P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, April 16

Iran and the IAEA Back on Track?

Earlier this week, Iranian officials met with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Tehran to continue discussions on the agency's investigation into Iran's past activities allegedly related to nuclear weapons development.

Tero Varjoranta, deputy director general of the IAEA and head of the safeguards department led the agency's team. Following the meeting the IAEA released a statement saying that the two sides had a "constructive exchange" on practical measures and will meet again in the future.

Details released by the White House on the framework agreement announced by Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) in Lausanne on April 2 said that under a final deal, Iran will cooperate with the IAEA on its investigation on an agreed upon schedule.

Next week, P5+1 and Iranian officials will reconvene in Vienna to continue their negotiations and possibly to begin drafting the text of the final Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action. Experts will convene on Wednesday, April 22 and political directors from the key states will begin their discussions on Friday, April 24.

In comments to reporters on April 14 upon his arrival for the G-7 meeting in Germany, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States is confident in its ability to negotiate an agreement that will make the world a safer place.

--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

Modified Version of Corker Bill Approved in Committee

Legislation requiring President Barack Obama to submit any comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for an up-or-down vote passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously on April 14.

"The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015," originally introduced by Sen.Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), was amended in the days before the vote when Corker and the new ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) reached an agreement that gained the support of committee Democrats that had prior concerns about the bill and the White House also dropped its veto threat.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said April 14 that while Obama was not "particularly thrilled" about the legislation, he would be willing to sign it.

The amended legislation reported out of the committee drops a provision that would have required the president to certify that Iran is no longer sponsoring terrorist activities in order to waive sanctions. It also shortens the congressional review period from 60 days to 52 days.

According to the amended legislation, the administration has five calendar days to deliver the agreement to Congress along with certifications that the deal meets U.S. nonproliferation objectives and ensures that Iran's nuclear program will be peaceful and not pose a threat to U.S. national security. Within five days, the Secretary of State must also issue a verification assessment report, according to the bill.

After the submittal, Congress has 30 days to review the agreement, during which time the president cannot waive, suspend, reduce or provide relief from statutory sanctions. Sanctions waived under the interim Joint Plan of Action are exempted.

During the review period, three outcomes are possible: a vote to approve the agreement, a vote of disapproval of the agreement, or no congressional action.

  • If Congresses passes a joint resolution of disapproval, the president may not waive or suspend any statutory sanctions for 12 additional days. If the president then vetoes the legislation, the president cannot waive or suspend any statutory sanctions for 10 days. This suspends any statutory sanctions relief for a total of 52 days.
  • If Congress reaches a joint resolution of approval, the president proceeds with implementation of the deal.
  • If Congress takes no action, implementation of implementation begins after the end of the review period.

If enacted into law, the proposal sets up the likelihood of votes in the House and the Senate on whether to proceed with the implementation of a comprehensive P5+1 and Iran deal just weeks after it is concluded.

The legislation would also put in place an expedited procedure for re-imposing sanctions if Iran violated the agreement and requirements for reporting on Iran's implementation of the deal and various other elements, including support for terrorism, to relevant congressional committees.

Israel welcomed the legislation, with the minister of intelligence and strategic affairs Yuval Steinitz saying that it put in place "another barrier" to prevent a bad agreement.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said April 15 that there would be no deal if sanctions are not lifted. He also noted that Iran is negotiating with the P5+1, not the U.S. Congress and called for "cooperation for cooperation, good will for good will, and respect for respect."

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association wrote in an April 14 blog post that:

Fundamentally, however, the bill still would enable those in the Congress who would want to kill the emerging P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal by setting up a vote in the House and the Senate on the agreement. This could very well lead each chamber to vote "no" on the arrangement, if only for political reasons.

This vote would lead to a Presidential veto that I believe would be sustained with the support of at least one-third of the members in each chamber, but even then, the agreement and U.S. credibility could be irreparably damaged as a result of the process.

The entire post is available online.  

For a detailed account of the behind-the-scenes process on the compromise bill, read "How Ben Cardin and Bob Corker clinched the Iran [legislative] deal," by Manu Raju and Burgess Everett in Politico, April 14, 2015.

