Log in to get started!

Don't have an account yet? You can create one below.

Student Instructor

Iran Deal Breach

Iran Deal Breach cover
Iranians working with nuclear material

“I hope—and indeed believe—that this agreement will lead to greater mutual understanding and cooperation on the many serious security challenges in the Middle East. As such it could serve as a vital contribution to peace and stability, both in the region and beyond.”

—Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, July 14, 2015


2.1 The Issue

The Islamic Republic of Iran has an elaborate nuclear infrastructure that features enrichment plants, centrifuge production facilities, and uranium mines. At the same time, it is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the bedrock agreement governing nuclear technology, and the Additional Protocol, which gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) enhanced authority to inspect nuclear facilities. 

In the past, the IAEA has had concerns about access to Iranian facilities and scientists. During the 1990s, as Iran began to put together a covert nuclear program and to purchase illicit nuclear technologies from the black market, it often withheld information from the IAEA. The IAEA protocols call for member states to disclose plans for building new facilities and to offer a catalog of all their nuclear assets. Iran rarely complied fully with these and other such procedures. 

The United States has long been concerned not only about Iran’s possible violations of the NPT but also about the broader security threats it poses in the Middle East. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement among Iran; China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany (known collectively as the P5+1; the first five being permanent members of the UN Security Council); and the European Union—therefore contains a mechanism for inspecting suspect facilities. The agreement states that if the IAEA is not granted access to a facility, it can appeal to an arbitration committee composed of eight representatives, one each from the P5+1, Iran, and the European Union. At that time, Iran will have twenty-four days to grant access or face potential sanctions at the United Nations. If the arbitration committee does not approve the IAEA’s request, however, Iran will not have to provide access to the agency. 

One complaint from Israel and the Gulf Arab states is that, given the scale of Iran’s nuclear program and its probable expansion, the inspection mechanisms are too lax and cumbersome to function effectively. These countries fear that the world will be too slow to react to an Iranian violation of the agreement and that any meaningful sanctions imposed on Iran will be too little, too late, especially if Iran is racing to build a bomb. 

Decision Point

NSC Meeting

It is January 2017 and President Barack Obama is in the last month of his second presidential term. Israel has publicly alleged that Iran has been violating the JCPOA. According to Israeli sources, Iran is operating a clandestine nuclear enrichment facility at a mountain site outside Tehran. The Israelis assert that the installation contains equipment that is enriching uranium to weapons grade, suitable for building nuclear weapons. Israel insists that the UN Security Council convene at once and impose sanctions on Iran. The Israeli government also demands that the IAEA be given immediate access to the facility.

Iran denies all of the allegations and claims that the facility in question is a military installation undertaking nonnuclear but still sensitive activities. Tehran asserts, as it did during the nuclear negotiations, that it will not allow its security facilities to be inspected. Such a move, it claims, would violate its sovereignty. It insists that Israel is merely manufacturing a crisis in order to press the UN Security Council to sanction Iran or to justify its own contemplated plans to attack Iran, and pledges to severely retaliate against any attack on Iran. 

The CIA, working with allied countries’ intelligence services, reports that it believes suspicious activities are occurring in the disputed installation but cannot affirm illicit enrichment activity there. China and Russia flatly deny Israel’s claim and stress that they will oppose any Western measures against Iran in the UN Security Council, where both countries hold a veto. 

Although the JCPOA has a procedure to compel Iran to grant IAEA inspectors access to facilities, a majority of the members of the arbitration committee must vote in favor of doing so. A majority cannot currently be assembled given the tentative nature of U.S. intelligence. The National Security Council is tasked with advising the president on options to safeguard U.S. interests in this situation. 

Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.GO TO SECTION 3.1

You are currently previewing the Iran Deal Breach NSC Basic case.

View Full Basic Case View NSC Advanced case Build a Simulation