Any evaluation of the Iranian nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, must consider three different time periods, each of which is roughly a generation.
First, of course, is the initial 10–15 year period of the agreement itself, in which extraordinary restrictions will be placed on all of Iran’s nuclear activities: from uranium mines to centrifuge production plants; from the configuration of its nuclear reactors to the operation of its enrichment facilities; and from the size of its uranium stockpile to the level of enrichment—all of this and more will be under the constant supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is correct to label these restrictions extraordinary. No other nation in the 47-year history of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has ever voluntarily agreed to such intrusions into its nuclear activities.
It is also correct to praise the complex and interlocking terms of the agreement. One creative element is the “snap back” provision, which permits the re-imposition of sanctions by the United Nations in case of serious breach of the agreement, with no veto right. The agreement also provides a special supervised channel for Iranian trade in peaceful nuclear materials and technical oversight provisions that have never been applied to any other country that is party to the NPT. One of the chief U.S. negotiators repeatedly compared the agreement to a Rubic’s Cube, since every part depends on every other part.
As the limits and terms of the agreement came to be better understood, even its harshest critics generally acknowledged that they would dramatically raise the barrier for any Iranian attempt to break out. There were some remaining questions about enforcement mechanisms, such as fears that access to a suspect site could be delayed by up to 24 days or that access to Iranian military sites would be impeded. However, assurances from Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, and from U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, one
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