One month ago in Vienna, the United States and five other countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK) along with a representative of the European Union, collectively known as the E3/EU+3, signed a nuclear agreement with Iran. The deal was immediately hailed as historic by both its supporters and its detractors. Yet very few of its supporters—or its detractors—know what the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in Vienna actually says. In this note, I seek to do my part to help change that. (I do not discuss the removal of sanctions or the questions of what Iran might or might not do with the increased resources that removal of sanctions will provide.)
The Plan of Action very effectively shuts off all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon for fifteen years and provides other safeguards against Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons indefinitely. Even in a worst-case scenario—where Iran kicks out all international inspectors and races for a bomb—for at least ten to fifteen years, the breakout time for one nuclear weapon would be roughly one year. Most significantly, the Plan of Action decisively shuts down the plutonium pathway for fifteen years, and in all likelihood much longer.