United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Report: Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle

            The most difficult issues in the Iran nuclear talks “will not likely be settled until the 11th hour, but the two sides have a number of realistic, effective, and verifiable options available that would address the core concerns of both sides,” according to Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball. The organization’s new report outlines options for limiting the most sensitive parts of Iran’s nuclear program that would prevent it from making a quick dash to build a weapon. The authors also warn that without a comprehensive diplomatic solution Iran would likely deploy more advanced centrifuges and that its stockpile of enriched uranium would likely grow -- which would shorten the time needed to produce fuel for a bomb.
            The following are excerpts from the executive summary followed by a link to the full report.

Toward a Realistic and Effective Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement
Kelsey Davenport, Daryl Kimball and Greg Thielmann
            Negotiators from the United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) and their Iranian counterparts aim to negotiate a “comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful” and to settle the long-running international dispute over Iran’s nuclear capabilities and compliance with its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards obligations not to pursue nuclear weapons.
            For the United States and its negotiating partners, an effective agreement should
•establish verifiable limits on Iran’s program that, taken together, increase the time it would take for Iran to break out of the NPT and build nuclear weapons,
•increase the ability of the international community to promptly detect and effectively disrupt any breakout attempt, and
•decrease Iran’s incentives to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.
            The framework and timetable for reaching a comprehensive deal was spelled out in their interim accord known as the Joint Plan of Action, which was concluded by the two sides in November 2013 and went into effect January 20, 2014.
            This six-month-long agreement essentially freezes the growth of Iran’s nuclear capacity and increases international oversight of Iran’s nuclear activities, which has helped provide the time and trust necessary for negotiations on a comprehensive agreement.
Elements of a Comprehensive Deal
            The two sides agreed in November that a comprehensive agreement would include several key elements.
•Agreed limits on the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program commensurate with its “practical needs” for a civil nuclear program.
•Steps to reduce the proliferation potential of Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor project.
•More-extensive international monitoring and verification mechanisms, particularly at undeclared nuclear sites, to improve detection and deterrence of possible nuclear weapons-related activity in the future.
•A resolution of the multiyear investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of past Iranian experiments with possible military dimensions.
•Additional steps to address other issues cited in past UN Security Council resolutions relating to Iran’s nuclear program, which include Iranian ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
•Civilian nuclear energy assistance and cooperation for Iran.
•The removal of sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council, the United States, and the European Union relating to its nuclear program.
            Like the interim agreement, a comprehensive agreement would likely require that each side undertake reciprocal, step-for-step measures in stages. Whereas the interim agreement calls for actions to be taken within six to 12 months, the implementation steps for a comprehensive agreement would be measured in years.
Defining Iran’s Uranium-Enrichment Capacity
            The most challenging issue appears to be how to negotiate a “mutually defined enrichment programme” with “agreed limits on the scope and level of enrichment, activities, capacity…and stocks of uranium” that are “consistent with practical needs.”
            Since 2005, Iran increased its centrifuge capacity from 300 first-generation IR-1 machines at one site to about 19,000 installed, first-generation IR-1 machines at two sites. Today, about 10,200 are operating. About 1,000 advanced IR-2M centrifuges are installed at the Natanz enrichment plant, but are not operational.


