The P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany) and Iran reached a historic agreement called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under the agreement, Iran would limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

    For years, the international community had been concerned about Iran's nuclear activities. The Western countries, especially the U.S. and Israel, suspected Iran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program, while Iran maintained that its nuclear ambitions were solely for peaceful purposes, such as energy production. The situation escalated over the years with Iran's increased uranium enrichment activities and the potential for it to achieve a nuclear breakout capability.

    The purpose of the JCPOA was to curtail Iran's nuclear activities to ensure that it could not develop nuclear weapons, while in return, the international community would provide relief from the crippling sanctions that had been imposed on Iran due to its nuclear program.

    Key Provisions of the JCPOA

    1. Uranium Enrichment: Iran agreed to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98% and keep its uranium enrichment at 3.67% – well below the enrichment level needed for weapons-grade uranium – for 15 years.

    2. Fordow Facility: Iran committed to converting its Fordow facility into a nuclear, physics, and technology center, where no uranium enrichment would take place for 15 years.

    3. Arak Reactor: Iran agreed to redesign and rebuild its heavy-water research reactor in Arak to support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production for medical and industrial purposes.

    4. Inspections: Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of the JCPOA was the inspection regime. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was granted regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities, ensuring that Iran complied with its commitments. This included the continuous monitoring of Iran's declared nuclear sites and the verification of the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

    5. Sanctions Relief: Upon verification of Iran's compliance with the aforementioned nuclear-related measures, the U.S., EU, and the UN would lift their nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran.


    The JCPOA, despite being a landmark agreement, has been the subject of much debate. Advocates argue that it was an essential diplomatic achievement that prevented a potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East and averted a possible military confrontation. The rigorous inspection regime and the curtailment of Iran's nuclear activities, they argue, made the region and the world safer.

    Critics, on the other hand, believe that the JCPOA didn't go far enough. They argue that the sunset clauses, which allow some of the deal's restrictions to expire after certain periods, provide Iran with a path to a nuclear weapon in the future. Moreover, they contend that the deal did not address Iran's ballistic missile program or its regional activities, which many see as destabilizing.

    The U.S., under the Trump administration in 2018, unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA, re-imposing sanctions on Iran. This move was seen by many as a significant blow to the deal. In response, Iran began reducing its compliance with the deal's terms, thus escalating tensions.

    Efforts have since been made to salvage the deal, with the Biden administration signaling its intent to return to the JCPOA, contingent on Iran returning to full compliance.