Iran’s Nuclear Program & Western Sanctions

What is the Iran Nuclear Deal?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: JCPOA

Mains level: US sanctions on Iran

As Iran has refused to hold direct talks with the U.S., European officials will shuttle between the Iranian and American delegations, exchanging talking points and seeking common ground over the nuclear deal.

Do you know how the enmity between Iran and the US came into reality?  We hope you have watched the Argo (2012) movie for sure!


  • After a gap of five months, Iran, Russia, China and the European countries resumed negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
  • The 2015 JCPOA agreement sought to cut Iran off a possible path to a nuclear bomb in return for lifting of economic sanctions.

What is JCPOA?

  • The Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the JCPOA is a landmark accord reached between Iran and several world powers, including the United States, in July 2015.
  • Under its terms, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections in exchange for billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief.

Expected outcomes of the deal

  • Curb on nuclear program: Proponents of the deal said that it would help prevent a revival of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
  • Increasing regional engagement: It would thereby reduce the prospects for conflict between Iran and its regional rivals, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Background of the JCPOA

  • Iran had previously agreed to forgo the development of nuclear weapons as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which has been in force since 1970.
  • However, after the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, Iranian leaders secretly pursued this technology.
  • In 2007, U.S. intelligence analysts concluded that Iran halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003 but continued to acquire nuclear technology and expertise.
  • Prior to the JCPOA, the P5+1 had been negotiating with Iran for years, offering its government various incentives to halt uranium enrichment.

Issues with the deal

(1) US withdrawal

  • The deal has been in jeopardy since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from it in 2018.
  • In retaliation for the US, Iran resumed some of its nuclear activities.

(2) Iran’s insistence over sanctions removal

  • In 2021, President Joe Biden said the US will return to the deal if Iran comes back into compliance, though Iran’s leaders have insisted that Washington lift sanctions first.
  • Iran now has indicated that he will take a harder line than his predecessor in nuclear negotiations.

Who are the participants?

  • The JCPOA, which went into effect in January 2016, imposes restrictions on Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program.
  • At the heart of negotiations with Iran were the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany—collectively known as the P5+1.
  • The European Union also took part. Israel explicitly opposed the agreement, calling it too lenient.
  • Some Middle Eastern powers, such as Saudi Arabia, said they should have been consulted or included in the talks because they would be most affected by a nuclear-armed Iran.

What did Iran agree to?

  • Nuclear restrictions: Iran agreed not to produce either the highly enriched uranium or the plutonium that could be used in a nuclear weapon.
  • Monitoring and verification:  Iran agreed to eventually implement a protocol that would allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.

What did the other signatories agree to?

  • Sanctions relief: The EU, United Nations, and United States all committed to lifting their nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. However, many other U.S. sanctions on Iran, some dating back to the 1979 hostage crisis, remained in effect.
  • Weapons embargo: The parties agreed to lift an existing UN ban on Iran’s transfer of conventional weapons and ballistic missiles after five years if the IAEA certifies that Iran is only engaged in civilian nuclear activity.

How has the deal affected Iran’s economy?

  • Prior to the JCPOA, Iran’s economy suffered years of recession, currency depreciation, and inflation, largely because of sanctions on its energy sector.
  • With the sanctions lifted, inflation slowed, exchange rates stabilized, and exports—especially of oil, agricultural goods, and luxury items­—skyrocketed as Iran regained trading partners, particularly in the EU.
  • After the JCPOA took effect, Iran began exporting more than 2.1 million barrels per day (approaching pre-2012 levels, when the oil sanctions were originally put in place).


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