            One critical goal for the P5+1 is to increase the time it would take to produce enough fissile material for an arsenal and enhance inspections and monitoring to ensure that any such effort could be detected and disrupted.
            An agreement that significantly reduces Iran’s present-day enrichment capacity and its enriched uranium stocks would increase that time even further and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its nuclear fuel needs, which are very limited for the next decade or more.
            Yet, Iranian officials insist that Iran’s nuclear fuel needs will increase over the course of the next 10 to 15 years or more and say they cannot depend on foreign suppliers, given the unreliability of foreign suppliers in the past. It is estimated that Iran would need about 100,000 operational IR-1 centrifuges by 2021 to provide fuel for its Bushehr reactor if the current fuel supply contract with Russia is not renewed. Iran says it has plans for other power and research reactors.
            To reach a comprehensive agreement, the two sides must find a formula that limits Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity at the Natanz site in a way that precludes an Iranian dash to produce enough HEU for weapons without being detected and disrupted but allows for Iran’s practical civilian needs, which are very minimal for the next several years but could increase over time.
            Iran and the P5+1 should be able to agree to several straightforward steps, such as
•limiting uranium enrichment to levels of less than 5 percent;
•keeping Iran’s LEU stockpile to a minimum (less than 1,000 kilograms or so); and
•halting production-scale work at the smaller Fordow enrichment plant and convert it to a research-only facility.
            Some independent analysts and some Israeli officials argue that Iran should mothball the underground Fordow plant, which is less vulnerable to an airstrike. Iran strongly opposes such an outcome.
            Negotiators have other options available that could help square the circle on uranium-enrichment capacity and address the concerns of each side.
•A comprehensive agreement could allow for appropriate increases in Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity in the later stages of the deal. Such adjustments could be conditioned on Iran providing sufficient information to the IAEA to show that any past experiments with possible military dimensions have been discontinued and demonstrating that it cannot obtain foreign nuclear fuel supplies for the new nuclear power reactors that it builds.
•Iran could agree to phase out, remove, and store under IAEA seal its less efficient, first-generation centrifuges and, over a period of years, replace them with a smaller number of more-efficient centrifuges. During the transition period, the total operating enrichment capacity would be held below agreed limits, ideally less than Iran’s current capacity. Iran could agree not to assemble the more efficient centrifuges until there is a demonstrable need for commercial-scale enrichment. This would increase the time it would take Iran to operate the machines, providing added insurance against rapid breakout scenarios.
•To reduce Iran’s rationale for greater enrichment capacity to fuel future reactors, a comprehensive agreement could commit the P5+1 to provide fuel supply guarantees to Iran for any such needs.

Reducing the Proliferation Potential of the Arak Reactor
            Another major issue that the two sides must resolve through a comprehensive agreement is the reduction of the proliferation risks posed by Iran’s effort to build a 40-megawatt thermal (MWt) heavy-water reactor at Arak. The reactor, as currently envisioned, is ideally suited to produce enough plutonium in its spent fuel for as many as two nuclear weapons annually.
            The Arak reactor is a longer-term proliferation threat. The reactor, which is more than a year away from completion, would have to operate for approximately one year before spent fuel could be removed. The spent fuel would have to cool for several months, and then the plutonium would have to be chemically separated using a facility that Iran is not believed to have.
            It appears that the two sides can probably come to terms on reducing the Arak reactor’s plutonium-production potential. According to statements made by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran is open to technical modifications of the reactor that would reduce its plutonium output. Members of the P5+1 indicate they would support this approach in principle. These design modifications include decreasing the power of the reactor from 40 MWt to 10 MWt and using low-enriched (3.5 percent) reactor fuel instead of natural uranium fuel.
            These modifications would reduce the Arak facility’s annual output of unseparated plutonium-239 from about eight kilograms to less than one kilogram. The two sides would have to agree on how to ensure that the modifications are difficult to reverse.
            The two sides should be able to agree, as they did in the November interim agreement, that Iran would not build a reprocessing facility to extract the weapons-grade plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel.
            As an additional safeguard, Iran and the P5+1 could agree to ship the spent fuel produced by the Arak facility out of Iran to prevent any covert reprocessing. Russia would be a likely destination because it is taking the spent fuel from the Bushehr reactor.
Resolving Concerns About Possible Weapons-Related Experiments
            Another issue that must be addressed in order to build confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program involves activities having possible military dimensions that Iran is believed to have conducted prior to 2004 and perhaps afterward.
            Until this year, Tehran has not cooperated with IAEA efforts over the past several years to comprehensively verify Iran’s claims about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, adding to suspicions about the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program.
            Iran and the IAEA reached a framework agreement in November 2013 for moving forward to resolve the outstanding concerns. Although some initial progress has been achieved, the IAEA investigation will continue beyond July 20 and probably into 2015.
            A comprehensive deal can play a role in facilitating Iranian cooperation and a prompt conclusion to the agency’s investigation. A comprehensive deal could,
•clarify that the information that Iran provides to the IAEA will be used only for the IAEA’s determination of whether Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful;
•be conditioned on the IAEA determination that questions surrounding the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program have been addressed to the extent possible; and
•clarify that international sanctions may be reimposed if Tehran fails to complete the IAEA’s requested actions in a timely manner.
            These measures should provide sufficient incentives for Iran to follow through on closing its file with the IAEA.
Securing More-Extensive International Inspection Authority
            If Iran were to pursue nuclear weapons development in the future, it would most likely try to do so by means of a secret program carried out at undisclosed facilities rather than its declared facilities under international monitoring.
            The two sides agree that a comprehensive agreement should include requirements for more-timely notification of Iranian nuclear activities to the IAEA under Iran’s current comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA and more-extensive IAEA inspection authority to guard against a secret weapons program under the terms of an additional protocol.
            An additional protocol would allow the IAEA to conduct inspections of nondeclared sites without prior notification, which is a strong deterrent against any clandestine nuclear weapons work. In the first phase of a comprehensive agreement, Iran will likely be required to implement an additional protocol. At a later point, Iran would commit to ratify it. Once approved by the Iranian parliament, the duration of the additional protocol would be indefinite.
            In addition, the P5+1 will seek more inspection measures for an extended period of time to provide still more confidence to the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is being used for entirely peaceful purposes, including ongoing monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities and support infrastructure.
Assessing the Outcome of the Negotiations
            An agreement between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature. Instead, it must be assessed on the basis of its overall impact, especially the extent to which it limits Iran’s nuclear weapons-related capabilities, improves transparency about the program, and enhances the ability of the international community to promptly detect and disrupt any dash toward nuclear weapons.
            Neither side can expect that they will achieve everything they seek. Inevitably, there will be critics of any agreement that emerges from the talks who will argue that the deal falls short of their expectations of what they consider to the requirements of any agreement.
            In the final analysis, serious policymakers in Washington, Tehran, and other capitals who have responsibility for approving actions necessary to implement an agreement must consider whether their country is better served by an agreement than without one. They must consider that, without a comprehensive diplomatic solution,
•there would be no verifiable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and Iran would likely deploy additional and increasingly efficient centrifuges;
Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles would grow, not shrink;
•the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for nuclear weapons would decrease rather than increase;
•IAEA inspections of Iranian facilities would likely continue but not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which is the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so; and
•sanctions would remain in effect and some might be strengthened but sanctions alone cannot halt Iran’s nuclear progress and, over time, the willingness of international allies to help implement those sanctions could erode.
            Although Iran would still have to overcome significant hurdles if it were to try to build nuclear weapons, this unpleasant scenario would likely increase the possibility of a military confrontation over time.
            Yet, any use of military force against Iran’s nuclear sites by Israel or the United States and a coalition of the willing would only delay Iran’s nuclear program a few years at best and, at worst, would lead to a wider conflict and could very likely prompt Iran’s leadership to openly pursue nuclear weapons in order to deter any further attacks.
Click here for the full report in PDF format.


