By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.
The Fog of Diplomacy
What began as a quiet day yesterday for journalists covering the P5+1 and Iran talks ended in a flurry of speculation about if and when an extension of the negotiations would be announced. While nothing has been confirmed officially, numerous reports about the timing of such an announcement are circulating in Vienna and beyond.
Some heard that the talks might recess as early as Friday; others heard that negotiators may announce an extension on Friday and then begin negotiating the terms of an extension; and still others heard that the decision on Friday would be whether or not to extend this round of talks past Sunday. There are also contradictory rumors about when the talks may resume if there is an extension, ranging from early August to September.
President Barack Obama speaks about several foreign policy issues, including an update on the P5+1 and Iran nuclear talks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Others say nothing has been decided yet--and with EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1 Catherine Ashton absent from the Coburg Palace yesterday, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry just having briefed President Barack Obama, it is hard to imagine that a decision about an extension had been made.
Obama's remarks Wednesday evening that the parties "need to determine whether additional time is necessary to extend negotiations" suggested that there has not been a decision yet.
In short, everyone has heard something, but as of midday Thursday no decision on the terms of an extension has been made.
While an extension seems very likely at this point, there are still a number of unknowns. The interim agreement can be extended for additional months, but negotiators could agree to less time. A longer extension might require additional actions: Iran may want additional sanctions relief and the P5+1 could ask for additional restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities.
Despite the speculation, however, one thing remains certain: a comprehensive nuclear deal is in the best interest of all of the countries involved, and if more time is needed to get a good agreement, an extension of the talks is warranted.
Progress has been achieved in several areas, but gaps remain on several issues. Negotiators will need time and flexibility from political leaders in their capitals to square the circle on uranium enrichment. They will need to explore a combination of innovative but practical measures that would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough nuclear weapons material but would still address Iran's right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
In the meantime, with three days left before the original July 20 deadline, more talks at various levels are scheduled for today.
--KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst
Nuclear Weapons 101
As David Sanger from The New York Times notes in his latest news report on the status of nuclear negotiations between the United States, key allies, and Iran, a key goal for the P5+1 side is to reach a deal that provides "at least a year's warning time that Iran was racing to produce enough bomb-grade fuel for a nuclear weapon - even if fabricating the weapon itself would take longer."
He notes that this is "something of an arbitrary measure, and, in the minds of many nuclear experts, a misleading one." Indeed.
Sanger also reports that "American officials also believe that the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington has overestimated Iran's skills when it reported recently that if it kept roughly 10,000 [first generation IR-1] centrifuges running, it could produce a weapon's worth of material in three months or so, plus or minus a few weeks."
That worst-case calculation has been widely cited (by ourselves and others) as one measure of Iran's nuclear capabilities.
But as the Arms Control Association and others have written before, the time it would take to amass enough of the gaseous form of uranium enriched to weapons grade for one bomb, while important, is but one step of many needed to make nuclear weapons.
F0r a quick review of the "Steps to Building Nuclear Weapons," see the following summary from ACA "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle."
Implementation of the Interim Nuclear Agreement
As President Obama noted in his remarks late Wednesday, "[o]ver the last six months, Iran has met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year -- halting the progress of its nuclear program, allowing more inspections and rolling back its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also expected to release its latest monthly report on implementation of the JPoA. Sources in Vienna indicate that the facility needed for Iran to fulfill its last commitment under the deal (converting 3.5% enriched UF6 from gas to powder for fuel) is now operational.
The Latest Reads...
Opinion - Keep Negotiating on Iran's Nukes: "They should not hesitate to [extend the talks]. The whole point of this exercise is to ensure that Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon. That goal is within reach, and it would be irresponsible not to make the maximum effort to bridge the final gaps." By the Editorial Board, The New York Times. http://nyti.ms/1jT8er7
Opinion - Nuclear Talks With Iran Should Be Given More Time: "In our view, prolonging the negotiations is better than declaring a breakdown, which could lead to a military conflict at a time when the United States is already juggling multiple crises in the region and beyond. The preliminary accord struck with Iran last fall, while far from perfect, has appeared to succeed in curtailing Tehran's enrichment of uranium. Contrary to predictions by Israel, the limited economic relief given in exchange has not caused the overall sanctions regime to break down." By the Editorial Board, The Washington Post. http://wapo.st/1nO3r9J
Opinion - Getting to 'Yes' on the Iran Nuclear Deal: "Iran's past nuclear efforts are among the many thorny issues in the continuing Iran nuclear talks. But focusing on the past is a mistake. Instead of insisting on knowing all about what Iran's nuclear program looked like 10 years ago, the United States and its allies should focus on preventing Tehran from building a nuclear weapon in the future." By Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Association, in Reuters. http://reut.rs/1jT7Bh2
Opinion - Congress Can Avoid Iran War by Supporting Negotiations: "People in Congress who root for the deal to fail have not thought through the alternatives: an Iranian bomb or starting a war to prevent one....As an Iraq war veteran who served two tours, at the beginning and end, I can tell you that I understand the alternatives. They scare the living hell out of me." By Jon Soltz, VoteVets.org, Huffington Post http://huff.to/1kz6M7P
Looking Ahead ...
July 17 - Secretary of State John Kerry briefs members of Congress on the status of the P5+1 talks with Iran; IAEA expected to release its latest monthly report on the implementation of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action.
July 18 - possible announcement on extension of the deadline of negotiations.
July 20 - original target date for the conclusion of the comprehensive nuclear deal.
Follow the Negotiations via Twitter at #IranTalksVienna