United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Vienna Nuke Talks: Rouhani on Extension

            On November 24, President Hassan Rouhani assured Iranians that diplomacy “will lead to a deal, sooner or later” following the decision by Iran and the world's six major powers to extend talks by seven months. In a televised speech, Rouhani also reaffirmed Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program and the need for sanctions relief to be part of a final agreement. “There is no doubt that sanctions will be lifted,” Rouhani claimed. “The question is timing.” The following are excerpts from his remarks.
 
            “The duration of the negotiations needs to be extended, and more dialogue needs to be held, which is a great achievement in the midway of the path that the Iranian nation began paving on June 14, 2013.”
            “It is true that we have still not achieved a final comprehensive agreement in these negotiations, but I can say that in order to achieve a final agreement we have taken steps forward and the conditions today differ with those that prevailed three or six months ago.”
            “The logics of the two sides have approached each other very closely, and many of the gaps have been filled, but there are still steps to be taken.”
            “Negotiations will lead to a deal, sooner or later.”
            "I am certain that we will reach the final accord, if not today, then tomorrow." 
            “We have had some agreements behind the scenes, but putting those on paper, we are still not there yet.”
            “Reaching a written and final agreement needs time.”
            "We not only keep to the Geneva agreement but use the Geneva agreement for coming to a final accord."
            “Iran’s logic is one of negotiations and dialog; and nuclear talks will be continued with seriousness until a final agreement is struck.”
            “We have neither compromised over Iran’s nuclear rights, nor will ever do so, and there is no doubt that the Iranian nuclear technology will remain functioning.”
            “At present, no one in the world has any doubt that Iran must have nuclear technology, including enrichment on its soil.”
            “We have gained a bigger success than what has been gained in these negotiations, and that great success is that today the situation is not similar with status during the previous years. Today we enjoy a status that no one in the world argues that in order to urge Iran to yield to the demands of Group 5+1 the sanctions need to be intensified.”
            “Today, the opposite negotiating sides have reached the conclusion that pressure and sanctions on Iran will not bear fruit.”
            “There is no doubt that sanctions will be lifted. The question is timing.”
            “We consider the sanctions to be tyrannical and have to lift them step by step.”
            “We will never give up our rights.” [referring to the enrichment process]
 
 

Vienna Nuke Talks: Zarif, Ashton on Extension

            Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a joint statement on November 24 explaining the decision to extend negotiations over Iran's nuclear program by seven months. The extension, according to Ashton and Zarif, will allow negotiators to "build on the current momentum" and reach an agreement in the "shortest possible time." The full statement is below, followed by Zarif's remarks to the press.

            Since we agreed to the Joint Plan of Action one year ago in Geneva, we, together with the Foreign Ministers and Political Directors of the E3+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), have been engaged in intensive diplomatic negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution.
 
            We once again express our appreciation to the Austrian Government for their most generous support in hosting these negotiations in Vienna.
 
            Based on the strong commitment by all sides to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution, we have held ten rounds of negotiations and numerous meetings during the past months. Some ideas have been developed, but given the technical nature of this effort and the decisions needed, more work is required to assess and finalize them as appropriate.
 
            We would have preferred to finalize a comprehensive solution here in Vienna. But we remain convinced that, based on the progress made and on the new ideas which continue to be explored, there is a credible path through which a comprehensive solution can be reached.

            We, together with the Foreign Ministers of the E3+3, have therefore agreed to continue our diplomatic efforts. We have decided to extend the measures of the Joint Plan of Action to allow for further negotiations until June 30th. We intend to build on the current momentum in order to complete these negotiations within the shortest possible time, up to four months, and if necessary to use the remaining time until the end of June to finalize any possible remaining technical and drafting work. 
           
            Iran and the E3/EU+3 reaffirm that they will continue to implement all their commitments described in the Joint Plan of Action in an efficient and timely manner. The IAEA will be asked to continue monitoring the voluntary measures under the Joint Plan of Action.
 
