P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, April 2

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:

  1. The Future of the Natanz and Fordow: Currently, the majority of Iran's uranium enrichment takes place at Natanz, which contains the Fuel Enrichment Plant and Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant. There are 15,420 IR-1 centrifuges installed at Fuel Enrichment Plant, of which about 9,200 are enriching. Another 1,008 more advance IR-2M are installed there but not operating. Iran has an additional 328 IR-1s enriching at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant and about 400 more advanced machines at various levels of development that are not being used to accumulate enriched uranium. Currently, there are 2,710 IR-1 centrifuges installed at the Fordow facility, of which 696 are enriching. Fordow is buried deep within a mountain.
  2. Uranium Stockpiles: As of February 2015, Iran had nearly 8,000 kg of uranium gas enriched to less than five percent (reactor grade) in its stockpile. Iran's stockpile of 20 percent enriched gas, about 209 kg, was converted or diluted as part of the November 2013 interim deal. Iran has additional stockpiles of less than five percent and 20 percent enriched material in powder form for fuel plates, but does not have a conversion line in place to covert the powder back to gas.
  3. Research and Development: Iran is currently developing and testing advanced centrifuge machines. There are about 400 advanced machines in the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz - the IR-2M, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, IR-6s. These machines are in various phases of testing as single machines, or in sequences of machines called cascades. While they are being fed with natural uranium, they are not being used to accumulate enriched uranium.
  4. The Arak Reactor: A 40MWt heavy-water reactor is partially constructed at Arak. Iran agreed to halt construction of the reactor as part of the November 2013 interim deal. If completed as designed, Arak would produce nearly 8 kg of weapons-grade plutonium per year. That plutonium would need to be separated from the spent fuel to be used for weapons. Iran does not have a separation facility.
  5. Enhanced Inspections: Iran currently has a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That gives inspectors access to Iran's declared nuclear facilities, such as Natanz, Fordow, and Arak. Between 2003-2006, Iran voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement. Amongst other measures, it expanded the agency's access to undeclared nuclear sites and put in place stricter accountancy of Iran's nuclear program. As part of the November 2013 interim deal, Iran agreed to more intrusive monitoring by the IAEA, including daily access to its uranium-enrichment sites. Related to the question of inspections is Iran's alleged past work on nuclear weapons. The IAEA has outstanding questions that Iran has yet to answer on its past weapons-related work.
  6. Sanctions and Sanctions Relief: The United States, the European Union, and the United Nations Security Council all put in place sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear program. These sanctions span from prohibiting sales of materials to Iran that could be used in its nuclear program, to restrictions on oil sales and investment in Iran, and isolation of Iran's banking sector. 

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:

  1. UN Security Council Sanctions: While statements from members of the Iranian negotiating team indicate that a number of difficult sanctions issues have been resolved; the re-imposition of UN Security Council sanctions if Iran violates the deal seems to be a difficult circle to square. The United States and its EU partners favor a snapback mechanism, whereas China and Russia want a Security Council vote to put sanctions back in place in the case of a violation. Divisions amongst the P5+1 on this issue complicate the negotiations.
  2. Research and development: Iran wants to move forward on development of advanced centrifuges during the duration of a deal. More efficient enrichment will help Iran reach its goal of providing fuel for its domestic power reactor, Bushehr, in the future. The P5+1 is concerned that Iran could develop and stockpile advanced machines during the limitations on the deal and then move quickly toward nuclear weapons. In addition to limits on testing and production of advanced machines during an agreement, a phased approach to introducing more advanced machines after the limits of a deal sunset could be a compromise.

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 .

April 14 - Date set for a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to markup and vote on a controversial bill (S. 615) that would, if adopted, block implementation of any nuclear deal until Congress has had a chance to review it and hold an up-or-down vote. President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

June 30, 2015 - Deadline for Iran and the P5+1 to complete the technical annexes for a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action.