Iran and six world powers are close to concluding a comprehensive nuclear agreement and expect to complete a final deal in the first part of July, according to officials from both sides.
Last November, Iran and the six powers, known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), set a deadline of June 30 for completing the final agreement. But on that day, they extended the deadline by seven days because officials said they needed more time to work out solutions on sanctions and inspections.
The international community is concerned that Iran could use its nuclear program to develop weapons, while Iran maintains that the program is entirely peaceful.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Sergey Ryabkov said on July 2 he was confident a deal could be reached by the July 7 deadline. In separate comments the same day, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also told reporters that negotiations are “moving forward” and that he is hopeful for a deal.
In April, Iran and the P5+1 agreed on a broad set of parameters to guide the final deal. (See ACT, May 2015.)
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on July 2 that to maintain momentum toward a deal, the P5+1 foreign ministers would continue to travel to Vienna.
Over the last week of June and the first days of July, the foreign ministers from all seven countries were in Vienna at various points. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived on June 26; the State Department said he would remain in Vienna through July 7. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz traveled with Kerry to the talks.
On June 30, President Barack Obama said he was hopeful that there would be an agreement and that the parameters agreed to in April “if implemented effectively and codified properly, would, in fact, achieve my goal, which is Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Abbas Araqchi said on June 26 that significant progress had been made drafting the main text and technical annexes.
The last weeks of the negotiations have focused on areas where details were not fully spelled out in the April 2 parameters document, according to an official from a European country at the talks. He said that efforts over the past several months have focused on “clarifying these ambiguities” and resolving other issues.
According to officials on both sides, some of the remaining gaps leading into the June talks related to UN sanctions relief and questions regarding the investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the past possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.
The European official said one of the most difficult areas to resolve concerned the reimposition, or “snapback,” of UN Security Council sanctions in the event of an Iranian violation of the final agreement.
Finding a mechanism to put sanctions back in place has been difficult, he said, because of “procedural differences” among the P5+1 countries.
In his July 2 comments, Ryabkov said that the negotiators were still drafting language for a UN Security Council resolution to codify the Iran deal. Officials have said in the past that a Security Council resolution will endorse a final deal. This resolution may outline how a subsequent resolution can put sanctions back into place. China and Russia were “concerned about putting sanctions back in place without a vote” and opposed any automatic reimposition, the European official said, while other countries were concerned that a restoration of sanctions could be blocked by a veto that is “politically motivated and not based on an assessment of Iran’s violation.” As permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia could veto a resolution.
Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, said in a June 26 conference call that the mechanism to put UN sanctions back in place would be to use the veto to reimpose restrictions. Rosenberg, now at the Center for a New American Security, said that, under this mechanism, vetoing a resolution that calls for the continuation of sanctions relief at the Security Council would put the sanctions back into place.
Resolution of the IAEA investigation into past Iranian activities that might have been related to the development of nuclear weapons was another issue under discussion during the last round of negotiations.
As part of the April 2 parameters, Iran agreed take steps to resolve IAEA concerns about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. A senior Obama administration official told reporters on June 29 that the P5+1 has tried to “ensure that [this issue] is addressed and that the IAEA is able to issue a report as it has taken on as its institutional responsibility.”
In November 2013, Iran and the IAEA reached a framework agreement to allow agency inspectors to investigate unresolved IAEA concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, including the alleged weaponization activities. That probe stalled in August 2014 after nine months of cooperation.
Iran failed to meet a deadline to provide information about two activities that could be related to nuclear weapons development, but has since resumed some cooperation. Tehran provided the IAEA with information on one of the two issues in May.
Most recently, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano traveled to Tehran on July 1 to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. Iranian press reports quoted Shamkhani as saying on July 2 that Iran is ready to continue cooperation with the IAEA to “resolve the remaining issues.”
In comments to the media after he returned to Vienna on July 4, Amano said a report on the weaponization activities could be completed “by the end of the year” if Iran cooperates with the agency’s investigation. Iranian officials expressed concern in the past that the IAEA’s investigation might continue indefinitely.
Concerns about any future illicit activities would be addressed under Iran’s additional protocol. An additional protocol to a country’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA gives inspectors expanded access to nuclear facilities in that country and allows some access to sites if there is evidence that illicit nuclear activities have taken place. Iran voluntarily implemented its additional protocol between 2003 and 2006. Tehran has agreed to ratify its protocol as part of the final deal, which would make the commitment permanent.
Amano told the Associated Press on May 12 that, under an additional protocol, the agency can request access to a military site when it has reason to do so and that the agency has done this in the past.
Some members of the U.S. Congress have called for “anytime, anywhere” access to Iranian sites to ensure that there are no covert nuclear activities taking place. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made that point in a June 15 letter to Obama.
In his June 29 comments, the senior administration official said that, under an agreement, if the IAEA “believes that it needs access and has a reason for that access, then we have a process to ensure that that access is given” but that the purpose of verification is not to gain access to every military site because that is “not appropriate.”