            The next meeting to continue our work will happen in December.
 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

             “I do not believe that anybody any longer questions Iran’s enrichment program. We believe that right of Iran to peaceful nuclear energy, including uranium enrichment, is enshrined in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), which does not require anybody’s recognition. The right is there. What is important is for Iran to be able to implement that right, to exercise that right without the threat of sanctions and pressure which are, in our view, illegal.”
            “I’m confident that any final deal will have a serious and not a token Iranian enrichment program coupled with removal of sanctions. This is the objective that we’re working on and this is the objective we will achieve.”
             “We have always said that Iran has no strategic interest in nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons don’t serve our strategic interests. Nuclear weapons are against every principle of our faith and our beliefs.”
             “A non-issue has become a crisis of international proportions,” Zarif said. “Iran has increased the number of its centrifuges and at the same time sanctions have been imposed on Iran, so nobody can claim victory for what has happened in the last 10 years because of that zero-sum approach.”
             “We seek to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
             “The sanctions are not only misguided… but are totally ineffective. Sanctions do not resolve the problem.”
             “Only, and I stress, only a negotiated resolution” can solve the dispute.
             “We believe that a negotiated resolution is within reach.”
             “My delegation has shown extreme flexibility and reasonableness. It’s not that our hands are tied. Of course all of us have national security considerations, have considerations about our rights, our dignity, our respect, which is not for negotiation.”
             “We consider it in our interest to defuse and to defeat all these Iranophobic attempts to securitize the Iranian peaceful nuclear program,” Zarif said. “We believe that this securitization process is intended to serve objectives that have nothing to do with non-proliferation, because probably the most serous violators of the international nonproliferation regime are the strongest voices against this agreement and the strongest voices that create fear and phobia in the international community against the Iranian nuclear program.”
             Nov. 24, 2014 to the press in Vienna (via Press TV and BuzzFeed)

 
            A few hours before Ashton and Zarif read their statement, John Kerry commented on the extension as well. The following is a video of his remarks.
 

Vienna Nuke Talks: Kerry on Extension

             On November 24, the world’s six major powers and Iran missed the deadline for brokering a deal that would curb Tehran’s controversial nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. After a week of intensive discussion, the two sides agreed to a seven-month extension of talks. “We would be fools to walk away,” Secretary State John Kerry warned in remarks to the press. “In these last days in Vienna, we have made real and substantial progress, and we have seen new ideas surface.”
              Kerry said the new goal is to finish a political agreement within four months. If the two sides cannot agree on the major elements of a deal by then, they will reevaluate their options for proceeding. Kerry stressed that the world “is safer than it was just one year ago” before the interim deal was implemented. “Today, Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and it has rolled it back for the first time in a decade.” The following is a video clip of Kerry's press briefing with excerpts from his remarks.
 
SECRETARY KERRY: Now we have worked long and hard not just over these past days but for months in order to achieve a comprehensive agreement that addresses international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.  This takes time.  The stakes are high and the issues are complicated and technical, and each decision affects other decisions.  There’s always an interrelationship, and each decision also deeply affects international security and national interests. 
 
It also takes time to do this because we don’t want just any agreement.  We want the right agreement.  Time and again, from the day that he took office, President Obama has been crystal clear that we must ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, period.  And this is not specific to one country; it’s the policy of many countries in the world to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons that exist today and not to allow new ones.  And we are engaged in that struggle in many places.  And the fact is that even Russia and the United States, who have the largest number, are working hard to reduce that number and to reduce the potential of fissionable nuclear material being available to any additional entity in the world. 
 
President Obama has been just as clear that the best way to do this is through diplomacy, through a comprehensive and durable agreement that all parties can agree to, that all parties are committed to upholding, and whose implementation is not based on trust but on intensive verification.  And that is not just because diplomacy is the preferred course; it is also the most effective course. 
 
