|Fig. 1:Map of Iran's nuclear facilities. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
On November 24, 2013, Iran reached a six-month interim agreement with France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia, and the United States - collectively known as the P5+1 - to temporarily freeze its nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief.  This agreement, the Join Plan of Action, came after four days of negotiations between the two sides, and was the first formal agreement in nearly a decade to halt Iran's nuclear program and roll back some of its elements. [1,2] The landmark deal represents a new hope for the international community to successfully negotiate a long term pact to ratchet back Iran's nuclear program and ensure that it can only be used for peaceful purposes. 
Iran agreed to freeze its production of enriched uranium containing up to 5% U-235 by converting the material to a uranium compound unsuitable for further enrichment.  This is a level of enrichment high enough for energy production, but insufficient for bomb making, which would require more enrichment. To follow through on this, Iran will dismantle links between current networks of centrifuges.  Further, it agreed to cease producing enriched uranium hexafluoride containing 20% U-235, while also committing to dilute their current stockpile to low enriched uranium hexafluoride containing no more than 5% U-235 or convert it to a compound unsuitable for further enrichment.  Along the same lines, Iran agreed not to install any new centrifuges or build new enrichment facilities.  Additionally, Iran agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to nuclear-related facilities for daily monitoring, while also providing the IAEA with additional information about the program. [3,4] This was one of the Western powers' main goals coming into the talks, as Iran has a history of evading UN inspections and investigations. 
In return for Iran's concessions, the P5+1 countries agreed to refrain from imposing any new sanctions, while also repatriating to Iran $4.2 billion in oil sales proceeds that are locked up in foreign accounts.  Additionally, the deal dictates that Iran is permitted to resume sales of petrochemicals and trading in gold and other precious metals, while resuming transactions with foreign firms involved in their auto sector - the combined estimated value of these sources over the six-month duration of the agreement is $1.5 billion.  Lastly, the Middle Eastern nation has been allowed access to $400 million of its hard currency to be put towards tuition for Iranian students, facilitation of humanitarian purchases of food and medicine, and purchase of spare parts for US- made aircraft. 
This deal represents a significant first step in the right direction for the two parties. For Iran, this respite from sanctions comes at an important time; the Rial fell to nearly 40,000 against the US dollar in late 2012 due to the sanctions, losing nearly two-thirds of its value over the course of 18 months, and the domestic investment has dwindled.  With a total estimated value of $6 billion to $7 billion of sanction relief, this deal provides Iran a much-needed economic boost.  At the same time, the remaining oil sanctions in place will cost it about $30 billion over the course of the agreement.  As such, Iran is not only incentivized to comply with the current terms, but also to push for a longer term, more comprehensive accord that would see them recoup even more of their lost revenue.
For the United States and its allies, this deal provides security in the fact that Iran will be monitored to ensure it does not move forward on uranium enrichment towards military-capable levels. While the ultimate goal is to eliminate Iran's nuclear capability completely, this is a significant stepping-stone.  Additionally, the deal would add at least several weeks and up to more than a month to the time Iran would need to produce weapons-grade uranium; at this point, if Iran were to try, the Western powers would be made aware long before the Middle Eastern country neared that level.  In such an event - or in any other breach of the deal - US officials have said that sanctions could be swiftly re-imposed. 
While this deal is hugely important in the decades long clash over Iran's nuclear program, it could also prove prophetic in regards to the issue of nuclear proliferation on a global scale. Iran has long been a pariah state, but under new president Hassan Rouhani, elected in June of 2013, the country has an opportunity to set a precedent. Home to almost 80 million people, it is the largest Shia Muslim power in the world; if it changes its policy, the countries around it may follow.  Were a long-term deal to be reached, the foundation would be laid for prevention of future countries from enriching to weapons-grade uranium. A precedent would be set for precluding any country from enriching beyond 5% levels of uranium, or potentially enriching at all. While this interim agreement is a gamble for all parties involved, it is a significant move towards avoiding a catastrophic nuclear conflict in the years to come.
© Colin Epperson. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 "Diplomats Strike Deal in Iran Talks," Al Jazeera, 24 Nov 13.
 M. R. Gordon, "Accord Reached With Iran to Halt Nuclear Program," New York Times, 23 Nov 13.
 K. Katzmann and P. K. Kerr, "Interim Agreement on Iran's Nuclear Program," Congression Research Service, R43333, Decemebr 2013.
 "Unlocking the Middle East," The Economist, 30 Nov 13.