I've been hearing about this nuclear deal that was reached with Iran today. It seems to restrict what Iran can do with a nuclear program, and allows international inspectors to perform inspections when there is a suspicion that Iran is doing something against the deal.

President Obama has said

Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off

However, I'm hearing a lot of politicians saying that this is a "bad deal"

For example Dick Cheney says:

Contrary to what President Obama suggests, this deal will not inhibit the spread of nuclear technology — it will accelerate it.

Why? What specifically is bad about it from their perspective?

  • @yahoo.com If that is meant to be an answer please post it as such. Otherwise I don't see how that comment can be understood as helping the OP improve their question.
    – James K
    May 9, 2018 at 21:36

6 Answers 6


It is important to understand the underlying technology and politics of nuclear weapons deals. In order to build a nuclear weapon, the most important and difficult task is acquiring enough Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239 at weapons grade purity. This means that the key to building a weapon, and consequently controlling weapons development is controlling the refinement of U-235 (which is necessary for the creation on Plutonium-239).

The basic logic of the Iran deal are that 1) the deal will slow, not stop, Iranian U-235 production, and will force it to conduct that refinement under conditions observed by the international community, and 2) by bringing Iran back into the international community, there is now time to change the underlying political situation in the Middle East towards more stability.

Therefore the core criticisms of the Iran deal are these:

Verification of Iranian Enrichment is not sufficiently robust. The slowing of the refinement only works if Iran only refines Uranium at designated places, and those places are monitored. Iran could conceivably continue enrichment elsewhere, and the first assumption of the deal is invalid. Critics believe that the regime agreed to by the Iranians is insufficiently robust to ensure that they are only refining Uranium at the designated locations. As such the breakout time to a nuclear weapon, which is supposedly increased to a year because of this agreement, could actually continue to decrease and the international community would not know it until it is too late.

There is essentially no cost to violating the agreement. It was a long hard slog to put the current sanctions regime in place, and Russia and China no longer support the regime, but have continued to adhere to it. Signing this agreement drops multiple sanctions at once. The idea is that if Iran walks away from the deal, then the sanctions will "snap back" into place, but that is highly unlikely to happen. This means that Iran can basically do as Saddam Hussein did (for his own, confusing reasons as he did not have a nuclear program) and kick out the inspectors. Theoretically, the sanctions would snap back into place immediately, but that is unlikely to happen given the intransigence of Russia and China.

The agreement puts a seal of approval from the international community on a program that most countries in the region view as illegal. The Non-Proliferation Treaty states that only 5 countries have the right to maintain a nuclear arsenal the U.S., U.S.S.R. (now Russia), Great Britain, France and the People's Republic of China (PRC). All other countries have the right to have nuclear power, but nuclear power only requires ~5% refined U-235. Unfortunately, breeder reactors--popular in much of the world--also create Pu-239 which is usable in a nuclear weapon as well. The biggest problem is that Iran has previously insisted on refining nuclear material above 5% at about 20%, which is much closer to the nuclear weapons threshold, and consequently many observers believe that Iran is not building a power program, but a weapons program in spite of the fact that they are not yet making weapons. This means that by signing a treaty which accepts the current program, the international community is conceivably weakening future non-proliferation efforts.

The deal actually makes nuclear proliferation by other states more likely. One lesson that many states have taken away from nuclear politics is that it is very bad to be the last country without Nukes. Up until recently Israel was the only country with nuclear weapons, and they have only ever used them passively, such as when they coerced the U.S. to intervene diplomatically in 1973. Sunni and secular states in the region fear increasing Iranian power, and their willingness to intervene in other countries as they have in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and do not want to be at a nuclear disadvantage. By removing international sanctions on Iran, it makes it appear that the international community at least tacitly accepts an Iranian nuclear program to these countries, and they no longer believe that they have the support of the U.S. and will develop nuclear weapons on their own, regardless of security guarantees made to them.

Even if the agreement decreases the risk of nuclear war, by removing the P5 from the war, it increases the risk of war in the Middle East. On the one hand, this may seem trivial since there are already ongoing wars in at least, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, but if local governments come to believe that the west is no longer securing their interests in Iran, they may take the issue into their own hands. There are already whisperings of cooperation between Israel, which has twice destroyed nuclear programs in Iraq and Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia recently invaded Yemen to counter the growing power of the Iranian supported Houthis. Conceivably, further anti-Iranian cooperation could coalesce in the region into a Sunni-Shi'a regional war, all to prevent Iran from becoming too powerful in the region.