Diplomacy is also difficult.  These talks are going to suddenly get easier just because we extend them.  They’re tough and they’ve been tough and they’re going to stay tough.  If it were easier, if views on both sides weren’t as deeply held as they are, then we’d have reached a final agreement months or even years ago.  But in these last days in Vienna, we have made real and substantial progress, and we have seen new ideas surface.  And that is why we are jointly – the P5+1, six nations and Iran – extending these talks for seven months with the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months and with the understanding that we will go to work immediately, meet again very shortly.  And if we can do it sooner, we want to do it sooner. 
 
At the end of four months, we have not agreed on the major – if we have not agreed on the major elements by that point in time and there is no clear path, we can revisit how we then want to choose to proceed. 
 
Now we believe a comprehensive deal that addresses the world’s concerns is possible.  It is desirable.  And at this point, we have developed a clearer understanding of what that kind of deal could look like, but there are still some significant points of disagreement, and they have to be worked through.
 
Now I want to underscore that even as the negotiations continue towards a comprehensive deal, the world is safer than it was just one year ago.  It is safer than we were before we agreed on the Joint Plan of Action, which was the interim agreement. 
 
One year ago, Iran’s nuclear program was rushing full speed toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, the production of weapons-grade plutonium, and ever shorter breakout time.  Today, Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and it has rolled it back for the first time in a decade.
 
A year ago, Iran had about 200 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium in a form that could be quickly enriched into a weapons-grade level.  Today, Iran has no such 20 percent enriched uranium – zero, none – and they have diluted or converted every ounce that they had and suspended all uranium enrichment above 5 percent.
 
A year ago, Iran was making steady progress on the Arak reactor, which, if it had become operational, would have provided Iran with a plutonium path to a nuclear weapon.  Today, progress on Arak, as it is known, is frozen in place.
 
A year ago, inspectors had limited access to Iran’s nuclear program.  Today, IAEA inspectors have daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities and a far deeper understanding of Iran’s program.  They have been able to learn things about Iran’s centrifuge production, uranium mines, and other facilities that are important to building trust.  That’s how you build trust, and that’s why Iran made the decision to do it.  And they’ve been able to verify that Iran is indeed living up to its JPOA commitments.
 
All of these steps by Iran and the limited sanctions relief that the international community provided in return are important building blocks to lay the foundation for a comprehensive agreement and they begin to build confidence among nations. 
 
A year ago, we had no idea whether or not real progress could be made through these talks.  We only knew that we had a responsibility to try.  Today, we are closer to a deal that would make the entire world, especially our allies and partners in Israel and in the Gulf, safer and more secure. 
 
Is it possible that in the end we just won’t arrive at a workable agreement?  Absolutely.  We are certainly not going to sit at the negotiating table forever, absent measurable progress.  But given how far we have come over the past year and particularly in the last few days, this is not certainly the time to get up and walk away.  These issues are enormously complex.  They require a lot of tough political decisions and they require very rigorous technical analysis of concepts.  It takes time to work through the possible solutions that can effectively accomplish our goals and that give the leaders of all countries confidence in the decisions that they are being asked to make.
 
So our experts will meet again very soon.  In fact, we will have a meeting in December as soon as possible in order to continue this work and to drive this process as hard as we can.  And as the parties continue to negotiate, all of the current restraints on the nuclear program in Iran will remain in place.
 
Now, let me make it clear:  Our goal in these negotiations is not a mystery.  It is not a political goal.  It is not an ideological goal.  It is a practical goal, a goal of common sense, and it is achievable.  The United States and our EU and P5+1 partners – the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China, a group of nations that doesn’t always see eye to eye – agree unanimously about what a viable agreement would need to look like.
 
First and foremost, the viable agreement would have to close off all of the pathways for Iran to get fissile material for a nuclear weapon.  A viable agreement would have to include a new level of transparency and verification beyond the expanded access that we’ve had under the JPOA.  And as these conditions are met, a viable agreement would also include for Iran relief from the international nuclear-related sanctions that help to bring them to the table to negotiate in the first place. 
 
