Basics of the Deal

The basic facts of the Iran nuclear agreement as explained by the U.S. experts who negotiated it. To read the full text of the deal, click here. To see how the final deal stacks up to – and often exceeds – American requirements going into the negotiations, click here.

On January 16, 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran has completed the necessary steps under the Iran deal that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful.

Before this agreement, Iran’s breakout time — or the time it would have taken for Iran to gather enough fissile material to build a weapon — was only two to three months. Today, because of the Iran deal and the unprecedented monitoring and access this deal puts in place, if Iran breaks its commitments and tries to develop material for a weapon, we will know and sanctions will snap back into place.

Here’s how we got to this point. Since the pact was signed, Iran has taken all of the steps it was required to take under the deal, all of which have been verified by inspectors. For example, Iran has:

Because Iran completed these steps, as verified by the IAEA, the U.S. and international community lifted specific nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, per the agreement. However, all of the U.S. sanctions authorities and designations that were not put in place to deal with the nuclear issue will continue to remain in place.


Building a nuclear bomb requires either uranium or plutonium, but thanks to this deal, Iran’s four possible ways to leverage those fissile materials are blocked.

> Uranium

If it were to break the deal and try to build a nuclear weapon, Iran would need at least two key elements just to produce the fissile material for a uranium bomb:tens of thousands of centrifuges, including advanced models, and a large amount of very highly enriched uranium.

Before the agreement, Iran had an enriched uranium stockpile large enough to create 8 to ten nuclear bombs. But thanks to this nuclear deal, the amount of enriched uranium Iran can have, the level of enrichment, the amount and types of centrifuges it can have, the location of centrifuges, and how it can use those centrifuges are all greatly restrained and subject to strict verification.

The deal is working. Iran has already reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98%, and will keep its level of uranium enrichment at or below 3.67% — significantly below the amount and enrichment level needed to create the material for a bomb. In addition, the nearly 20,000 centrifuges Iran had between its Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment facilities have been reduced under this deal to only 6,104 for the next ten years. No enrichment is taking place at the Fordow facility at all, as required by the deal, and Iran cannot build any new enrichment facilities for at least 15 years. In addition, the only centrifuges Iran is allowed to use are their oldest and least efficient models. Even those are subject to strict monitoring and verification. Because of the deal, there is no uranium pathway to create fissile material for a bomb.

> Plutonium

Another way to build a nuclear weapon is by using weapons-grade plutonium. The only site where Iran could have produced this type of material before the deal is the Arak reactor, a heavy-water nuclear reactor. Before the deal, this reactor could have been used in a weapons program, but under the deal, this pathway has been cut off.

The deal is working. The core of the Arak reactor has been removed and filled with concrete, rendering it inoperable. It has been redesigned so it cannot produce any weapons-grade plutonium, and the spent fuel rods (which could also be source material for weapons-grade plutonium) will continue to be sent out of the country permanently, or for as long as this reactor exists. In addition, Iran won’t be able to accumulate excess heavy water, and it won’t be able to conduct reprocessing. What’s more, Iran will not be able to build a single heavy-water reactor for at least 15 years and has committed to rely on light water for future reactors. That means, because of this deal, Iran no longer has a source for weapons-grade plutonium.


Should Iran violate any aspect of this deal, the United States can snap back into place our own sanctions and the UN sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy.

In addition, this deal was negotiated and has been implemented by the world’s major powers, including some of our closest allies, and has been endorsed by the UN Security Council.  If Iran were to try to cheat or walk away from the deal, it would face the consequences of sanctions that the entire international community worked together to create – and enforce when necessary – to solve exactly this problem.

On the other hand, if the United States violated the deal first, by failing to live up to our own commitments, it could be difficult to convince foreign partners and allies to enforce the sanctions that we snap back, and we could lose the credibility and the leverage we currently have.  That’s why we committed to continue to provide the specific nuclear-related sanctions relief called for in the deal so long as Iran continues to live up to its end of the bargain, but this commitment is not based on trust.  All of Iran’s commitments under the deal are and will permanently be subject to the most stringent verification and inspection mechanisms ever put in place to monitor a nuclear program.

Could there be a covert pathway to Iran building a secret nuclear program?

The previous three pathways occur at facilities that Iran has declared, but what if they try to build a nuclear program in secret? That’s why this deal is so important. Under the nuclear deal, Iran has committed to extraordinary and robust monitoring, verification, and inspection. International inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are not only continuously monitoring every element of Iran’s declared nuclear program, but they are also verifying that no fissile material is covertly carted off to a secret location to build a bomb. And if IAEA inspectors become aware of a suspicious location, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards Agreement, which will allow inspectors to access and inspect any site they deem suspicious. Such suspicions can be triggered by holes in the ground that could be uranium mines, intelligence reports, unexplained purchases, or isotope alarms.

Basically, from the minute materials that could be used for a weapon comes out of the ground to the minute it is shipped out of the country, the IAEA has eyes on it and anywhere Iran could try and take it: