Explainer: The Iran nuclear deal

A summary on the main components of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed on 14 July between Iran and the E3+3

The main components of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed on 14 July between Iran and the E3+3 (that is, France, Germany, the UK, China, the US and Russia) is summarised below. An overwhelming number of non-proliferation experts and scientists have assessed that the terms of the JCPOA provide the most reasonable and durable means to ensure Iran does not produce a nuclear weapon before detection.

The JCPOA increases the so-called “breakout” time – that is, the amount of time that it would take Iran to produce enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon, from the currently estimated 2-3 months threshold to at least 12 months. The steps Iran would need to take to extend this breakout time is noted in the table below as “nuclear related” commitments. In return, the EU, US and the UN will provide Iran with economic relief through measures noted in the table below as “sanctions” commitments.

Timeline Summary

Implementation Plan Components Date/expected
Finalisation Day Date on which JCPOA announced. 14 July 2015
JCPOA submitted to UN Security Council E3+3 will “promptly” send JCPOA to UN Security Council (UNSC) for review and adoption “without delay”. 20 July 2015
Adoption Day 90 days (or earlier if agreed by E3+3 and Iran) after endorsement of JCPOA by the UNSC. From this date, participants start making preparations for implementing commitments.
  • EU to adopt regulation terminating nuclear-related sanctions with effect from Implementation Day.
  • US President to issue sanctions waivers to take effect on Implementation Day.
  • Iran to prepare nuclear related commitments and notify IAEA that it will apply Additional Protocol provisionally with effect from Implementation Day.
19 October 2015
Congress Review Period Members of US Congress have 60 days starting on 20 July 2015 to review the JCPOA.
  • Congress may pass a bill of disapproval on the terms of the deal.
  • Under such circumstances, President Barack Obama pledged to use his veto.
  • There will be a window of 12 days for Obama to issue his veto although this is likely to happen more swiftly.
  • Once a veto is issued, there will be 10 days to override this veto.
Initial vote for disapproval bill by 17 September 2015. Obama’s presidential veto must be issued by 29 September 2015. Congress vote to override veto by 9 October 2015.
Implementation Date Simultaneously with IAEA report verifying implementation by Iran of the nuclear-related measures, UN sanctions terminate, EU sanctions terminate (in some cases only suspended), US “ceases” application of nuclear related sanctions. Not tied to any date but expected to occur within 4-6 months from Adoption Date. Roughly in the first half of 2016.
Transition Day 8 years after Adoption Day or the date when IAEA submits a report that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities (whichever is earlier). EU terminates remaining sanctions. US terminates or modifies remaining sanctions. Iran ratifies Additional Protocol. Expected mid-October 2023
UN Security Council resolution Termination Day 10 years from Adoption Day, the UNSC resolution endorsing JCPOA terminates – provided no UN sanctions have been re-imposed. UNSC “would no longer be seized of the Iran nuclear issue”. Expected mid-October 2025

Commitments Summary

Commitments Components Timeframe
UN Security Council Resolution endorsing the JCPOA US Congress will be faced with a UNSC Resolution endorsing JCPOA before casting votes on the deal (although not yet in force). Expected to vote on 20 July 2015. Comes into force within 90 day.
Iran-IAEA roadmap on PMD (Possible Military Dimension)
  • Pursuant to Roadmap agreed between Iran and IAEA on 20 July 2015 (confidential document).
  • Iran will provide IAEA explanation on outstanding issues.
  • There will be technical and political meetings.
  • Arrangements in place regarding the issue of Parchin (there has been previous access to this military site).
  • All steps in Roadmap must be fulfilled before Implementation Date.
  • Iran submits written answers by 15 Aug 2015
  • IAEA has one month review
  • IAEA resolves remaining PMD issues/questions by 15 Oct 2015
  • IAEA presents report on PMD by 15 Dec 2015
Enrichment only at Natanz – preventing “uranium path to weaponisation”
  • For 10 years: centrifuges reduced to 5,060 IR-1. Excess centrifuges stored under IAEA monitoring.
  • For 15 years: level of uranium enrichment capped at 3.67%.
  • For 15 years: Natanz is Iran’s only enrichment facility.
  • Between years 11-15: Iran can replaced IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz with more advanced ones.
Implementation date
Enriched Uranium Stockpile – preventing “uranium path to weaponisation”
  • For 15 years: stockpile kept under 300 kg up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms (this is a 98% reduction from existing stockpiles).
  • Excess sold based on international prices.
  • Uranium oxide enriched 5-20% fabricated into fuel for Tehran Research Reactor.
Implementation date
Fordow –“uranium path to weaponisation”
  • Converted to research facility.
  • No more enrichment or R&D at this facility.
  • 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges in six cascades will remain here.
Implementation date
Research & Development
  • For 10 years: R&D with uranium will only include IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges.
  • After 8 years: Iran starts manufacturing agreed numbers of IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges without rotors.
  • After 10 years: begin phasing IR-1 centrifuges.
  • Manufacture advanced centrifuge machines only for the purposes specified with E3+3.
Implementation date
Arak Heavy Water Reactor– preventing “plutonium path to weaponisation”
  • Iran will redesign and rebuild reactor into lower power research reactor with E3+3 partnership.
  • Iran would take out the original core of the reactor – this will become unusable.
  • Permanent: Iran will not produce weapons grade plutonium.
  • For 15 years: no heavy water reactors in Iran.
  • Permanent: Iran ships out all spent fuel from Arak reactor.
Implementation date Before Implementation date, Iran and E3+3 agree on joint venture
Transparency – preventing “covert path to weaponisation”
  • By 15 October 2015: Iran fully implements PMD roadmap agreed with IAEA.
  • Permanently: Additional Protocol measures – Iran will provisionally apply this and eventually its parliament will ratify it.
  • Permanently: full implementation of modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements to its Safeguards Agreement.
  • These give IAEA enhanced inspection abilities to access nuclear facilities and suspicious sites anywhere in the country under managed access.
  • For 20-25 years: IAEA has access to Iran’s supply chain for its nuclear prorgamme and has continuous surveillance of centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities.
  • Procurement channel created for Iran’s purchase of nuclear related equipment and material.
Implementation date. PMD measures by 15 October 2015
  • Requests for access will be made in good faith by IAEA. Not aimed at interfering with Iranian military/national security activities.
  • IAEA provides Iran reasons for concerns regarding undeclared nuclear materials or activities and request access to those locations.
  • Iran may propose to the IAEA alternative means of resolving the IAEA’s concerns.
  • If cannot agree within 14 days of original IAEA request, the Joint Commission will adjudicate and if needed decision made by majority vote.
  • Consultation with, and voting by Joint Commission must happen within 7 days.
  • Iran would implement decision within 3 days (total of 24 days after original IAEA request).
Implementation date

