NEW DELHI: The United States senate has voted to uphold the nuclear accord with Iran, with Senate Democrats overcoming ferocious Republican opposition and delivering President Barack Obama a legacy.

Democrats on Thursday blocked a Republican resolution of disapproval of the Iran nuclear deal from going into the final vote, which means that Obama will not have to veto the legislation and drag out a long and ugly battle with the GOP controlled Congress.

It was a close call in the White House’s favour, with the procedural motion needing 60 votes to pass but receiving only 58.

Obama welcomed the vote in a statement on Thursday. “This vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world," Obama said. "I am heartened that so many senators judged this deal on the merits, and am gratified by the strong support of lawmakers and citizens alike.”

However, challenges still remain, with Senate Republicans now working on a re-vote next week. After the Senate vote on Thursday, the House passed a resolution on a straight party vote stating that the President failed to comply with the law on the Iran nuclear deal as he did not provide details on “side deals” concerning inspections of possible nuclear sites.

The historic deal, which has become the cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy legacy, was arrived at between Iran and the P5+1, namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany, in July. The deal involves limitations on Iran’s nuclear ability for the next decade in return for lifting crippling international oil and financial sanctions against the country.

The deal, which will go down as US President Barack Obama’s greatest diplomatic achievement, was reached after over 20 months of haggling negotiations that have changed power dynamics, most significantly affecting relations between the US and Israel, as the latter is opposed to a deal being reached with Iran in any form.

Although the details remain sketchy, initial reports indicate that the compromise that made the deal possible was over the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites. The deal will allow UN inspectors to monitor military sites, but Iran could challenge requests for access, a diplomat quoted by the Associated Press said.

The details of the deal:

Simply put, the trouble was over Iran’s capacity to build a nuclear bomb. Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, whereas the UN, European Union, the US, and others have all imposed sanctions on the country because well, they don’t believe Tehran’s claim. The negotiations were centred around lifting these sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to curbs and limitations to its nuclear programme.

The process has not been easy because the US and others wanted Iran to prove that it can stuck to the curbs and restrictions before they lift sanctions gradually over time, whereas Iran’s position was that sanctions needed to be lifted immediately as the country needs economic relief and that it should not be levelled with more sanctions when it is in fact complying.

To understand what sort of curbs and restrictions the US and others have been demanding, a brief physics class is necessary.

There are two types of radioactive materials of consequence here: uranium and plutonium. For each, the process begins with enriching uranium ore. Uranium mined from the earth contains less than 1 percent of U-235 -- the isotope that is used to both fuel reactors and manufacture atom bombs. Centrifuges are needed to separate the isotope from the uranium -- a process defined as enrichment of uranium. For plutonium, the process involved irridating uranium in a nuclear reactor, thereby transforming some of the uranium into plutonium.

(Source: The New York Times)

Now that the physics has been established, here are the problems that were specific to Iran.

Problem Number 1: When uranium is enriched, the centrifuges are used to raise U-235 concentrations. In the west, most power reactors use uranium enriched up to 5 percent. Bomb grade is above 90 percent. Iran has thus far been enriching uranium up to 20 percent.

Problem Number 2: Iran has a stockpile of this low-enriched uranium (for peaceful purposes, they maintain). The problem is that the low-enriched uranium could be fed back into centrifuges and gradually made into highly enriched uranium -- and obviously, the US and others want to make sure that cannot happen.

Problem Number 3: Iran’s “Breakout Time”: “Breakout Time” refers to the amount of time it would take Iran to build a nuclear bomb if it decides to do so. Currently, if Iran’s leaders wake up tomorrow and decide they want a nuke in their hands, it would -- according to a US fact sheet -- take the country two-three months to be able to do so. The US and others want to extend this “breakout time.”

A number of things have been agreed to that relate to the problems above.

According to the joint statement in Switzerland, the E3+3 countries and Iran agreed on a framework for a deal. According to this framework, Iran would redesign, convert, and reduce its nuclear facilities and accept the Additional Protocol (with provisional application) in order to lift all nuclear-related economical sanctions.

The joint statement outlines the following:


1. Iran's enrichment capacity, enrichment level and stockpile will be limited for specified durations.

2. There will be no enrichment facilities other than Natanz.

3. Iran is allowed to conduct research and development on centrifuges with an agreed scope and schedule.

4. Fordow, the underground enrichment center, will be converted to a "nuclear, physics and technology centre".


1. The Heavy Water facility in Arak with help of international venture will be redesigned and modernized to "Heavy Water Research Reactor" with no weapon grade plutonium byproducts.

2. The spent fuel will be exported, there will be no reprocessing.


1. Implementation of the modified Code 3.1 and provisional application of the Additional Protocol.

2. Iran agreed IAEA procedure which enhanced access by modern technologies to clarify past and present issues.


When the IAEA verifies Iran's implementation of its key nuclear commitments:

1. The EU will terminate all nuclear-related economic sanctions.

2. The United States will cease the application of all nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions.

3. The UN Security Council will endorse this agreement with a resolution which terminates all previous nuclear-related resolutions and incorporate certain restrictive measures for a mutually agreed period of time.

Iran has agreed to limit enrichment levels ot 3-7 percent and cut its stockpile of that kind of low-enriched uranium from 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms for 15 years. Iran has also agreed to reduce the number of centrifuges installed by two-thirds.

According to details of the deal published by the US government, Iran has accepted to not build any new facilities for the aim of enrichment and reduce its current stockpile to 300 kg of 3.67 percent low-enriched uranium during 15 years and limit the enriched uranium to 3.67 percent for at least this duration, restrict to 6,104 installed centrifuges under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. This amount of enrichment - namely 3.67% - would be enough just for peaceful and civil use to power parts of country and therefore is not sufficient for building a nuclear bomb.

Further, as per the framework, Iran’s giant enrichment site at Fordo will be converted into a centre for nuclear physics and technology research. At Natanz -- the country’s main nuclear site -- the number of centrifuges remaining will be cut by half to 5000. At Arak, where the country is building a nuclear reactor that will use natural uranium to produce Pu-239, the deal involves rebuilding the reactor based on a design that will not produce weapon-grade plutonium.

To ensure that Iran doesn’t cheat, greater monitoring and transparency has been agreed to. The International Atomic Energy Agency will have greater access and can investigate sites anywhere in the country. Investigators will also have access to supply chains that support Iran’s nuclear programme, including mines and mills. There will also be continuous surveillance of centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities.

According to published details of the deal which is published by the U.S. government, IAEA inspectors would have access to all of the nuclear facilities including enrichment facilities, the supply chain that supports the nuclear program and uranium mines as well as continuous surveillance at uranium mills, centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities. Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country. Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its programme.

According to the Iranian fact sheet, Iran will implement the Additional Protocol temporarily and voluntarily in line with its confidence-building measures and after that the protocol will be ratified in a time frame by the Iranian government and parliament (Majlis).

As per the framework, Iran has agreed to limit its enrichment capacity and research and development for 10 years. Iran will also not build any heavy water reactors for 15 years. The country will limit its stockpile of enriched uranium for 15 years.