sanctions have been extremely damaging towards the Iranian economy. The Iranian rial has depreciated by around two thirds against the US dollar and Iran’s oil revenues have been cut in half and its banking system cut off from international markets. Now, Iran is expected to gain access to around $100 billion in frozen assets and be able to export oil once sanctions relief kicks in. This will yield benefits for Iran’s expanding middle class and raise Rouhani’s popularity within Iran.
In the US however, there is a different story. President Obama faces opposition from Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, where there is currently bi-partisan support for a bill which would require the president to submit the agreement to an up-or-down vote. The White House has predicted the bill could kill the deal and Obama has threatened to veto it should it come to his desk. President Obama’s insistence on maintaining the agreement is down to several reasons, the main one being that he believes a deal with Iran is the best way to prevent them from building a nuclear weapon. There is also the case that reactivating diplomacy between Iran and the United States could potentially be the first step towards bringing stability in the Middle East, as President Obama has already acknowledged the possibility of cooperation in the future on issues such as Syria.
Iran’s interest in nuclear technology dates back to the 1950’s when the United States began assisting them through the Atoms for Peace program. This support came to a halt after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of the U.S. backed Shah. The Iran-Iraq war, 1980 to 1988, further soured relations between the West and Iran.
Iran’s attention turned to nuclear development once again in the early 1990’s, with cooperation from Pakistan, China and Russia, allowing Iran to make slight advancements. Iran’s nuclear activities made the US intelligence suspicious and their hostile relations with one another led to the belief that Iran did not have peaceful intentions and sought to create nuclear weapons. This belief was shared by other western nations such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany and led to the formation of the EU-3 and P5+1.
Harsh sanctions were imposed on Iran following UNSC Resolution 1737, which cited Iran’s continuing failure to meet the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s provisions regarding the suspension of enrichment related and reprocessing activities as the principal reasons for the economic sanctions. The main points of the agreement include; Iran getting rid of around 97% of its enriched uranium, permanently giving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to random inspections, as well as Iran accepting that sanctions would be restored immediately if they were to violate any decisions reached.