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The Peculiarities of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
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Iranian President Rohani, a pragmatist, was elected in 2013, leading to a diplomatic thaw between the Islamic Republic and the West. Finally, after 20 months of "strenuous" negotiations, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement was reached in July 2015 to ensure that Islamic Republic’s future nuclear program would be exclusively peaceful.[1] It was a landmark comprehensive nuclear agreement made after the longest continuous negotiations with the presence of all foreign ministers of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.[2] The agreement was very complex. One of the signatories, Robert J. Einhorn, a former U.S. Department of State official now at the Brookings Institution, said of the agreement: "Analysts will be pleasantly surprised. The more things are agreed to, the less opportunity there is for implementation difficulties later on." [3]The agreement had been founded upon , and also reinforced,  the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA safeguards system. [4]

According to several commentators, JCPOA was the first of its kind in the annals of non-proliferation and is in many aspects unique. This was the first time that the United Nations Security Council had recognized the nuclear enrichment program of a developing country –Iran–and backed an agreement (JCPOA) signed by several countries within the framework of a resolution (United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231).For the first time in the history of the United Nations, a country –Iran– was able to abolish 6 UN resolutions against it –169617371747180318351929– without even one day of implementing them. Sanctions against Iran were also lifted for the first time. The 159-page JCPOA document plus its 5 appendixes, was the most spacious text of a multinational treaty since World War II. Throughout the history of international law, this was the first and only time that a country subject to Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter –Iran– has managed to end its case and stop being subjected to this chapter through diplomacy. All other cases have ended to either regime changewar or full implementation of the Security Council’s decisions by the country.[5] Iran had agreed to strict limits on its nuclear program and extensive monitoring in return for the lifting of sanctions. In addition, it was agreed that Iran would have cooperate with an inquiry looking into evidence of past work on nuclear warhead design.

A brief summary of the main points:

Iran will not produce weapons-grade plutonium and limit its stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67% to 300 kilograms for the next 15 years.

Tehran also agreed to modernize its nuclear facilities and use them for exclusively peaceful purposes.

Sanctions will be gradually removed from Iran.

The arms embargo imposed by UN Security Council will be kept in place for five years, banning the supply of ballistic missile technologies to Iran - for eight years.

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will monitor nuclear facilities in Iran for the next 25 years.

If any points of the agreement are violated by Iran, sanctions against the country will be renewed.

The Main Points of the JCPOA:[6]

- Uranium enrichment capacity

- Iran’s current capacity of 19,000 gas centrifuges would be reduced by more than two-thirds, to 6,104, out of which just over 5,000 would actually be enriching uranium. All of them would be first-generation centrifuges based on technology going back to the 1950s. Furthermore, for the first 15 years of the deal, Iran would not enrich beyond the level of 3.67% purity, low-enriched uranium (LEU) of the kind used in nuclear power stations.

The enriched uranium stockpile

- Iran’s stockpile of LEU would be reduced from its current level of about 7,500kgto 300kg, a reduction of 96%. The reduction would be achieved either by shipping the uranium abroad or by diluting it.

Research, development and future enrichment capacity

- There would be limits on the R&D work Iran could do on advanced centrifuges, so that it could not suddenly upgrade its enrichment capacity after the first 10 years of the agreement and bring its breakout time down from one year to a few weeks almost overnight. Iran would be able to test experimental new centrifuges on a small scale according to a gradual plan.


- Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have full access to all Iran’s declared nuclear sites as at present but with much more advanced technology than they are using now. Inspectors would be able to visit non-declared sites where they think nuclear work might be going on. A commission made up of a range of IAEA members would be set up to judge whether the inspectors’ access requests are justified and would take its decision by majority vote.

Investigation into past activity

Iran has agreed to a “road map” with the IAEA officials by which it would provide access to facilities and people suspected of involvement in past experimental work on warhead design, managed by a centralized and covert unit, mostly before 2004. The IAEA would have to certify Iranian cooperation with the inquiry before Iran benefits from sanctions relief.

Sanctions relief

As Iran takes the agreed steps listed above to reduce the capacity and proliferation risk of its nuclear infrastructure, the US and EU would provide guarantees that financial and economic sanctions will be suspended or cancelled. The EU would stop its oil embargo and end its banking sanctions, and Iran would be allowed to participate in the Swift electronic banking system that is the lifeblood of international finance. Barack Obama would issue presidential waivers suspending the operation of US trade and financial sanctions.

A new UN security council resolution and the arms embargo

The JCPOA will be incorporated into a new security council resolution intended to replace and supersede six earlier sanctions resolutions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program. The resolution will be passed before the end of the month but the agreement will not take effect for 90 days, allowing for the domestic political review to be completed. An arms embargo on Iran would remain in place for five years, and a ban on the transfer of missile technology would stay for eight years.

