On Thursday, the United States, Iran, and our negotiating partners from the UN Security Council and European Union agreed on the parameters of a plan that, if finalized and implemented, will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Under the parameters, Iran would be required to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent, and cut the number of installed centrifuges that are or could be used to enrich uranium by more than two-thirds. For at least the next 15 years, Iran would be limited to a single uranium enrichment facility and barred from enriching any uranium beyond a level that is adequate for civilian purposes but nowhere near sufficient to provide fuel for a nuclear weapon.
These restrictions will be enforced through a regime of regular and comprehensive international inspections — an arrangement that will detect any attempt to divert nuclear materials to a clandestine location or plant.
The result would be to increase Iran’s breakout time — the time it would take for Iran to speed up its enrichment and produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon — to at least a year. That is as much as six times what it is today and what it has been for the past three years.
From the outset of these negotiations, President Obama has had a single purpose: to ensure that Iran does not build or acquire a nuclear weapon. Some have suggested that the only way to do that is to start yet another war in the Middle East. The president thought it wiser to explore the possibility of a diplomatic solution. His approach succeeded in gaining the international support needed to intensify economic pressure on the government in Tehran. And that approach has brought us to where we are today: with an opportunity for a comprehensive plan to block every pathway Iran might use to build a nuclear weapon.
Under the parameters we have negotiated, Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Fordow will be converted into a nuclear, physics, and technology center. Its heavy-water reactor in Arak will no longer be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and spent fuel from the reactor will be shipped out of the country. These steps, coupled with comprehensive inspections, will prevent Iran from openly or secretly using enriched uranium or plutonium to provide fuel for a nuclear bomb.
I have been involved in efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear program for many years. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I made a quiet trip to Oman in 2011 to indicate to the government there that the Obama administration might be willing to open a dialogue on the nuclear issue. That visit to a key regional leader opened the door to direct bilateral talks and later to the formal multilateral negotiations we have witnessed in recent months. Now we have reached the next step, but we still have further to go. The parameters on which we have agreed must be transformed into text and some outstanding issues must still be resolved. The deadline for that is June 30 — after which will come the even more crucial stage of implementation. To be clear, there is no aspect of this agreement that is based on promises or trust; every element is subject to proof. Only if Iran lives up to its obligations, as verified by the IAEA and by our own eyes and ears, will it receive the relief from sanctions that it needs to end its economic isolation.
Throughout the negotiating process, we have consulted frequently with our allies and partners, including Israel and the Gulf states, and have vigorously reaffirmed our enduring commitment to their security. We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region. But it is precisely because we are so concerned about these issues — and about the region’s security — that we believe this deal is critical.
I know that some will suggest that the agreed parameters are not sufficient, but the burden will be on them to prescribe a specific and plausible alternative to a better outcome. The fact is that we have reached an important milestone in our years-long effort to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is and remains wholly peaceful. I hope we will concentrate now on the remaining steps to get this vital job done.
John F. Kerry is the US secretary of state.