Tags: Reports

UN: Iran's Execution of Juveniles Must Stop

            On June 26, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern about the large number of executions carried out in Iran so far in 2014. Pillay highlighted the case of Razieh Ebrahimi, who now faces hanging after she was convicted of killing her husband when she was 17 years old. “The imminent execution of Razieh Ebrahimi has once again brought into stark focus the unacceptable use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders in Iran,” Pillay said. Ebrahimi claimed to be subjected to domestic violence. She married her husband at age 14 and had a child the following year.

            The following is the full text of the U.N. press statement.
            UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern Thursday about the large number of executions in Iran since the beginning of this year, calling on the authorities to halt, in particular, the imminent execution of a juvenile offender.
            “The imminent execution of Razieh Ebrahimi has once again brought into stark focus the unacceptable use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders in Iran,” Pillay said. Ebrahimi was convicted of killing her husband when she was 17 years old. She was married to him at the age of 14, gave birth to a child when she was 15, and says she was subjected to domestic violence.
            “Regardless of the circumstances of the crime, the execution of juvenile offenders is clearly prohibited by international human rights law,” Pillay added. “Judgements imposing the death penalty on people under the age of 18 and the implementation of such judgments are manifestly incompatible with Iran’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
            “I urge the Iranian authorities to halt the execution of Razieh and all other juvenile offenders,” Pillay said.
            Another juvenile offender, 17-year-old Jannat Mir, an Afghan boy, was hanged in April in Isfahan prison, in central Iran, for drug-related offences. He reportedly had no access to a lawyer or consular services, raising concerns about whether fair trial standards were observed in his case and those of five other Afghans executed along with him for similar offences.
            Pillay expressed alarm at the large number of juvenile offenders who reportedly remain on death row in Iran.
            According to information gathered by the UN Human Rights Office from reliable sources, some 160 people are reportedly on death row for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 18.
            The High Commissioner also condemned the execution of a number of political prisoners – at least six since the beginning of this year. Four others -- Hamed Ahmadi, Kamal Malaee, Jahangir Dehghani and Jamshed Dehghani -- all members of the Kurdish community, are at imminent risk of execution. They were convicted in 2010 on charges of Moharebeh (enmity against God) and Mofsid fil Arz, (corruption on earth) after trials that fell short of the international fair trial standards.
            More than 250 people are believed to have been executed in Iran so far this year, with some sources suggesting a considerably higher figure. Most of the executions were carried out for drug-related offences, which do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty may be applied in international law. At least 500 people are known to have been executed in 2013, including 57 in public.
            Pillay urged Iran to immediately impose a moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