On July 20,2015 the corresponding resolution on Iran’s nuclear program agreement was adopted by UN Security Council.


October 18, 2015 marks “Adoption Day” under the JCPOA – the day on which the JCPOA becomes effective and participants begin to make the necessary preparations for implementation of their JCPOA commitments. In connection with Adoption Day, on October 18, 2015, the United States President issued a memorandum directing his administration to take all appropriate preparatory measures to ensure the prompt and effective implementation of the U.S. commitments set forth in the JCPOA upon Iran’s fulfillment of the requisite conditions.  In particular, the US President directed the agencies to take steps to give effect to the U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions described in the JCPOA. In addition, on October 18, 2015, the Secretary of State issued contingent waivers of certain statutory sanctions provisions.  These waivers were not currently in effect and will only take effect on Implementation Day.[7] Thus, the US was signaling Iran that the country was ready to do more than what as required to implement the JCPOA.

Next Steps

JCPOA ‘s Annex V - Implementation Plan1  which describes the sequence of the actions specified in the agreement clearly states in section A. Finalization Day (2-4) that Iran and the IAEA will start “developing necessary arrangements to implement all transparency measures provided for in this JCPOA so that such arrangements are completed, in place, and ready for implementation”.[8] Meanwhile, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution endorsing this JCPOA, the provisions imposed in UN Security Council resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015) will be “terminated subject to re-imposition in the event of significant nonperformance by Iran of JCPOA commitments, and specific restrictions, including restrictions regarding the transfer of proliferation sensitive goods will apply”.[9]

Thus, the onus of compliance was primarily on Iran and any failure would result in the re-imposition of the sanctions regime under the UN. Thus, all concessions given to Iran were conditional on very strict compliance of the JCPOA.

The Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

The IAEA, United Nations nuclear watchdog, had a crucial role in the implementation of the JCPOA. There was also separate "roadmap" agreement between Iran and the IAEA, under which the agency would have to investigate the military dimensions of Iran's program, issue a report, and then close Iran's decade-old file within before the deal could come into effect.  For sanctions on Iran to be lifted, the IAEA must first verify that e Iran had honored all its commitments under the July deal, including dismantling large numbers of its centrifuges for uranium enrichment and filling parts of its Arak nuclear site with cement. The closure of the IAEA's nuclear weaponization probe was one of the prerequisites for the implementation of the JCPA.

The IAEA conducted a 12-year long survey on Iran’s nuclear program. Finally, on December 15, 2015 the IAEA closed the book on the possible military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, finding that they were limited to feasibility and scientific studies and did not proceed beyond 2009, bringing an international nuclear accord with Iran a step closer to implementation.  The resolution moved Iran another step closer to large-scale sanctions relief following its deal with world powers this summer.  Thus, Iran had cleared one of the nuclear deal's most important hurdles. Iran had yet to complete other provisions for implementing the deal, including removing the core of its plutonium reactor, scrapping much of its nuclear-fuel stockpile and removing thousands of centrifuges from its nuclear facilities. Iranian and U.S. officials have said that could be accomplished as early as January—one month ahead of parliamentary elections in Iran.

On December 15, 2015, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano confirmed that Iran was moving quickly to meet its commitments. Iran hoped to put the restrictions in place within two to three weeks. The restrictions Iran must put in place include drastically reducing the number of centrifuges installed at its underground enrichment sites, removing the core vessel of a reactor at Arak and shrinking its stockpile of enriched uranium..[10]


The IAEA must verify that Iran has put the required nuclear restrictions in place for sanctions to be lifted. Iran had been racing to keep its side of the JCPOA deal. The next step was for Iran to complete the necessary preparatory steps to start implementing the JCPOA. On receipt of an IAEA report verifying that Iran had taken all actions specified in the JCPOA, the agency would then terminate the relevant resolutions it had previously passed in connection with Iran’s nuclear program. This will allow Iran to participate in all IAEA technical cooperation activities, for instance.[11] Meanwhile, Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, said on December 16, 2015 that Iran would carry out its remaining obligations and would now dismantle some nuclear centrifuges and ship out a major portion of its stockpile of enriched uranium

Implementation Day

The Implementation Day is a major landmark in the JCPOA and will occur only once the IAEA verifies that Iran has implemented key nuclear-related measures specified in the agreement. Several preparatory steps have to be completed  by Iran.[12] This will be a major landmark, if and when it occurs.

