Here’s what you need to know about the Iran nuclear deal:
WHAT JUST HAPPENED AND WHY IS THIS SUCH A BIG DEAL?
In general, Iran has agreed to limit its nuclear program if the U.S. and other world powers ease up on what have been brutal economic sanctions against the country.
The 100-page deal caps off more than a decade of diplomatic wrangling aimed at keeping Iran from building a nuclear bomb. U.S. and Israeli officials say a nuclear-armed Iran would be a security disaster and potentially lead to war because of Tehran’s support for anti-Israel militant groups, such as the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, and frequent references by Iranian leaders to Israel’s destruction.
Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful and that it never sought to build a bomb. The talks were mostly considered stalemated until summer 2013, when Iran elected a new president, Hassan Rouhani, who said the country was ready to strike a deal.
The final agreement with Iran was negotiated by U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia.
SO WHAT IS THE AGREEMENT?
Iran agreed to reduce the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges it has in stock, as well as its stockpile of enriched uranium. It also has agreed to convert an enrichment site called Fordo – dug deep into a mountainside and thought impervious to air attack – into a research center.
Another key piece is the possibility of inspections: If the U.N. nuclear agency identifies a suspicious site, it can ask to inspect it. And if Iran refuses, an arbitration panel will decide whether the Iranians have to open up the site to inspection within 24 days.
All of this is aimed at slowing down the rate at which Iran could, in theory, build a nuclear weapon.
In exchange, Iran stands to receive more than $100 billion in assets overseas that had been frozen by other countries. It also will see an end to a European oil embargo and other financial restrictions on its banks. If Iran reneges on its promises, the sanctions will snap back into place.
EVERY GOOD DEAL INVOLVES COMPROMISE. WHAT DID THE WEST GIVE UP?
Among the biggest concession by the West is that Iran doesn’t have to submit to international inspections anytime, anywhere. Because the process for inspections could end up with an arbitration panel, access to the Islamic Republic’s most sensitive sites isn’t guaranteed and may be delayed.
And while Iran has to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium and its number of centrifuges, it doesn’t have to give them up entirely. It also isn’t being forced to close its mountainside Fordo facility, just use it for research purposes.
Another concern is that a U.N. weapons embargo could lift in five years or sooner if certain criteria are met. U.S. officials had sought to maintain the weapons ban because they worry that once sanctions are lifted and Iran’s government becomes flush with cash again, more military aid would find its way to places like Syria and Yemen. But Iran dug in and was supported by Russia and China, which stand to profit from greater weapons exports.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN FOR OIL PRICES?
Many analysts estimate that Iran has piled up tens of millions of barrels of oil on floating barges that can be exported in fairly short order after sanctions have been lifted. The country will follow that with increased production from its oil fields.
When all this happens and how it ultimately affects the price of oil remain far from certain. Energy prices can depend on production levels in other countries, currency rates and demand sparked by the health of global economies. Plus there are questions about the state of Iran’s oil infrastructure and its ability to increase production.
Despite all the uncertainty, analyst Tom Kloza expects the lifting of sanctions to help make energy prices next year ”more palatable for most of the world.”
WHAT DOES ISRAEL SAY? DON’T THEY HAVE THE MOST TO GAIN OR LOSE WITH THIS?
Yes, they do, and Israel isn’t happy because the deal basically leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement a ”bad mistake of historic proportion.” President Barack Obama says he sees it differently: If a diplomatic agreement with Iran can’t be found, that puts the next U.S. and Israeli leaders in the position of having to contemplate military action to prevent Iran from building a bomb.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? CAN THE U.S. CONGRESS KILL THE DEAL?
Congress has 60 days to review the deal. A vote of disapproval by itself won’t stop the agreement. But if Congress decides to impose new sanctions on Iran or prevent the president from suspending existing ones, that would make it hard for Obama to fulfill the American side of the deal. To do that, however, Senate and House Republican leaders would have to find enough support to override a presidential veto.
This version corrects the amount of time Iran has to give access to a suspicious site to 24 days, instead of 24 hours.