Sanctions – to be carried out by E3+3

  • UNSC resolution endorsing JCPOA will outline termination of all previous resolutions targeting Iran’s nuclear programme – 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015).
  • Subject to snap-back.
Implementation date
  • Cease the application of economic sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking sector allowing Iranian banks and companies to reconnect with international systems.
  • Will remove designation of certain entities and individuals.
  • Allows for license non-U.S. persons that are owned or controlled by a U.S. person to engage in activities with Iran permitted under JCPOA.
  • Allows for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft to Iran.
  • Allows for license for importing Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuffs into US.
  • US takes appropriate measures to address laws at state or local level preventing full implementation of JCPOA – US will actively encourage officials to adhere to JCPOA policy.
  • US refrains from policy intended to adversely affect normalisation of economic relations with Iran.
  • 8 years after Adoption date – if IAEA concludes that all nuclear activity in Iran remains peaceful, US will seek legislative action to terminate/modify nuclear related sanctions.
  • US sanctions on Iran targeting human rights, terrorism and missile activities remain.
Implementation date
  • Terminate all provisions of the EU Regulation related to Iran’s nuclear programme.
  • Includes: financial and banking transactions; transactions in Iranian Rial; provision of U.S. banknotes to Iranian government; access to SWIFT; insurance services; efforts to reduce Iran’s crude oil and petrochemical product sales; investment; transactions with Iran’s energy and shipping sector; trade in gold and other precious metals; trade with Iran’s automotive sector.
  • Removes individuals and entities designated under sanctions.
  • EU refrains from re-introducing sanctions terminated under JCPOA (Iran views any re-introduction as grounds to cease performing its commitments).
  • Refrain from policy intended to adversely affect normalisation of economic relations with Iran.
  • For 8 years after Implementation date: EU’s arms embargo and restrictions on transfer of ballistic missiles remain.
Implementation date
Arms embargo
  • After 5 years: UN sanctions on conventional weapons that were linked to Iran’s nuclear activities terminate.
  • After 8 years: UN sanctions on Iran’s missile programme that were linked to Iran’s nuclear activities terminate.
  • US and international sanctions on Iran’s conventional weapons and missile capabilities remain.
Implementation date
Release of frozen revenues
  • Under easing of US and EU sanctions, Iran will be allowed access to roughly $100 billion revenues frozen abroad in a special escrow.
  • Not a signing bonus.
Implementation date

Dispute resolution & snap-back

Joint Commission
  • Comprised of representatives of Iran and the E3+3, with the EU High Representative.
  • Coordination led by EU High Representative.
  • Meet on quarterly basis or at request of any JCPOA participant.
  • Decision and work subject to UN rules of confidentiality.
  • Amongst other things, in charge of dispute resolution and establishing procurement channel.
Established from Finalisation date
Dispute resolution and snap-back
  • 15 days for review by: Joint Commission assesses dispute.Time for review can be extended by mutual consent.
  • If unresolved, 15 days for review by: Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Any participant could refer the issue to the Ministers. Time for review can be extended by mutual consent.
  • If unresolved, 15 days for review by: Advisory Board (three members, one each appointed by the participants in the dispute and a third independent member). Will provide non-binding decision.
  • Joint Commission has 5 days to review decision of Advisory Board. If no resolution and complaining party sees action as “significant non-performance” – unresolved issue can be treated as grounds to cease performing commitments in whole or part. Complaining party will notify UNSC.
  • UNSC will then votes on a resolution as to continuing lifting of sanctions. If resolution not adopted by 30 days, old UNSC resolution sanctions snap-back. China and Russia cannot veto. Iran will cease to perform its obligations if sanctions snap back.
  • Sanctions snap-back not applicable with retroactive effect to contracts signed between any party and Iran.
Established from Finalisation date

You can also read more on the nuclear deal from our former visiting fellow, Aniseh Bassiri.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa programme
Senior Policy Fellow

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