A similar agreement was signed before, with North Korea, and it failed miserably. Many observers have pointed out how the language of the current agreement with Iran and the previous agreement with North Korea are quite similar, and yet, North Korea has detonated at least two nuclear weapons since that agreement (i.e. the agreement failed). Defenders of the agreement will rightly point out that the U.S. and others basically reneged on their side of the agreement, but that is part of the problem. Many Republican congresspeople pointed out in a letter to the Iranian government that in order for the agreement to be law in the U.S. it has to pass the Senate, which it doesn't look like it will. If it is just done by the President, it is possible--but unlikely--the Supreme Court will stop it, or a future President can simply say that the previous President was wrong and renege. In essence, there are many, many reasons to question whether both sides will adhere to the agreement, and nuclear proliferation in the region is highly problematic.

I would add, that none of this is to say that these criticisms are correct, but they are prima facie consistent. The counter-argument is "The sanctions regime was about to collapse anyway, so anything we could get is better than nothing," which if you believe that the sanctions regime was unsustainable, then that is probably true. If you want a more in depth discussion of that side, you should ask another question.

  • 8
    No sources to this answer?? Where does Iran insist on enriching beyond 80%? I read (in CNN) for example that with the deal they are not allowed to enrich beyond 5%!! Comparing North Korea and Iran is not a very fair comparison, North Korea doesn't hide the fact that they are developing nukes, while Iran insists it is a civilian program (and the contrary hasn't been shown, only suspected). Some criticisms are not consistent, as per my remarks.
    – Jose Luis
    Jul 16, 2015 at 12:49
  • You are correct on the percentages. I vastly overstated what was necessary for controlled fission--teach me to trust memory--and have made the changes to reflect that, with a citation. Nevertheless, the logic of the complaint against the deal is the same, which is to say that 5% refinement is further away from 20% refinement, especially given that changes in refinement are not linear. Also, the purpose of this answer is not to make these arguments but to answer the question as to what peoples argument's are. Jul 16, 2015 at 17:08
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    "Theoretically, the sanctions would snap back into place immediately, but that is unlikely to happen given the intransigence of Russia and China." Legally, all the sanctions as they exist now snap back into place. You are saying individual countries can disregard UN sanctions; sure, but the same thing is true now. If the US rejected a deal, I don't expect Russia and China to uphold the sanctions either, even though they legally exist.
    – user102008
    Jul 17, 2015 at 18:27
  • 1) I am not saying anything; that is the argument in answer to the question. 2) The counter-argument is: Regardless of how well defined the rules are, there are still political factors that will slow any "snap-back." Who determines if there is a violation? Is there an appeals process? How long will it take for bureaucratically declare that a violation has occurred? These questions mean that re-instituting sanctions are likely to not be immediate even if all countries adhere to the the treaty. One need only look at how long it takes for the UN to declare Genocide to see the problem. Jul 17, 2015 at 19:06
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    @ThePompitousofLove: According to the mechanism in the deal, any permanent member of the UN Security Council can unilaterally cause all sanctions to be snapped back in 65 days, legally speaking. No outside factors involved.
    – user102008
    Jul 17, 2015 at 22:01

It isn't possible to discuss why every person, or even every politician, might be opposed to the nuclear accord with Iran. As such, I'm going to cover only a couple prominent or common criticisms.

The first is that the deal expires after several years. While it is possible that the United States and other members of the P5 + 1 may try to negotiate an extension, or otherwise stop Iran's nuclear program near the expiration of the agreement, the agreement does not specify any such measures.

Another criticism is that the agreement does nothing to curtail Iran's support of terrorism, particular among Hamas and Hezbollah. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed opposition to the deal on these grounds:

But Netanyahu strongly disagreed. “The leading international powers have bet our collective future on a deal with the foremost sponsor of international terrorism,” he said. “They've gambled that in ten years' time, Iran's terrorist regime will change while removing any incentive for it to do so. In fact, the deal gives Iran every incentive not to change.”


“In the coming decade, the deal will reward Iran, the terrorist regime in Tehran, with hundreds of billions of dollars. This cash bonanza will fuel Iran's terrorism worldwide, its aggression in the region and its efforts to destroy Israel, which are ongoing,” he said.

This isn't to suggest that Netanyahu isn't the only critic of the agreement; Republican legislators and Presidential candidates have criticized it as well, but I used quotes from Netanyahu as he articulated the reasoning behind his criticism better than quotes from Republicans that I could find. The Anti-Defamation League also expressed concern that the inspections regime would be insufficient to ensure that Iran complies with the deal, though I do not know if they were pointing to any specific vulnerability or oversight in the inspections.

However, this also isn't to say that these disadvantages necessarily outweigh the intended benefits of the agreement; at least in this answer, I don't intend to issue judgment on that matter. But these are some of the criticisms being made.

