Nine nations currently possess nuclear weapons, with 90% concentrated in the hands of Russia and the US. Four do not abide by the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968: North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Israel. States of immediate concern for secret nuclear activity include Iran, Libya, and Syria.
There are two paths to building an atomic bomb. One involves uranium (U-235), the other plutonium (Pu-239). With respect to the uranium path, Iran has agreed to transform its underground uranium enrichment plant, Fordo, into an international research center and scale back another, Nataz, to levels too low to allow a bomb rush. Regarding plutonium, Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild its reactor, Arak, according to international standards that would not produce weapons-grade plutonium.
To ensure Iran doesn't cheat, the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to inspect not only its nuclear program but its supply chain as well.
Under the deal, Iran would no longer be subject to certain international sanctions as a result of compliance, in particular restrictions on oil and gas exports. The value of those sanctions is in dispute.
The deal does not completely dismantle Iran's nuclear capacities, a reality criticized heavily by Congressional Republicans. However, the deal increases the country's 'breakout time' (the time needed to enrich enough material for one bomb) from two months to over a year.
Why is this important?
Continuing without an agreement could spark a nuclear arms race or worse, a nuclear war. (Don't believe me? Hear it from Morgan Freeman.) It's important.
Those for the deal vehemently defend the "stringent constraints" that may be "a guidepost for later nonproliferation agreements" (language from a letter to Obama signed by 29 US Nobel laureates and scientists.)
Those against it condemn the possibility that Iran may circumvent inspections and continue to develop their nuclear capability, while relieved from sanctions. Several Republicans have suggested holding out for a better deal, an idea Secretary of State John Kerry calls "a fantasy."
- President Obama's initial announcement
- Praise or condemnation from every corner of the political playing field
- The actual text of the deal