Prospects for Iran-IAEA Deal Fluctuate

Kelsey Davenport

The outlook now “is not bright” for promptly finalizing an agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran to allow the agency to begin investigating key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said Jan. 11.

Amano’s comments in Tokyo, which were reported by Reuters, are the latest in a series of agency officials’ up-and-down assessments of prospects for the agreement, which is intended to address IAEA concerns about the Iranian program, including possible weapons-related activities,

On Dec. 14, a day after a meeting with Iranian officials in Tehran, IAEA Deputy Director-General of Safeguards Herman Nackaerts told reporters in Vienna that he expected to “finalize the structured approach” at the next meeting and begin “implementing the plan shortly after that.” Nackaerts, the agency’s top safeguards official, said the parties had agreed to meet again on Jan. 16.

Over the past year, the IAEA and Tehran have been negotiating a framework agreement to resolve the agency’s concerns over Iran’s possible weapons-related activities. In an annex to a November 2011 IAEA report, the agency outlined its evidence of activities related to Iranian development of nuclear weapons, including experiments with high explosives, detonator development, and fitting a warhead onto a missile. (See ACT, December 2011.)

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.

In a Dec. 14 statement, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh confirmed his country’s participation in the Jan. 16 meeting, but did not say if he expected a deal to be finalized at that time. He said that “good progress” was made during the Dec. 13 meeting.

The new momentum in the talks came a week after Amano said that the agency had “intensified dialogue” with Iran over the past year but that “no concrete progress” had been made.

In Dec. 6 remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Amano said that the agency is committed to continuing negotiations but that talks with Iran should not continue endlessly “without producing any concrete result.”

Until Tehran responds to the IAEA’s outstanding concerns about possible weapons-related activities, the agency is still not in a position to declare that all of Iran’s nuclear materials are being used for peaceful purposes, he said.

Deal Uncertain

This is not the first time that IAEA officials have announced that they had nearly concluded their negotiations with Iran.

On May 22, after a meeting in Tehran on the structured-approach document, Amano said that a deal was “quite close.” (See ACT, June 2012.) Subsequent meetings in June and August, however, did not result in an agreement.

Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, said that it “remains to be seen” why the hopes for a deal “have not materialized.” In a Dec. 17 interview, he said that the “creation of hope” that an agreement is within reach could be an Iranian negotiating tactic to “buy time for the P5+1 talks, to build enriched-uranium stocks and capabilities, or to do both.”

The P5+1 talks are a parallel set of negotiations between Iran and six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on Tehran’s nuclear program. Those talks, which are expected to resume in January, have been on hold since June (see box).

Talks With P5+1 Not Finalized, Iran Says

Iran and six world powers are discussing the time and venue for resuming negotiations on Iran’s controversial nuclear program, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator told reporters during a Jan. 2 trip to India.

Saeed Jalili said Tehran “accepted that these talks should be held in January.” The European Union “offered dates and a venue,” but has not heard back from Iran, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Jan. 4. Ashton is the lead negotiator for the six countries—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—in the talks with Iran.

Negotiations between Iran and the six countries, known as P5+1, were halted in June after three rounds of talks in as many months failed to make concrete progress on a resolution. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Amid the discussions of resuming negotiations, new EU sanctions, which EU foreign ministers had approved at an Oct. 15 meeting, went into effect Dec. 22. The new measures expand on previous sanctions, in part by further restricting EU countries’ financial transactions with Iranian banks and imports of natural gas. (See ACT, November 2012.)

The United States adopted new sanctions Jan. 2, when President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. An amendment by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) expands on existing sanctions, targeting international companies doing business with Iran’s shipping sector. The legislation also imposes sanctions on the sale of certain commodities, such as graphite, aluminum, and steel, that are used in shipbuilding but also can be used to develop Iran’s nuclear program. The sanctions must be put in place by July 1.

A U.S. measure set to go into effect Feb. 6 further limits Iran’s ability to repatriate payments from its oil exports. The provision, which is part of legislation that was signed into law Aug. 10, requires that non-Iranian banks facilitating payments for Iranian oil hold the funds and use them only for bilateral trade between Iran and the country in which the bank is located. If a non-Iranian bank allows the payments to go to an Iranian bank or transfers them to another country, it could face U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury Department also added seven companies and five individuals to its list of sanctioned entities for providing Iran with goods or services related to Tehran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities. This designation prohibits transactions between any of the sanctioned individuals or companies with the United States and freezes their assets held under U.S. jurisdiction. The list of individuals included the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoun Abbasi. The organization was added to the list in 2005.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Heinonen added that progress on the IAEA talks with Tehran is “tied with the progress of the P5+1 talks with Iran.” He said that the IAEA’s work would advance if there were “real progress” in P5+1 talks.

Concerns About Parchin

In his Dec. 6 comments, Amano reiterated the IAEA’s interest in obtaining access to Parchin, an Iranian military installation where some of the alleged weapons-related activities may have taken place. Iran has denied the IAEA access to the site; satellite imagery of Parchin indicates activity that Amano described as “quite intensive” and that he said could “severely” undermine the agency’s “capacity to verify” what occurred at the site. Amano said that the activities observed by the agency included the demolition of buildings, the removal of soil and fences, and an abundant use of water. According to experts, Iran could be attempting to use water to wash away traces of explosives.

Despite these activities, access to Parchin would still give the agency a “better understanding” of Iran’s past work at the site, Amano said.

In his Dec. 6 remarks, he said that the IAEA delegation traveling to Tehran for the Dec. 13 meeting would visit the Parchin site “if possible.” On Dec. 14, Nackaerts said that the IAEA had not been given access to the site so far.

In the interview, Heinonen said that access to the site would help the agency establish if Iran’s activities are a “normal reconstruction effort” or “actual sanitation” designed to obscure evidence of weapons-related work.