The U.S. Congress failed to block the agreement that our countries, along with the United States, Russia and China, reached with Iran to curb its nuclear program. This is an important moment. It is a crucial opportunity at a time of heightened global uncertainty to show what diplomacy can achieve.
Iran’s nuclear program has been a source of concern for more than a decade. Iran claimed that its ambitions were purely civil: All countries have the right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. But as recently as two years ago, we faced an alarming expansion in Iran’s program: a growing stockpile of uranium, some of it enriched up to 20 percent; an increase in the number of centrifuges, including more powerful new-generation machines; a deeply bunkered enrichment facility at Fordow; and the near completion of a research reactor at Arak capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. And, of course, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had limited visibility of some aspects of Iran’s program.
This posed a serious threat – not only to the security of Iran’s neighbors and for Israel, but also to our countries. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East would have added a disastrous new element to an already unstable region.
We had a shared responsibility to deal with this threat. The history of fruitless nuclear talks with Iran did not give strong grounds for optimism. Nevertheless, two years of tough negotiation have produced an agreement that closes off all possible routes to an Iranian nuclear weapon in return for phased relief from nuclear-related sanctions.
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We fully support this agreement because it achieves the goals we had set ourselves. It deals with the uranium enrichment route to a bomb by requiring Iran to reduce by 98 percent its stockpile of enriched uranium; to lower by two-thirds the number of its centrifuges; to limit uranium enrichment levels; and to stop using the deep Fordow site for enrichment. It closes the plutonium route through changes to the Arak reactor so that it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium. And it ensures the IAEA enhanced access not only to Iran’s nuclear facilities and the entire nuclear fuel cycle but also, where needed, to any undeclared site.
In return, Iran will get phased relief from nuclear-related sanctions – but only as it meets its own commitments in concrete ways, verified by the IAEA. And we have all agreed on provisions for the return of sanctions if Iran were to substantially breach the agreement.
This is not an agreement based on trust or on any assumption about how Iran may look in 10 or 15 years. It is based on detailed, tightly written controls that are verifiable and long-lasting. Iran will have strong incentives not to cheat: The near certainty of getting caught and the consequences that would follow would make this a losing option.
We did not reach the nuclear deal in the expectation that Iran’s external policy would change any time soon. But it does address the threat from Iran’s nuclear program and may open the way to recognition by Iran that collaboration with its neighbors is better than confrontation.
We are confident that the agreement provides the foundation for resolving the conflict on Iran’s nuclear program permanently. This is why we now want to embark on the full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, once all national procedures are complete.
David Cameron, François Hollande and Angela Merkel are, respectively, the prime minister of Britain, the president of France and the chancellor of Germany.