And because of the nature of these talks, we should not – and I emphasize we will not – in the days ahead discuss the details of the negotiations.  And we’re doing that simply to preserve the space to be able to make the choices that lie ahead.  But I can tell you that progress was indeed made on some of the most vexing challenges that we face, and we now see the path toward potentially resolving some issues that have been intractable. 
 
I want to also emphasize:  This agreement, like any agreement, regarding security particularly, cannot be based on trust because trust can’t be built overnight.  Instead, the agreement has to be based on verification, on measures that serve to build confidence over time.  And I want to make it even further clear to everybody here we really want this to work – but not at the cost of just anything.  We want to reach a comprehensive deal and we want it to work for everybody.  And we want the people of Iran to get the economic relief that they seek and to be able to rejoin the international community. 
 
We want to terminate the sanctions.  Yes, we want to terminate the sanctions which were put in place to get us to these negotiations and ultimately to be able to bring about a deal.  But the world – and I underscore this – not just the United States, not just the P5+1 – the world still has serious questions about Iran’s nuclear program.  And for the sanctions to be terminated, we need Iran to take concrete, verifiable steps to answer those questions.  That’s the bottom line.
And for my friends in the United States Congress, with whom I spent almost 30 years in the United States Senate, I would say that together, we have been through some tough policy deliberations.  I had the responsibility of chairing the Foreign Relations Committee when we put the sanctions regime in place that has helped us get this far.  I believe in the institution and the critical role that the Senate has to play, and the House.  We have stayed in close consultation throughout this process, and we will continue to do so.  And we look for your support for this extension and for continued talks.
 
And I would say to those who are skeptical, those who wonder whether we should rush ahead down a different course, I believe the United States and our partners have earned the benefit of the doubt at this point.  Many were quick to say that the Joint Plan of Action would be violated; it wouldn’t hold up, it would be shredded.  Many said that Iran would not hold up its end of the bargain.  Many said that the sanctions regime would collapse.  But guess what?  The interim agreement wasn’t violated.  Iran has held up its end of the bargain, and the sanctions regime has remained intact.
 
My friends, we have the time in the next weeks and months to try and get this right.  And because of that, we should continue to exercise the judgment and the patience to defend our interests, uphold our core principles, maintain our sense of urgency that this issue deserves, and keep open the road to a peaceful resolution.  That’s what we decided to do here today.  I am convinced it is the right decision, made on the basis of what we have done over the course of these last days, and on the prospects of what we could achieve if we can reach a comprehensive agreement.
 
QUESTION:  Sir, despite all the negotiating over the past year, there’s still fundamental gaps over how much enrichment capacity Iran would be allowed to retain, the duration of an accord, and the timing of sanctions relief.  Why do you think the calculation of the two sides would be fundamentally different several months from now than from today? 
 
SECRETARY KERRY:  Let me just emphasize, as I said in the beginning, I’m not going to talk about the details.  I’m not going to confirm whether or not there’s a gap or not a gap or where the gaps are.  There obviously are gaps.  We’ve said that.  And there is obviously some distance to travel.  But if we start getting into where they are or where they aren’t, then one side or the other is going to begin to get asked, “Well, what did you give for that,” or “What did you get for that,” or “Where are we?”  And if that becomes the public debate, this is going to end very quickly.  So we’re not going to discuss the details, as I said to you.  We’re just not going to go there.
 
Now with respect to why should we continue this, I’ll tell you why we should continue this:  Because the world is safer with the interim agreement in place.  I just listed all of the things that are happening as a result of that agreement.  The nuclear program in Iran as we negotiate is frozen.  The 20 percent enrichment has been reduced to zero.  Inspectors are in the facilities.  The centrifuges cannot be replaced except unless they break down.  There’s no change in the level of centrifuges.  We would be fools to walk away from a situation where the breakout time has already been expanded rather than narrowed, and where the world is safer because this program is in place.
 
