The Future of Nuclear in Iran

Ezra Yoseph
March 23, 2021

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2021


Fig. 1: U.S. Secretary Kerry and Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Zarif (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In 2015, a deal was struck between Iran and six world powers including the United States, China, France, Russia, Germany, and the U.K. After two years of negations, the deal was officially announced in Vienna by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif (see Fig. 1). The world powers were interested in making this deal because they feared Iran would use its supply of enriched uranium in order to build a nuclear weapon. For that reason, the deal contained strict restrictions and production limits for Iran's nuclear facilities as well as significant oversight of all nuclear-related activities by the world powers. In total, the deal would limit Iran's nuclear program for 15 years. [1]

On the other hand, Iran was interested in making the deal with the world powers primarily because it was being heavily sanctioned by the European Union, U.S., and United Nations. The EU's ban on oil purchases from Iran was particularly gruesome for Iran's economy because the EU previously accounted for one-fifth of Iran's oil exports. [2] An examination of sanctions in Iran from 2012 to 2014 showed that Iranian exports fell by one-third on average every year with a cumulative loss amounting to $104 billion over the same time period. [3] Naturally, this pressured the Iranian government to sign the deal in an effort to save its economy from further degradation and return it to the global financial market.

U.S. Withdrawal from Iran Nuclear Deal

A change in U.S. presidency a few years after the Iran Nuclear deal was announced brought about an entirely new attitude regarding the original deal. In 2018, President Donald Trump officially took the U.S. out of the deal and, in doing so, distanced the U.S. from prominent allies. Notably, none of the other world powers participating in the deal followed in the footsteps of the U.S. Instead, they criticized the decision and reiterated Iran's commitment to abiding by the restrictions imposed by the nuclear deal. [4] Not only did the Trump administration reintroduce sanctions in Iran, it also threatened to cut ties with any international organizations that continued to engage with the Iranian economy. This ultimately caused inflation and living costs to rise which both worked to cripple Iran's economy. In response to the newly imposed sanctions, Iran was purported to have reactivated their nuclear program which outsiders, such as the U.S., speculated could lead to nuclear weapons. That being said, the Iranian government maintained that they had no plans to generate nuclear weapons. [5]

Recent Developments

The transition to President Joe Biden in early 2021 represented yet another change in attitude relating to the nuclear deal in Iran. In fact, one of Biden's main campaign promises was to reenter the Iran Nuclear Deal. Now, a couple of months into Biden's presidency, there exists a standstill in negotiations between the U.S. and Iran resulting in the maintenance of Iranian sanctions. In February of this year, Iran rejected an offer to talk with U.S. officials at an EU sponsored event suggesting that tension between the two nations hasn't improved much despite the change in administration. [6] The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi sees Iran's insistence on the U.S. taking the first step to mending relations by lifting all sanctions as a major reason for the standstill between the two nations. Grossi, however, still believes that a U.S. return to the deal is possible but recognizes the great challenges in the path to making a deal. The longer the U.S. takes to reenter the deal, the greater the uncertainty becomes regarding the implication of Iran's enriched uranium stockpile which has steadily been rising in the past few years. Moreover, Iran recently restricted IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities resulting in a significant loss of oversight for world powers. [7] Now, pressures for Iran and the U.S. to make a deal are high due to Iran's impending presidential election. Looking towards the future, it will be interesting to see which side ultimately complies first or maybe both sides cannot come to terms on a deal and the standstill never fades. The latter is unlikely given the great influence the U.S. has on global markets. The U.S. could potentially further its own sanctions and pressure other countries to also sanction Iran which would all but destroy Iran's economy.

© Ezra Yoseph. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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.


[1] M. R. Gordon and D. E. Sanger, "Iran Agrees to Detailed Nuclear Outline, First Step Toward a Wider Deal," New York Times, 2 Apr 15.

[2] "Iran Nuclear Crisis: What Are the Sanctions?," BBC News, 30 Mar 15.

[3] H. Shirazi, K. Azarbaiejani, and M. Sameti, "The Effect of Economic Sanctions on Iran's Export," Iran. Econ. Rev. 20, 111 (2016).

[4] K. Liptak and N. Gauette, "Trump Withdraws From Iran Nuclear Deal, Isolating Him Further From World," CNN Politics, 9 May 18.

[5] K. DeYoung and K. Fahim, "United States and Iran Warily Circle Each Other Over Reactivating Nuclear Deal," Washington Post, 14 Mar 21.

[6] J. Northam, "What It Would Take For Biden To Revive The Iran Deal," NPR, 16 Mar 21.

[7] D. Rising, "UN Atomic Watchdog: Return to Iran Nuclear Deal Possible," Washington Post, 16 Mar 21.