The April 2 Framework: Laying the Groundwork for a Final Deal

An April 14 Issue Brief from the Arms Control Association explains the value of the Lausanne parameters from a nonproliferation perspective.

While a number of details remain to be resolved before June 30, the parameters described by both sides lay the groundwork for a deal that meets the core U.S. policy goals: blocking Iran's potential pathways to nuclear weapons using highly-enriched uranium and plutonium and guarding against a covert nuclear weapons program. 

If implemented, the parameters agreed to in Lausanne will

  • significantly reduce Iran's capacity to enrich uranium to the point that it would take at least 12 months to amass enough uranium enriched to weapons grade for one bomb;
  • require Iran to modify its Arak heavy-water reactor to eliminate weapons-usable plutonium and prevent Iran from developing any capability for separating plutonium from spent fuel for weapons;
  • put in place enhanced international inspections and monitoring, some of which will be permanent, that would help to deter Iran from attempting to violate the agreement and detect promptly any deviations;
  • require Iran to cooperate with the IAEA to conclude the investigation of Iran's past efforts to develop a nuclear warhead and provide transparency sufficient to help ensure that any such effort remains in abeyance; and
  • provide phased sanctions relief that incentivizes Iran's compliance with the agreement.

While agreement on the final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is by no means assured, it is the only path forward to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. Iran and the P5+1 must work out a number of technical details before June 30. However, difficult political decisions to pave the way to a final agreement have been already made by both sides and a sound, long-term solution is within reach.

To read a full breakdown of the agreement and its implications for blocking uranium enrichment and plutonium production, increasing monitoring and verification, and providing sanctions relief, is available online.

A Response to Israeli Concerns

The framework for a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action that Iran, the United States and its negotiating partners agreed to in Switzerland on April 2 lays the foundation for a strong, effective nuclear deal that verifiably blocks Iran's pathways to nuclear weapons. There is no better nuclear deal with Iran on the horizon.

Yet some Israeli policymakers are making unrealistic and unhelpful demands for additional concessions in a final agreement. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz distributed a document on April 6 that underlined the "irresponsible concessions given to Iran" in the negotiations and called for a better deal that will "significantly dismantle Iran's nuclear infrastructure."

The Steinitz document also posed 10 questions about the deal. Kelsey Davenport, the Arms Control Association's director for nonproliferation policy provides responses to Mr. Steinitz's questions below.

1. Why are sanctions that took years to put in place being removed immediately (as the Iranians claim)? This would take away the international community's primary leverage at the outset of the agreement and make Iranian compliance less likely.

In a final deal the U.S. and UN sanctions architecture will not be removed immediately. In the short term, Iran will be granted relief from sanctions through waiver authority and suspension. This will leave core sanctions in place, assuring the international community that the measures can be re-imposed quickly if Iran is not complying with a deal. Leaving the sanctions architecture in place ensures that the P5+1 retains leverage on Iran and that Iran implements its commitments over the duration of the agreement. Additionally, providing sanctions relief through waivers and suspensions also changes Iran's cost-benefit analysis regarding nuclear weapons. Reintegration into the global economy will provide considerable incentive for Iran to continue implementing an agreement. In this way, the deal will become self-enforcing.

2. Given Iran's track record of concealing illicit nuclear activities, why does the framework not explicitly require Iran to accept inspections of all installations where suspected nuclear weapons development has been conducted? Why can't inspectors conduct inspections anywhere, anytime?

A final deal will broaden IAEA's access to Iran's nuclear sites to include all elements of its fuel cycle. Inspections can be conducted on short-notice, and greater accountancy requirements will help ensure that there is no diversion. Real-time monitoring will be installed at some sites, including Iran's uranium mines and centrifuge production facilities. 

The parameters agreed to also do not let Iran off the hook for its passed activities related to the development of nuclear weapons. Under the terms of the framework, Iran will be required to address the IAEA's concerns regarding the past military dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear program, including access to sites where these activities may have occurred. 

It is unreasonable to assume that any country would accept unlimited, no-notice inspections, particularly of its military facilities. In addition to being unrealistic, unlimited inspections are unnecessary in Iran's case. A strong monitoring and verification regime that will quickly detect and deter any attempt by Iran to develop nuclear weapons can be built without unlimited inspections. An agreement can ensure that inspectors are granted access to additional sites, including military sites, in the event of suspicious activity.