  • 1
    Nice answer! It is fair to point out that critics also have an interest on the deal not succeeding. Specially Israel.
    – Jose Luis
    Jul 16, 2015 at 12:52
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    @Joze I'd say that Israel has an interest in the deal succeeding. Netanyahu's criticisms are legitimate, but if he tries to block the deal as a result then that's an error.
    – Publius
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:01
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    Then I don't quite understand his reasoning. He has been condemning the deal since the very first phases, for him no negotiation besides strategic bombardment was viable and he made it known. Maybe Israel does have an interest in it succeeding but Netanyahu has been very vocal against it.
    – Jose Luis
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:14
  • @Joze Netanyahu thinks the downsides of this deal outweigh the benefits. I think he's wrong. He isn't opposed to any conceivable deal, he's just opposed to a deal that has the flaws mentioned in my post.
    – Publius
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:22
  • Yes but what I meant is that he has been opposing any deal since the beginning. Even when there was only talk about a "possible" deal. Anyway good post!
    – Jose Luis
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:24

The agreement is very bad for Russia. There are two reasons.

  • Russia has built the Busher nuclear power plant in Iran partially at her own expense on the promise by Iran that they will be buying nuclear fuel from Russia for this plant to operate. Now, when Iran is allowed to enrich uranium themselves, Russia is at big loss. It turns out they built the Busher plant virtually for free.

  • Lifting sanctions from Iran allows it to sell a lot of oil and gas on the European market. This is expected to drop oil prices which is very unfortunate for Russia because it is oil and gas exports that form Russian budget incomes and supports the ruble. Besides this, it deprives Russia from the most strong political instrument of pressure and influence over the EU because as of now it has near-monopoly on supplying the EU with fossil fuel.

  • most the arguments against this deal I've heard say Russia is actually OK with this deal because they plan to be one of the buyers of the Iranian oil. Though U.S. politician comments are probably more self serving than accurate.
    – Ryathal
    Jul 16, 2015 at 12:27
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    @Ryathal Russia to buy oil? Are you joking? Russia does not know where to sell their oil. Here is the Russia's export chart: storage1.static.itmages.ru/i/15/0616/…
    – Anixx
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:27
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    Downvoting this laughable answer.) Especially about Busher. You may not know, but using nuclear power station REQUIRES buying nuclear fuel from its builder. So, building nuclear power plant means a long-term(near 30-50 years) nuclear fuel contracts. Nov 7, 2018 at 10:10

One reason, simply stated, is that many people were going to say that no matter the content or actual consequences of the deal.

They dislike the very idea of a deal, think Iran can be best held in check in other ways (although they rarely fully articulate how because there are no obvious silver bullet in this) or simply need to say that for unrelated reasons like appearing hawkish or scoring points in internal party politics or against domestic opponents.

Ultimately, the critics might turn out to be right or they might make valid points while trying to score against their opponents but I think it's indisputable that no diplomatic solution of any kind was ever going to command unanimous approval within US political discourse.

Since you mention Dick Cheney, I think this clearly applies to him for example. Even if he was prepared to consider diplomacy as a valid option and to find something to like in a deal (which I don't think he ever was), he would still look very hard for some reason to criticise Obama on the details.

  • 2
    Funny how this was downvoted without anyone bothering to comment. What's untrue about it? It does not even contradict the other answers and actually addresses the question more directly than a detailed analysis of the contents of the treaty, as reactions started to pile on long before anybody had anything to say about that...
    – Relaxed
    Jul 16, 2015 at 11:37
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    Because it amounts to plugging up your ears and going "La-la-la, I can't hear you!"...."See, no one has any rational arguments against it!"
    – user438
    Jul 16, 2015 at 23:29
  • @user438 No need to plug your ear to reach that conclusion, see vox.com/2015/7/16/8978439/case-against-iran-nuclear-deal But that's not what I am saying in the answer, I even wrote exactly the opposite in the third paragraph.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 17, 2015 at 4:41
  • This doesn't really answer the question while it tries to appear that it is. Rather than giving the rationalist explanations for criticism, which there are, it guesses at political motivations, which are unknowable. Jul 17, 2015 at 14:20
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    I actually looked as some of your other answers and I am now sure you are trolling me. Your English is excellent, which is no mean accomplishment, and I do congratulate you on that, sincerely. However, whether or not you are actively misconstruing what I am saying to be offended or not by reading in meaning that is neither stated nor implied, or you are just acting like you are, your other answers show you already knew what I and others have said. Either way, troll score 10/10. You clearly already know what constitutes a good answer. Shame on me for getting drawn in. Jul 19, 2015 at 19:10

A simple calculation:

A 1 GW reactor running at 60% efficiency will need 1 GW*3600 second*24 hours/0.6 = 1.44 Joules worth of energy from fuel per day. One ton of TNT = 4.184 giga joules, so you need 34 KT TNT equivalent of uranium per day, but that's similar to the yield of the Hiroshima nuke. So, Iran will in due time be allowed to enrich the same amount of U-235 to low levels as is present in one Hiroshima sized nuke per day.

