"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, February 10

Arms Control NOW

Much Ado in Munich....

A flurry of talks on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran took place during the February 6-8 annual Munich Security Conference. Meetings included two bilateral sessions between Iranian foreign minister and lead negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Feb. 6 and Feb. 8. Zarif also met with EU foreign policy chief and head of the P5+1 negotiating team, Federica Mogherini, and several other foreign ministers from the P5+1 countries over the course of the conference.

Kerry said that he does not foresee another extension of the negotiations if "fundamental decisions" are not made over the next several weeks. Talks on a comprehensive deal already have been extended twice since the interim agreement was reached in November 2013. Negotiators are working toward a new deadline of June 30 for a comprehensive agreement, with a target date of the end of March for a political framework. Speaking on Meet the Press the day after meeting with Zarif, Kerry said that the "only chance" for an extension at this point would be if the "outlines" of a deal are in place. Zarif said that Tehran also does not favor another extension.

The parties made progress during the talks throughout conference, but two gaps still remain. The P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) said that limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment program and the duration of those limits are the primary sticking points, while Zarif said that the sequence of sanctions relief is the most difficult issue holding up a comprehensive nuclear deal.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said there has been some progress in these areas. Hammond told reporters that he told Zarif during a Feb. 7 meeting that because time is short the P5+1 needs "a clear unambiguous signal from the Iranians that we are close on the key area of enrichment, in order to create the momentum that's needed to get significant progress on some of the other areas where there are still open questions."

--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

New Iran-IAEA Progress?

While in Munich, Zarif also met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano on Feb. 7.

Speaking to press after the meeting, Amano said he and Zarif agreed to intensify high-level talks between Iran and the IAEA on the agency's stalled investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities related to nuclear weapons.

In November 2013, Iran agreed to cooperate with the agency's investigations and provided it with information and access to several nuclear sites. However, Iran missed a deadline in August 2014 for providing the IAEA with information on two areas with possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. Iran also has not yet provided the IAEA with new actions to continue moving the IAEA's investigation forward.

"Iran has to implement the measures that they have agreed... Clarification of issues with possible military dimensions" is essential, Amano said. He added that the IAEA's investigation will not be an endless process and with "reasonable or full cooperation from Iran" the IAEA can clarify the issue with a "reasonable timeframe."

Visit here for more on the IAEA's investigation, including the completed steps. 

The Leaders Speak

Both U.S. President Barak Obama and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei weighed in on the Iran deal over the weekend and supported a good, comprehensive agreement.

In an interview with VOX, Obama said praised the progress made under the interim deal and said that all possibilities to negotiate a final agreement must be explored,

The deal that we've struck, this interim deal brought about by the tough sanctions regime that we put together, offers us our best opportunity to solve the problem of a nuclear Iran without resorting to military force. Iran is negotiating seriously for the first time, and they have made, so far, real concessions in the negotiations. We have been able to freeze the program for the first time and, in fact, roll back some elements of its program, like its stockpiles of ultra highly enriched uranium. And so, for us to give an additional two to three months to exhaust all possibilities of a diplomatic resolution when nobody denies-- including our intelligence agencies, and Mossad and others--nobody denies that Iran right now really is abiding by the terms of our agreement, so we're not losing ground. They're not surreptitiously developing a weapon while we talk. For us to give two [or] three months to figure that out makes sense.

On Feb. 8, Khamenei voiced his support for a good deal. In an address to the Iranian Air Force and Air Defense in Tehran he said that no one side will get everything it wants in the negotiations. He said, "I would go along with any agreement that could be made. Of course, I am not for a bad deal. No agreement is better than an agreement which runs contrary to our nation's interests."

Not all leaders, however, are speaking up in support of a good agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in, reiterating in remarks on Feb. 8 that he will address a joint session of Congress on March 3 regarding the threat of Iran's nuclear program. Several members of Congress have said they will not attend Netanyahu's speech in protest of the invitation being proffered without consultation with the White House.

Nuclear Deal 101

The P5+1 are seeking a comprehensive, verifiable nuclear agreement that would block Iran's major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development--the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route--and guard against a clandestine weapons program, thus removing a major threat to international security. Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 have made significant progress on long-term solutions on several challenging issues that help meet those goals. Negotiators are continuing to narrow the gaps on the remaining issues, namely the size and scope of Iran's uranium enrichment program and the sequence of sanctions relief.

Though the aims and objectives are clear, a number of myths and misperceptions have clouded the discussion about what a comprehensive agreement must achieve and why. Debate on a good deal should be based on a realistic assessment of the issues, objectives and options. And any comprehensive agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature, but judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran's fissile-material production capacity and providing the additional transparency and monitoring necessary to detect and deter any future Iranian nuclear weapons program.   

A key element of a comprehensive agreement will be sustainable limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity that verifiably block Iran from quickly amassing enough fissile material for weapons.

The P5+1 is pressing Iran to significantly reduce its overall uranium-enrichment capacity for at least ten years in order to increase the time Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to at least twelve months.

While the overall number of operational centrifuges is a major factor, in reality, the agreement must address a number of elements of Iran's overall enrichment capacity in order to reach the 12-month theoretical "breakout" objective, including

  • barring Iran from enriching uranium above normal power reactor grade (five percent or less uranium-235);
  • putting in place verifiable restrictions that block Iran from manufacturing advanced centrifuges for production-scale enrichment for the duration of the comprehensive agreement;
  • significantly reducing the number/capacity of Iran's 10,200 operating IR-1 centrifuges for several years;
  • reducing the amount and form of low-enriched uranium stockpiled in Iran; and
  • verifiably disabling the approximately 9,000 centrifuge machines that are now installed but not yet operating.  

There are several possible ways these variables can be combined to increase the time that it would take Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. Meeting the 12 month goal is not dependent on any single component of Iran's uranium enrichment program.  

For more details on limiting Iran's uranium enrichment program and the other elements of the deal, see Daryl G. Kimball's Feb. 9 issue brief, "What Would an Effective Comprehensive Nuclear Deal with Iran Look Like?"

Looking Ahead ...

Feb. 11, 10:00 a.m.- Ori Rabinowitz, author of Bargaining on Nuclear Tests: Washington and its Cold War Deals, and Ariane Tabatabai, Georgetown University, "Iran Nuclear Talks: Truths and Tall Tales from Tehran and Tel-Aviv." James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 1400 K St. NW, Suite 1225, Washington. RSVP by Feb. 9 online.  

Feb. 13, 12:30 p.m. - Center for a New American Studies Boot Camp for Congressional Staff - Deep Dive into Iran's Nuclear Program, 12:30-2:00 PM, Congressional Meeting Room North, RSVP to Benjamin Cumbo ([email protected] or 202-695-8162).

March 3- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Joint Session of Congress on Iran.

End of March 2015 - Target date for Iran and the P5+1 to reach a political framework agreement.

June 30, 2015 - Deadline for Iran and the P5+1 to complete the technical annexes.