So just on the common sense of what we have in the interim agreement, it makes absolute sense to continue to talk.  But there’s more important evidence of why we should do this, and that is that we are saying – and I think, as I said, we have earned the benefit of the doubt – we produced an agreement that has worked; we produced an agreement that, for a year, Iran has lived up to.  We produced an agreement that has made the world safer, and we have produced an agreement that we now are telling you has been able to advance these talks where unanimously, every country has stood before you or will stand before you and say, “We’ve made progress and we need the time to finish.”
 
Now, I think that when we have a classified briefing with those people appropriately cleared to have that briefing, we can go into greater detail.  But this should not be worked out in public, and I don’t know – I know all of you have great sources; you have a great ability to learn one thing or another.  Don’t trust it.  I’m telling you right now, a lot of people don’t know what they’re talking about, because this is pretty narrowly held.  So as recently as half an hour ago, I left Foreign Minister Zarif.  We’ve had talks, and I can tell you that even my colleagues on the other side haven’t had a chance to be debriefed.  So I would caution anybody, and just bear with us as we try to negotiate over the course of the next days.

[W]e’re going to live under the joint agreement that we’ve already put in place a year ago.  That has a pro-rated, already agreed upon fund that is dispersed, and since we’re living under it, we’ll live up to that agreement.  But we’re not doing anything additional beyond that that I know of.

QUESTION: Putting more time on the clock heightens the level of political risk.  What assurances do you have from Congress that they won’t move ahead with sanctions in the next seven months, and is this real and substantive progress you’ve just talked about enough to warrant a presidential veto if they were to move ahead with those sanctions?
 
SECRETARY KERRY:  With respect to Congress, as a former member of Congress, as I said, for some 30 years, I have huge respect for the prerogatives of the United States Congress.  I believe in them.  But I believe this is a moment where Congress hopefully, when properly briefed and when we’ve had a chance to report to them – and we’re in constant touch; I’ve talked to members even while I’ve been here for the past days – I hope they will come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation.  So my hope is we will have that breadth, and we certainly stand prepared to work with the Congress in every way possible to make sure that everybody’s interests are properly listened to, processed, implemented, taken into account.  And so I look forward to those discussions when I get back.
 
QUESTION:  Does it warrant a veto?  Does it warrant a presidential veto, the substantive progress you say has been made?
 
SECRETARY KERRY:  Oh, I think it’s – look, it’s way too premature to be starting to talk about veto.  We don’t even know – let’s let Congress hear what we’re saying.  Let’s have a conversation.  Let’s see if there is legislation.  I’m not going to get into that hypothetical routine right now.
 
QUESTION:  You said – based on you had said that 20 percent is going to zero by Iran, also plutonium is going zero also, also Arak have (inaudible) with IAEA with Iran.  Based on July agreement how do you respond should remainder remove all sanction?  Also, should there being for Iran based on practical enrichment?  Why they don’t implement their commitment? Did they have commitments about removing the sanctions?
 
SECRETARY KERRY:  We have made a commitment about removing sanctions.  We will remove sanctions as the agreement is reached.  And that’s always been the understanding.  We’ve been very clear about it.  We haven’t reached an agreement yet. 
 
Now, what we did in return for the things that Iran chose to do – and we’re very – as I said here – I think I was very candid and fair.  I said Iran has honored the agreement.  Iran has lived up to the agreement.  But in exchange for that agreement, to do those things we have lifted some of the sanctions.  We have provided a certain amount of money that reporter from The New York Times asked about, and that’s been released as part of the agreement. 
 
So that was the exchange.  The relief, a little bit, from some of the sanctions in exchange for the things that were done through this year.  Now, if Iran will come and make the comprehensive agreement, we have told them we’re prepared to go – I’m not going to say how far and where, because that’s part of the negotiation, but we will address the issues of the sanctions in the context of the negotiation.
 
Thank you all very, very much.
 

Click here for the full transcript.

 

Report: Nuclear Deal Could Boost Rouhani

            A successful nuclear deal between Iran and the world's six major powers would allow Rouhani and other centrists to increase their influence in Iran’s political system, according to a new research paper by Hossein Bastani in the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House. But failure to reach a deal would empower hardliners in the judiciary and security establishment who disapprove of engagement with the West. Bastani warns that if Rouhani and others who favor improving ties with the outside world “again suffer failure in striking a face-saving deal, they will never be able to return to the sphere of foreign policy in Iran.” The following is a summary of the key findings of the research paper.

