Claim: According to the US President Donald Trump, the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, allow Iran to return to making nuclear weapons after a period of seven years.
What Happened: In 2015, Iran agreed to a long term nuclear deal regarding its nuclear programme with the P5+1 powers - The USA, China, Britain, France, Russia, and Germany. Under its terms, Iran agreed to severe restrictions on its military nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. However, Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the agreement, calling it the 'worst deal ever made', 'terrible', 'unacceptably bad', and 'defective at its core'.
Trump was a vociferous critic of the deal even before he became President, and on the campaign trail repeatedly threatened to pull the US out of the agreement unless it was 'fixed' to his satisfaction. While he reluctantly recertified the deal a few times after coming to power, on the 12th of May, 2018, he reimposed 'secondary sanctions' on Iran, which had been lifted as part of the deal, thereby making the USA noncompliant with the deal and de facto withdrawing from it. However, the deal itself still exists, and the other partners have not followed his lead in withdrawing from it.
Facts: The Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action was formally signed in Vienna on the 14th of July, 2015, between Iran on one hand and the USA, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany on the other. Under its terms, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce its gas centrifuges by about two thirds. Iran was also required to de-operationalise its heavy water reactor and plutonium nuclear facility at Arak, and open up its nuclear sites to wide-ranging inspection by the IAEA, all for a period of fifteen years. Iran was also permanently prohibited, under the joining the NPT part of the deal, from making or designing a nuclear weapon. In return, the other parties agreed to lift most of the economic sanctions imposed because of Iran's nuclear program, especially those pertaining to oil and petrochemical exports, and allowed international banks and business houses to once more begin operating in Iran.
Now, President Trump has claimed that in seven years, Iran could have a nuclear weapon. His exact words, at a press conference with the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, were "In seven years, that deal would have expired, and Iran is free to go ahead and create a nuclear bomb. That is not acceptable."
According to a confidential addendum leaked to the press by a diplomat who worked closely on the Iran deal, Iran is allowed to begin uranium enrichment within eleven years, and also allows for advanced machines to be installed for the purpose. The White House has repeatedly cited this document as proof of the claim that Iran could begin enrichment sooner than the publicly touted number of fifteen years. However, they singularly fail to mention the other major provision of the previously confidential document, that Iran cannot under any circumstances raise its stock of uranium above 300 kilograms. It takes quite a bit more, at least 600 to 700 kilograms, to make a nuclear bomb. So, as Ernest Moniz, the former US Treasury Secretary pointed out, that is a 'serious constraint' on Iran's ability to produce a bomb. The JCPOA was expressly designed to make Iran's 'breakout period', the time it would take them to assemble a working bomb, at least a year, giving the international community enough time to design an effective response.
Moreover, since Iran has agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is expressly prohibited from assembling a nuclear weapon. This provision is not in any way time bound, the processes involved in building a bomb - experimenting with fissile material, neutron modelling, running sample nuclear warhead testing - are all expressly prohibited. Most of the IAEA's right to inspections are also indefinite, particularly the ones dealing with oversight of fissile material and running tests for radioactive material at any locations. However, certain terms are finite, which would make it easier for Iran to start up a nuclear program after ten years.
The White House has also claimed that Iran has violated the deal already. However, they have provided little or no evidence, and the IAEA has repeatedly certified Iran's compliance with the specific provisions of the deal. While the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made a somewhat theatrical presentation detailing Iran's violations, most of the material contained therein was over a decade old. It is important, in this context, to remember that the Obama administration never claimed that the JCPOA was designed to forever prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. It was specifically designed to delay that possibility, and hopefully, in the interim, reintegrate Iran into the world economy with its concomitant benefits. It was for this reason that conservative clerics vehemently criticised the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, for negotiating the deal in the first place, since they, much likeDonald Trump, believed Iran was giving up far too much for far too little in return.
Conclusion: While there might well be some truth to the Trump administration's broader claim that the deal was inadequate, and didn't cover important areas like ballistic missile testing or Iran's support for terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, the "bomb in seven years" claim made by President Trump is demonstrably false. Iran cannot even begin enriching the uranium that would be required for a bomb before a period of twelve years, and some of the procedures that it would need to do so are banned till at least 2030, under the JCPOA. Moreover, as long as Iran remains signatory to the NPT, it is prohibited from actually assembling a bomb, and it remains perennially under the ambit of the inspectors of the IAEA.