This simple calculation played an important role in how the Bush administration decided to deal with Iran's nuclear program. Under president Bush in 2005, the decision was made that any deal with Iran should be on the basis that Iran is barred from doing any fuel cycle work. The West, particularly the US and Israel had so little trust in Iran that they wanted a guarantee that Iran would not be able to make nuclear weapons even if it decided to leave the NPT just like North Korea did.

At that time, Iran was not enriching uranium apart from having done small scale pilot studies, so the thinking at the time was also that if Iran does not do any enrichment work, it won't have the technology to master this to just be able to do small scale enrichment in the first place, let alone build up a large enrichment capacity before the international community could react to that.

Now, it was primarily the US that insisted on this approach, during negotiations with Iran and the EU-3 from 2003 till 2005 many proposals where Iran would actually be allowed to enrich uranium were discussed, but these were "vetoed" by the US and in 2005 these negotiations with Iran broke down. The West typically supports the US if the the US has a very strong opinion on an issue. A notable exception to this is the Iraq war.

Then since Iran was determined to forge ahead with developing their enrichment capacity, the US used their diplomatic influence to get the IAEA to refer Iran to the UNSC. The thinking here was that the IAEA under El Baradei could not be trusted to deal with Iran. The fundamental problem the US saw with Iran and the IAEA was that under the rights and duties Iran has, Iran could just forge ahead and build up an industrial scale enrichment capacity and only later leave the NTP. And even leaving the NPT would be legal, as the rules say that you only need to give a six month's notice to the IAEA.

So, the US wanted to change the rules for Iran, they used a boards of governors meeting chaired by foreign ministers at the IAEA, to get the IAEA to refer Iran to the UNSC over the objections of EL Baradei. The next hurdle for the Bush administration was to get Putin to support or at least not veto a UNSC resolution under chapter 7 that demands that Iran stop enriching uranium. The problem here was that at the time, not only did the US not want Iran to do any fuel cycle work, the US also opposed any nuclear energy program in Iran. Already Bill Clinton tried to persuade Russia to stop building the Bushehr reactor, and this was also the policy of the Bush administration.

To get Putin to support such an UNSC resolution, the US would have to compromise, Bush decided to reverse the long standing policy of opposing any nuclear activities in Iran. In a joint press conference with Putin he emphasized that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program, that Russia would in due time provide the fuel for the Bushehr reactor, so any enrichment activities in Iran were highly suspicious and therefore a UNSC resolution was necessary to bar Iran from building nuclear weapons.

The passing of the UNSC resolution changed the role of the IAEA. Apart from its usual activities of monitoring and reporting on Iran's activities,. the IAEA was now also tasked to check if Iran was complying with the UNSC resolution demanding that it stop all enrichment work. Because Iran did not agree to do that, this led not only to the UNSC to impose sanctions, but it also gave the US a powerful propaganda tool, because it could point to fresh violations by Iran on the nuclear front. While that happened by changing the rules, most people reading the news headlines would just pick up that an IAEA report had found Iran in non-compliance.

This strategy of the US created this whole sense of urgency, indeed, it was specifically designed to do so to create both domestic and international support to ratchet up the measures taken against Iran.

Eventually, the pressures exerted on Iran did not achieve its aim, Iran was determined to do fuel cycle work. The only thing that did change was that Iran decided to negotiate more constructively, explain its position better and try to reach a deal by compromising on activities they don't really need (e.g. enriching to 20% to produce fuel for their isotope reactor). The US had also signaled it was willing to give up the demand that Iran cannot do any fuel cycle work, and that then ultimately led to the current deal.


In addition to the other answers.


Iran needs Energy to refine it's crude oil. By cutting it from a cheap oil-independent energy source they are forced to sell maybe more unrefined oil and are hindered to diversify economy. This drops the oil price and increases dependency to imports. Consequently, most of the value chain will be located elsewhere.


The US is an ally of Israel and Iran does not support Israels existance. Additionally, Israel constantly attacks Iranian borders. This would be impossible if Iran would have nuclear warheads, which could be yielded by enrichment facilities.


Weakening Iran means weakening Russia. It is noteworthy that there are also sanctions against Russia. Impairing Irans economy maybe indirectly also weakens trade volums with Russia? However, this must be evaluated.

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