Report: Guiding Principles for Nuclear Talks

July 22, 2014

          Senior officials from the world’s six major powers have outlined five key principles that must underpin a deal, according to a new Institute for Science and International Security report. They include: 1) sufficient response time in case of violations; 2) a nuclear program meeting Iran’s practical needs; 3) adequate irreversibility of constraints; 4) stable provisions; and 5) adequate verification, according to David Albright, Olli Heinonen and Andrea Stricker. “Without following these principles, the negotiations cannot deliver an agreement which can ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed peaceful and that a deal will be long lasting,” wrote the experts. The following are excerpts from the report with a link to the full text.

Adequate Response Time
           One of the Six’s key principles is that an agreement must provide sufficient time to mount an effective response to major violations by Iran. There are two parts to this principle—one involves intrusive IAEA inspections able to promptly detect non-compliance (and address it by effective verification) and the other recognizes that even the most intrusive inspections are alone inadequate to provide enough response time in the case of Iran. The latter, adequate response time, requires significant limitations on Iran’s nuclear programs and translates into a need to limit Iran’s pathways to making nuclear weapons.
           An effective metric of adequate limits on Iran’s main overt pathway to nuclear weapons, its centrifuge program, is breakout time, which measures the length of time Iran would need to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon. The United States and its allies seek restrictions such that a breakout by Iran using its known centrifuge plants would take at least one year, although they may settle for at least six months if additional assurances can be obtained.
Practical Needs
           Limiting Iran’s centrifuge program to less than 4,000 IR-1 centrifuges is consistent with Iran’s actual needs for enriched uranium for many years. This number of centrifuges would provide Iran with sufficient enriched uranium for its existing research reactor programs and account for modest growth in them. Thus, Iran would not suffer any serious consequences in its nuclear program by limiting the numbers of centrifuges to these levels.
           Another critical principle for the Six is irreversibility. Here the concept of irreversibility is understood as accepting that perfect irreversibility is not possible but in practice recognizes that the restoration of the previous, unconstrained situation should take a long time—on order of years and not months. In the case of Iran, a long term agreement would have little lasting value if Iran can reverse the constraints in a matter of days or months. The case of North Korea contains many examples where nuclear constraints were quickly undone and Pyongyang resumed its march to nuclear weapons. This case also contains important examples of North Korea being unable to establish previous levels of plutonium production when an agreement ended. North Korea shut down its large gas-graphite reactors, ending their ability to make large amounts of weapon-grade plutonium, as a result of the 1994 US/DPRK Agreed Framework. When this agreement ended suddenly in 2002, North Korea was able to reestablish a relatively small plutonium production capability.
           Although not articulated explicitly by the Six’s officials, stability as a guiding principle requires provisions that do not lead to persistent accusations of violations or require huge numbers of actions to achieve compliance. Such provisions can undermine the credibility of an agreement and call into question its enforceability.
           An example involves lowering the amount of enriched uranium Iran has access to while increasing the number of allowed centrifuges to 10,000 or more IR-1 centrifuges, in an effort to increase breakout times. These two steps taken together are not a zero-sum provision; they would create an unstable, highly reversible situation.
Effective Verification
           Effective verification is another core principle, and Iran has refused to make concessions in this area as well. The IAEA must provide prompt warning of violations, determine the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations, establish the total number of centrifuges produced by Iran and the size of its uranium stocks, and establish confidence in the absence of undeclared nuclear activities or facilities, including providing assurances on the absence of nuclear weapons related activities in Iran. Iran argues that ratifying the Additional Protocol is enough but while such a step is welcome, it is not sufficient. The long term agreement must also establish a range of other verification provisions, which collectively are often known as Additional Protocol Plus. According to one senior official, Iran has resisted the conditions necessary to create the “Plus.”
Click here for the full report.