            One of the key questions about the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme is how powerful President Hassan Rouhani really is within Iran’s unique political system, and whether he and his colleagues have the ability to implement an international nuclear agreement despite their powerful opponents. As the country’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003–05, Rouhani agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and open nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, unhappy with the attitude of the Western powers towards Iran, halted the implementation of these arrangements.
 
            Rouhani and his associates emphasize that their objective is the resolution of the economic, administrative and international crises arising from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s two presidential terms. In this context, they regard their highest priority as being the conclusion of an agreement with the international community over the nuclear dossier – which has been, in their view, the major source of Iran’s economic problems in the past few years.
However, the president is faced with opposition within the ranks of some of the most influential state institutions: the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Basij volunteer militias, the intelligence-security apparatus, the judiciary and the parliament.
 
            There is no doubt that Ayatollah Khamenei expects Rouhani to strive to achieve the removal of the sanctions against Iran, but he does not seem interested in sharing responsibility for any retreat from the nuclear programme. If he comes to the conclusion that the political costs of nuclear talks far outweigh the economic benefits they can bring, he will once again put an end to them.
 
            Should that happen, it will strengthen Ayatollah Khamenei’s convictions about the dangers of any rapprochement with the West and about the potential for moderation in foreign policy. This impact could be even stronger than that of the failure of the 2003–05 nuclear talks.
 
            Ultimately, if those in Iran – such as President Rouhani – who favour interaction with the international community again fail in their efforts to strike a face-saving deal, they will never be able to return to the sphere of foreign policy in Iran. The departure of Rouhani’s team from the political scene during the most sensitive stage of the nuclear issue would lead to the return to Iran’s foreign policy apparatus of forces that oppose external engagement.
 
Click here for the full report
 

Iran Nuclear Talks: The Final Push

            Iran and the world’s six major powers have only a few days to reach a deal that will ensure Tehran’s controversial nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. Both sides are now intensifying their efforts to meet the November 24 deadline for an agreement. Leaders on both sides have noted that there has been progress on key issues and remain hopeful that a deal can be reached before the deadline.
           
Both Iranian and U.S. officials, however, have claimed that each other’s governments will be at fault if a deal is not reached. “If [a deal] does not happen, the responsibility will be seen by all to rest with Iran,” Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman warned on October 23. “It is not clear if negotiations will reach a conclusion within the specified time frame” unless the other side gives up its “illogical excessive demands,” Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi said on October 27 (click here for the latest remarks by U.S. and Iranian officials).
            
The following is a summary of the last three weeks of diplomacy and a rundown of the three possible outcomes of the November talks — a deal, no deal or an extension.

November 7: E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with political directors from the P5+1 countries — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
 
November 9 and 10: Secretary of State John Kerry and Ashton met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Muscat, Oman.
 
November 11: Political directors from the P5+1 and Iran met in Muscat, Oman.
 
November 18: The final round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 began in Vienna. Zarif and Ashton met on November 19, and Kerry arrived in Vienna to join the discussions on November 20. Kerry and Zarif both delayed their departures from Vienna in order to continue negotiations.
 
A Deal:
 
            The temporary Joint Plan of Action states that goal of the negotiations “is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.” The following are excerpts from an article by Joe Cirincione on six issues pivotal to an accord. 
 
1. Limiting Uranium Enrichment
 
      Iran’s ability to enrich uranium is at the heart of the international controversy. The process can fuel both peaceful nuclear energy and the world’s deadliest weapon. Since 2002, Iran’s has gradually built an independent capability to enrich uranium, which it claims is only for medical research and to fuel an energy program. But the outside world has long been suspicious of Tehran’s intentions because its program exceeds its current needs. 
 