EVENT- Iran Sanctions: What the U.S. Cedes in a Nuclear Deal

             Since 2006, the United States has imposed more sanctions on Iran than any other country, so it may have to cede the most ground to get a nuclear deal in 2014. Over the years, Republican and Democratic administrations have issued at least 16 executive orders, and Congress has passed 10 statutes imposing punitive sanctions. What does Tehran want? What are the six major powers considering as incentives to cooperate? What isn’t on the table? The White House and Congress have imposed their own types of sanctions. What would either need to do to lift them? What difference would the various sanctions relief packages make to Iran?

            On July 8, four panelists will address the complex questions and challenges of sanctions in the Iran nuclear talks. It’s the last of three discussions hosted by an unprecedented coalition of eight Washington think tanks and organizations to coincide with the last three rounds of negotiations. A rundown of the second event is available on USIP’s The Iran Primer with a video, and on USIP’s blog The Olive Branch. The coalition includes the U.S. Institute of Peace, RAND, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Arms Control Association, the Center for a New American Security, the Stimson Center, Partnership for a Secure America, and the Ploughshares Fund.
Speakers at the July 8th event include:
  • Suzanne Maloney
    Brookings Institution fellow and former State Department Policy Planning
  • Kenneth Katzman
    Congressional Research Service and former CIA analyst
  • Elizabeth Rosenberg
    Center for New American Security and former Treasury Department senior advisor
  • Robin Wright, Moderator
    Journalist and Author, U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson International Center

Click here to RSVP


Two Arrested over World Cup Music Video

            Iranian police reportedly arrested two people for appearing in London-based Ajam Band’s World Cup music video. Police chief Col. Rahmatollah Taheri called the “Goal Iran” video “vulgar” because it shows unveiled women singing and dancing. He also noted that the video features from both outside and inside Iran, including the northern city of Shahroud, where the arrests were made, according to state news.

            Ajam Band bills itself as an Iranian roots music band that “tries to bring the epic and soulful spirit of the native music of Iran to a new generation.” In May, six young Iranians were detained for dancing and singing along to Pharell William’s hit “Happy.” The following is Ajam Band’s World Cup video.

Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for US Drawdown

           The U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan and Hassan Rouhani’s election to Iran’s presidency “may provide a new opportunity for greater U.S.-Iran cooperation in Afghanistan,” according to a new study by the RAND Corporation. The two countries had convergent interests in 2001, when Tehran cooperated with Washington to help bring down the Taliban. But any new cooperation will likely depend on the result of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world’s six major powers. Regardless, Iran “is poised to exercise substantial influence” in Afghanistan. The following are excerpts from the report.



