By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director
Tonight in Vienna, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that the negotiations between the United States, other great powers, and Iran to resolve concerns about that country's nuclear program will continue for as many as four more months.
In a joint statement, Ashton and Zarif said the two sides have agreed to extend the interim agreement (a.k.a. the Joint Plan of Action) reached on November 24, 2013 and will resume talks on a comprehensive agreement within weeks--most likely in mid-August in Vienna--with the goal of concluding a comprehensive deal by late-November.
To this point, the talks have yielded progress and the two sides say there is a credible path forward, but significant gaps remain on key issues.
It is our assessment that a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful is still within reach if both sides remain focused and if both sides engage in creative, innovative, and smart diplomacy.
The two sides have also agreed to extend their commitments under the terms of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPoA), including the cap on enrichment above 5 percent U-235 and a halt to installing additional or new types of centrifuge machines.
The extension of the JPoA agreement prolongs the pause of Iranian nuclear activities of greatest proliferation concern, maintains additional IAEA monitoring measures, and provides the negotiators with the time, the incentives, and pressure necessary to reach a comprehensive agreement in the near future.
In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced additional measures that would be undertaken through the extension of the JPoA. He said:
In this extension, Iran has committed to go one step further and make all of this 20 percent into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be converted into fuel by the end of the extension. Once the 20 percent material is in fuel form, it will be very difficult for Iran to use this material for a weapon in a breakout scenario. Attempting to do so would be readily detected by the IAEA and would be an unambiguous sign of an intent to produce a weapon.
In return, we will continue to suspend the sanctions we agreed to under the JPOA and will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA commitment. Let me be clear: Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months, and the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible.
These additional steps are net-plus for nonproliferation.
It is also important at this critical stage in the process that lawmakers in Washington support the administration's ongoing efforts at reaching a diplomatic solution. Congress should refrain from actions, such as pursuing new sanctions legislation against Iran, that would undermine the chance for an agreement that would reduce Iran's nuclear capacity and provide the additional transparency to guard against an illicit dash for nuclear weapons.
Based consultations with knowledgeable officials on both sides, negotiators have made substantial progress on several tough issues, including: strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and oversight at all of Iran's nuclear sites and related facilities; re-purposing the underground Fordow enrichment facility into a small-scale research facility; and modifying Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor to drastically cut its plutonium output.
But the two sides clearly need more time and have more work to do to bridge differences on the deadlines, duration, and sequencing of key steps, as well as finding a solution to the toughest issue: setting limits Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity over the duration of the agreement.
Negotiators can square the circle on uranium enrichment with a combination of practical but innovative measures that would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough material for nuclear weapons, but would still would address Iran's right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Some Washington politicians like to say that "no deal is better than a bad deal." In reality, it is clear that a good deal is better than no deal, and such a deal is still within reach.
Those who argue that there should be no more time for diplomacy, or otherwise seek to block an effective agreement, have a responsibility to present a viable alternative. Without a good, comprehensive agreement:
We urge both sides to continue to work toward a realistic and effective agreement as soon as possible.