The Future of the JCPOA 

The United States has taken a step toward lifting at least some sanctions against Iran, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Tehran is fulfilling its obligations in a “transparent” and “verifiable” way under an international agreement on its nuclear program. Kerry made the remarks on December 16, 2015. The Obama administration estimated it would not be until spring that Iran would be in compliance with the terms required for sanctions relief to begin. The sanctions, if and when, lifted would give Iran access to billions in frozen assets and oil revenue.[13]Thus, the United States appeared poised to lift at least some sanctions against Iran -- possibly as early as January 2016.[14]

It took a great effort on the part of the US and Iran to reach this agreement. Iran made concessions in order to get rid of the sanctions regime which was crippling its economy. The people of Iran also wanted to end this confrontation with the West. The adoption of the resolution had become the breakthrough in relations between IAEA and Iran.[15] Although, the IAEA’s report strongly suggesting Iran had engaged in activities aimed at developing a nuclear bomb up until 2003 and that there was no credible sign of weapons-related work beyond 2009. Despite the finding, the international response to the report had been “muted”, indicating a desire to go ahead with an agreement that “allayed fears of a wider Middle East war over Iran's nuclear ambitions, rather than dwell on its past actions”.[16]

Under the JCPOA Iran pledged never under any circumstances to seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and the UN Security Council is to consider ending sanctions imposed for its NPT violations once it receives IAEA’s report on verification. Once the deal was implemented, most U.S., U.N. and European Union economic and financial sanctions would be suspended, including Europe’s embargo on Iranian energy. However, an arms ban will remain in replace as well as sanctions on dozens of people and companies associated with Iran’s nuclear program. Iran will also have to seek permission to import so-called dual-use goods, which could be used in an illicit nuclear program. Other U.S. sanctions related to human-rights abuses and support for terror groups, including a “near-comprehensive embargo” on U.S. trade with Iran, will remain in place.[17]

Much work lies ahead to reach this agreement and a further sustained effort will be required to implement it. It isn’t gong o be easy at all. With the lifting of sanctions, Iran was poised to add a half million barrels a day to the saturated world oil supply by mid-2016, once the sanctions relief goes into effect, said Sara Vakhshouri, a senior energy fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. Positive news on Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers "could have a psychological downward impact on the global oil prices,” Vakhshouri said. “This could happen even before Iran increases its export volumes.”[18] Notwithstanding he criticisms, the JCPOA has the potential to provide stability, security and economic prosperity to Iran and thereby help stabilize a volatile region.


[1] .The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany), and the European Union


[3] See Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Comprehensive_Plan_of_Action, accessed December 16, 2015

[4] See Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Comprehensive_Plan_of_Action, accessed December 16, 2015

[5] See Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Comprehensive_Plan_of_Action, accessed December 16, 2015

[6] Julian Borger, “Iran nuclear deal: the key points”, July 14, 2015, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/14/iran-nuclear-deal-key-points, accessed December 17, 2015

[7] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action US State Department, http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/, accessed December 16, 2015

[8] See Annex V - Implementation Plan Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action US State Department http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/, accessed December 16, 2015

[9] Ibid

[10] 'Not impossible' Iran sanctions will end in Jan, IAEA chief says, THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE , http://tribune.com.pk/story/1011639/not-impossible-iran-sanctions-will-end-in-jan-iaea-chief-says/ , accesed December 17, 2015

[11] Rodolfo Quevenco, “IAEA Board Adopts Landmark Resolution on Iran PMD Case”, IAEA Office of Public information and Communication, December 15, 2015, accessed December 17, 2015

[12] UN ends probe into Iran’s past nuclear activities, moving international accord closer to implementation, UN news Centre, December 15, 2015

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52819, accessed December 17, 2015

[13] “Some Iran Sanctions Could Be Lifted As Soon As January “Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, December 17, 2015 http://www.rferl.org/content/iran-sanctions-relief-january/27434261.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter, accessed December 17, 2015

[14] Deb Riechmann, “US poised to lift sanctions on Iran under nuclear deal”, WSVN.com, http://www.wsvn.com/story/30779260/us-poised-to-lift-sanctions-on-iran-under-nuclear-deal,  December 17, 2015

[15] Resolution on Iran PMD case breakthrough in relations between IAEA and Tehran — official, TASS- Russian News Agency, December 16, 2015, http://tass.ru/en/world/844499, accessed December 17, 2015

[16] Bozorgmehr Sharafedin , “Rohani: Nuclear Deal to Be Implemented Within Weeks”, Haaretz, December 16, 2015, http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.692181, accessed December 17, 2015

[17]  LAURENCE NORMAN, “ IAEA Board Agrees to Close File on Iran’s Past Nuclear Activities”, Wall street Journal, December 15, 2017, http://www.wsj.com/articles/iaea-board-agrees-to-close-iran-past-nuclear-activities-file-1450195869, accessed December 17, 2015

[18] Oren Dorell, U.N.: Iran conducted nuclear weapons research as recently as 200 

USA TODAY,  December 15, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/12/15/iaea-set-close-file-iranian-nukes/77321508/, accessed December 17, 2015


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