            A state of rivalry between Iran and the United States, exacerbated by tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, has often meant competition in other areas, including Afghanistan. Tehran has viewed the decadelong U.S. presence in Afghanistan with anxiety. Iran’s fears of U.S. military strikes against its nuclear facilities, or perceived American plans to overthrow the Iranian regime, may have motivated it to provide measured military support to Afghan insurgents battling U.S. forces and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Iran also actively opposes the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) being negotiated between Afghanistan and the United States.
            U.S. policymakers may naturally think that Iran will seek to exploit the drawdown and undermine American interests in Afghanistan. However, the departure of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a new pragmatic government in Tehran, and a possible resolution to the nuclear crisis may provide greater cooperation between Tehran and Washington in Afghanistan.
            Iranian objectives in Afghanistan align with most U.S. interests. Therefore, Iranian influence in Afghanistan following the drawdown of international forces need not necessarily be a cause of concern for the United States. Much like the United States, Iran wants to see a stable Afghanistan with a government free of Taliban control, and Iran seeks to stem the tide of Sunni extremism in the region.
            The extent to which Iran would be willing to directly cooperate with the United States in Afghanistan largely depends on the status of the Iranian nuclear dispute. It is important to note, however, that even if U.S.-Iran tensions remain, Iran’s activities in Afghanistan are unlikely to run counter to the overall objectives of the United States.
            The United States should attempt to cooperate with Iran in countering narcotics in Afghanistan and encourage efforts to bring Tehran and Kabul to an agreement over water sharing. Becausethe Taliban insurgency is largely funded through drug trafficking, counternarcotics effortswould contribute to Afghanistan’s security. Tensions over scarce water resources could also fuelinstability if left unaddressed.
            While many of the disagreements between the two countries appear intractable and beholden to political interests in Tehran and Washington, combating drug trafficking and addressing water-usage issues would be relatively uncontroversial and nonpolitical. It could also lead to increased mutual trust that would benefit broader U.S.-Iran relations. To this end, the United States could lend logistical or financial support to the UN-facilitated Triangular Initiative, which fosters coordination among Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in countering the drug trade. With regards to the Iran-Afghan water dispute, the United States should become active—through the UN and development organizations—in facilitating a mutually agreed upon water-usage system.
            Iran is hedging its bets in order to be prepared for a variety of outcomes following the U.S. drawdown. Iran has maintained close ties with Afghanistan’s Tajik and Hazara populations in order to gain political influence and protect its interests after the U.S. drawdown.
            On the other hand, Iran appears to be open to engaging with the Taliban after the U.S. drawdown. The extent of engagement will depend on the Taliban’s posture toward Iran and its treatment of the Afghan Shia.
            Iran will continue attempting to build soft influence in Afghanistan, especially in the realms of education and the media. Iran has been building and buttressing pro-Iranian schools, mosques,and media centers. Much of this activity centers on western and northern Afghanistan, inaddition to Kabul. Afghan schools have received thousands of Iranian books, many of whichespouse the values of the Islamic republic.
            However, Iran will face challenges in winning over the Afghan populace. The Pashtuns, who are more closely affiliated with Pakistan, remain wary of the Iranians. Meanwhile, many of the Shia Hazara do not favor Iran’s system of governance. In recent years, Hazara political parties have made efforts not to be seen simply as Iranian proxies, and are likely to seek support from Western countries as well.
            Although set to remain generally positive, Iran-Afghan relations likely will experience strain over water disputes and the issue of refugees. Exacerbated by drought, water-sharing disputes are likely to persist as a significant sticking point between Tehran and Kabul as Afghanistan’s plan to boost its agricultural sector will lead to increased water usage upstream, affecting Iran’s supplies. Both countries suffer from a shortage of water, with Iran’s eastern provinces bordering Afghanistan being particularly water challenged.
            In recent years, the status of Afghan refugees in Iran has become a highly politicized issue. Iran has more Afghan refugees than any other country after Pakistan. As economic conditions in Iran have deteriorated, Afghan refugees have come to be seen by many as a burden and have been subjected to discrimination and abuse at the hands of the Iranian government. Numerous protests have erupted in Afghanistan over Iran’s treatment of refugees. Furthermore, Iran has attempted to use the threat of mass deportation of Afghans as a means of pressuring the Kabul government to adopt policies favorable to the Islamic Republic.
            Following the withdrawal of U.S. forces and ISAF from Afghanistan in 2016, Iranian and U.S. strategy there will be influenced in large part by the actions of Pakistan, India, and Russia. As the world’s only superpower, the United States will continue to play an important role in Afghanistan following the ISAF drawdown. It is important, however, to bear in mind that U.S. influence there will be determined in large part by its relations with regional actors and, in turn, their relations with one another. Iran’s overall interests in Afghanistan align with the core U.S., Indian, and Russian objectives in Afghanistan: to prevent the country from again becoming dominated by the Taliban and a safe haven for al Qaeda. Therefore, Iranian cooperation with regional actors in Afghanistan could serve U.S. interests.
            In the event of a nuclear deal, it is prudent that the United States directly engage Iran in bilateral discussions regarding Afghanistan and pursue joint activities that would serve their mutual interests and build much-needed trust.
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