Clockwork Implementation for the Iran Nuclear Deal
By: Sharon Squassoni
After a rocky start that featured heated debates in the U.S. Congress and in the Iranian Majlis, the Iran nuclear deal (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) is moving forward. Congress was unable to muster enough votes by the September 17 deadline to block President Obama from temporarily lifting sanctions, and both the Majlis and the Guardian Council approved the deal in mid-October. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Yukiya Amano announced on October 15 that Iran and the IAEA had completed the tasks set out in the road map for clarifying Iran’s past and present outstanding issues related to its nuclear program. And the United States and European Union christened October 18 as JCPOA Adoption Day, signing orders preparing for the lifting of sanctions and unfreezing of Iranian assets.
Yet, this is just the beginning. From a process standpoint, Iran has serious work to do to prepare for Implementation Day, which is when sanctions will actually be lifted. Disconnecting cascades of thousands of centrifuges and putting them into storage and disabling the Arak reactor core are probably the most challenging of the tasks. Iranian officials have estimated the tasks will take two months; Americans are a little less optimistic.
From a political standpoint, other perturbations could slow down the process. For example, Iran tested a medium-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile last week in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 1929 (adopted in 2010). While this is not a violation of the Iran nuclear deal, it creates problems for Western governments seeking support for the deal. Likewise, the IAEA’s final report on the Iran file, which is due in December, could have significant political reverberations if it appears weak. Given that Director Amano is seeking an additional term at the helm of the IAEA, he is unlikely to prolong a process that all parties clearly want to end. Officials have already noted that closing the Iran file is not a prerequisite for Implementation Day.
The steps taken so far and those about to begin will certainly diminish Iran’s technical capabilities to develop a nuclear weapon, but the political dust may not settle until there are equal strides in building trust in Iran’s intentions.