 
A deal may generally have to include:
 
      •reducing the number of Iran’s centrifuges,
      •limiting uranium enrichment to no more than five percent.  
      •capping centrifuge capabilities at current levels.
 
2. Preventing a Plutonium Path
 
      Iran’s heavy water reactor in Arak, which is unfinished, is another big issue. Construction of this small research reactor began in the 1990s; the stated goal was producing medical isotopes and up to 40 megawatts of thermal power for civilian use. But the “reactor design appears much better suited for producing bomb-grade plutonium than for civilian uses,” warned former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Los Alamos Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker.
 
            In early February, Iranian officials announced they would be willing to modify the design plans of the reactor to allay Western concerns, although they provided no details. 
 
3. Verification
 
      The temporary Joint Plan allows more extensive and intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. U.N. inspectors now have daily access to Iran’s primary enrichment facilities at the Natanz and Fordow plants, the Arak heavy water reactor, and the centrifuge assembly facilities. Inspectors are now also allowed into Iran’s uranium mines.
 
 
           A final deal will have to further expand inspections to new sites. The most sensitive issue may be access to sites suspected of holding evidence of Iran’s past efforts to build an atomic bomb. The IAEA suspects, for example, that Iran tested explosive components needed for a nuclear bomb at Parchin military base.
 
4. Clarifying the Past  
 
The issue is not just Iran’s current program and future potential. Several troubling questions from the past must also be answered. The temporary deal created a Joint Commission to work with the IAEA on past issues, including suspected research on nuclear weapon technologies. Iran denies that it ever worked on nuclear weapons, but the circumstantial evidence about past Iranian experiments is quite strong.
 
Among the issues:
 
•research on polonium-210, which can be used as a neutron trigger for a nuclear bomb,
•research on a missile re-entry vehicle, which could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon, and
•suspected high-explosives testing, which could be used to compress a bomb core to critical mass.
 
      “Iran needs to clarify issues related to possible military dimension and implement the additional protocol [to prove its nuclear program is entirely peaceful],” the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Yukiya Amano, said on October 31 at the Brookings Institution.
 
5. Sanctions Relief
 
           Iran’s primary goal is to get access to some $100 billion in funds frozen in foreign banks and to end the many sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. Since the toughest U.S. sanctions were imposed in mid-2012, Iran’s currency and oil exports have both plummeted by some 60 percent.
 
           The temporary Joint Plan of Action says a final agreement will “comprehensively lift UN Security Council, multilateral and national nuclear-related sanctions…on a schedule to be agreed upon.” (It does not, however, address sanctions imposed on other issues, such as support for extremist groups or human rights abuses.) The United States and the Europeans may want to keep some sanctions in place until they are assured that Iran is meeting new obligations.
 
6. The Long and Winding Road
 
            The final but critical issue is timing: How long is a long-term deal? It will clearly require years to prove Iran is fully compliant. But estimates vary widely from five to 20 years. Another alternative is a series of shorter agreements that build incrementally on one another.
 
Click here for Joe Cirincione's full article on these six issues.
 
No Deal:
 
            Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman has warned that “escalation will be the name of the game, on all sides,” if the talks collapse. Tehran’s resumption of work on the most sensitive aspects of its nuclear program could raise prospects for military action. President Barack Obama has warned that he would seek to impose new sanctions on Iran in an agreement cannot be brokered. But enforcing sanctions could become much more difficult if European and Asian countries, especially Russia and China, blame the failure of talks on U.S. unwillingness to compromise on Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity.
 
Extension:
 
            The previous extension pushed the due date for a deal back by four months to November 24. Neither side wants the talks to last any longer than necessary. But they may again opt for more time to negotiate if the alternative is a total collapse of the talks. Even if a general consensus is, however, reached on the major issues, experts may need additional time to hammer out the technical details. An extension could again allow for additional repatriation of frozen funds outside of Iran, perhaps in return for Iran taking more steps to roll back its nuclear program.
 

Photo credits: NuclearEnergy.ir, Amano and Zarif by Mueller / MSC [CC-BY-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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