Close Counts in More Than Horseshoes....
As negotiations extend past the March 31 target for reaching a framework nuclear agreement, it is still uncertain when talks will wrap up and what the outcome will be. While the deadline for a comprehensive deal is June 30, expectations are high for an announcement about agreement between Iran and six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) on the broad parameters of a final deal before this round ends. However, it remains unclear what that announcement will look like and how much detail will be included. The U.S. team will remain in Lausanne, Switzerland negotiating into Thursday, because progress is being made, officials said on April 1.
Various comments from ministers and officials on Wednesday indicate that the sides are close to a broad agreement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov even said in a March 31 statement that the ministers reached agreement "on all the key aspects of this issue at the ministerial level."
Progress also seems to have been made on the difficult issue of sanctions and sanctions relief. The director general for political and international security affairs at Iran's Foreign Ministry, Hamid Baeidinejad, told Iran's Press TV on March 31 that on sanctions relief "many of these aspects have been resolved," but there are remaining technical aspects that need to be overcome. One of these elements seems to be how to put UN Security Council sanctions back in place if Iran violates commitments under a final deal.
Another issue that has been difficult to resolve is defining parameters for Iran's research and development of advanced centrifuges.
While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have remained at Beau Rivage since March 25, others have been bouncing in and out of Lausanne.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who joined the talks on Sunday, remains, as does German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who arrived in Lausanne on Saturday. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi left on March 31 after just two days in Lausanne, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left on Monday, only to return the following day. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius left on Tuesday, but flew back Wednesday night. EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini also arrived on Saturday and has remained in Lausanne.
--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy in Washington, D.C.
The Six Key Issues
Much of the focus this week has been on the process surrounding these very complex, multi-party negotiations, and whether the negotiators can meet their goal of securing a framework agreement by their self-imposed end-of-March target date.
In the end, however, what matters is how much progress the two sides have made toward a comprehensive, effective, verifiable nuclear agreement with Iran. Achieving an effective "win-win" deal will require pragmatic compromise on a number of complex technical issues in six main areas:
Arms Control Association's Take
Since negotiations on a comprehensive agreement began in early 2014, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have made remarkable progress on a number of complex issues (see above section). Over the past several days, the two sides have been focusing most of their time and energy on the details of two difficult issues:
The two sides have gone into "extra time" to clarify, as much as they can at this stage, how the general solutions they have identified on these two issues will be put into practice.
Meanwhile, there appears to be general agreement that the number of Iran's operating centrifuges will be reduced, excess machines will be disassembled, and its stockpile strictly limited and heavily monitored. Taken together, these elements will ensure that Iran cannot produce the material for a nuclear bomb in less than 12 months. These limits will likely remain in place for at least 10 years. General consensus on these points is particularly significant, as the parameters of Iran's uranium-enrichment program plagued negotiations in July 2014 and November 2014, when talks were extended for a first and second time.
The two sides also appear to have agreed that Fordow will be repurposed for research and development only and the Arak reactor project can be modified to produce a fraction of the plutonium it would if it operated as designed (see above section).
Additional monitoring and verification, including the Additional Protocol will be included in a deal. Iran will also be incentivized with phased sanctions relief to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation, which began in November 2013.
Sanctions relief will likely come first in the form of waivers from the United States on its sanctions and then complete lifting in the future. On the UN Security Council front, a new resolution endorsing the deal, lifting some measures and keeping important nonproliferation sanctions in place while the IAEA investigation is a likely compromise.
Given what has been accomplished thus far-and what's at stake-it is vital to give negotiators through June 30 to finish the deal.
A verifiable, comprehensive nuclear deal is the only effective, sustainable way to limit Iran's nuclear potential, put in place more intrusive monitoring, and ensure that Tehran cannot develop nuclear weapons. It is worth taking the time to get the details right, because there is no better deal on the horizon.
For more on what a comprehensive deal would look like click here.
Looking Ahead ...
April 3 - Event: "Framework for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement with Iran" with Clifford Kupchan, Chairman, Eurasia Group; Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association; John Limbert, Professor, Middle Eastern Studies, US Naval Academy and Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran, and moderated by Barbara Slavin Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council. RSVP here .
June 30, 2015 - Deadline for Iran and the P5+1 to complete the technical annexes for a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action.