3. Will Iran ever be forced to come clean about its past nuclear weaponization activity?

Under a final agreement, Iran will be required to comply with the IAEA's investigation regarding the PMD activities. Granting the agency access to certain sites and individuals and providing it with information about the PMDs will allow the agency to determine the extent of Iran's past work related to nuclear weapons and provide assurance that its current activities are entirely peaceful. Additionally, UN Security Council sanctions will not be lifted until Iran addresses the PMD concerns and completes key nuclear-related actions. A deal incentivizes compliance with the IAEA investigation. Without an agreement, Iran has little motivation to cooperate with the agency's investigation. 

4. What will be the fate of Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium?

Iran will retain only 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to reactor grade (3.67 percent) in a comprehensive deal. Iran currently has nearly 10,000 kilograms of uranium gas enriched to that level. Iran has three options for disposing of the excess material: 1) ship the material to Russia for storage and conversion into reactor fuel, 2) dilute the material down to natural uranium, 3) sell the enriched uranium gas on the open market for fuel development. Any one of these options ensures that the material cannot be used by Iran for further enrichment and contributes to keeping Iran 12 months away from breakout. Iran's stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, which could be more easily enriched to weapons-grade, was neutralized under the November 2013 interim deal. Iran will be capped to enriching to reactor grades under a final agreement.

5. Why will Iran be allowed to continue R&D on centrifuges far more advanced than those currently in its possession?

Iran will be limited to enriching with its inefficient, crash-prone IR-1 centrifuge machines for at least 10 years. While Iran will be allowed R&D on advanced machines, those machines cannot be mass-produced or used to enrich uranium for at least 10 years. Limited R&D on these machines will not give Iran the ability to breakout of the agreement quickly and pursue enrichment to weapons-grade levels. This assures a breakout time of at least 12 months for the duration of the deal.

In the future, after Iran has restored the international community's confidence that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, Tehran plans to domestically fuel its Bushehr power reactor. This will require a substantial increase in uranium enrichment capacity. Iran will still face more intrusive, permanent monitoring to ensure that its uranium production is peaceful and for a civilian program.

6. Why does the framework not address Iran's intercontinental ballistic missile program, whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear payloads?

Iran does not currently possess, nor is it currently testing, an ICBM. Iran's recent ballistic missile testing and development has been confined to medium-range systems. Additionally, a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran would block its pathways to the bomb, thus ensuring that Iran cannot develop a nuclear warhead capable of being delivered via ballistic missile. This renders Iran's ballistic missiles as a far less of a threat to regional and international security. Additionally, Iran is extremely unlikely to enter into an agreement that limits its ballistic missiles when not other country in the region is subject to limitations.

7. Following Iranian violations of the framework, how effective will be the mechanism to reinstitute sanctions?

The architecture of US sanctions will remain in place for years after an agreement is reached. This will allow for the quick re-imposition of restrictions if Iran is seen as violating the final deal. Congress legislation that expedites the consideration of re-imposition or waived sanctions, or imposition of additional measures, could be another way to ensure that Iran is quickly penalized for any violation of the deal. A final nuclear agreement will also leave UN Security Council sanctions in place until Iran meets certain conditions, including cooperation with the IAEA's investigation into PMDs.

8. What message does the framework send to states in the region and around the world when it gives such far-reaching concessions to a regime that for years has defied UNSC resolutions? Why would this not encourage nuclear proliferation?

Reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran demonstrates the strength of the nonproliferation regime. It demonstrates that attempts to violate the treaty will be detected and that there are consequences for noncompliance. In addition to the severe economic constraints Iran has faced from the sanctions regime, Iran's limited nuclear program will be subject to restrictions and monitoring beyond the requirements of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. A limited, highly monitored Iranian nuclear program poses far less of a threat to the region than an unconstrained program. The United States can also employ other measures to discourage the proliferation of uranium enrichment.    

9. The framework agreement appears to have much in common with the nuclear agreement reached with North Korea. How will this deal differ from the North Korean case?

Iran is not North Korea. A final nuclear agreement with Iran will differ substantially from agreements reached with North Korea regarding its nuclear program. The IAEA inspections and monitoring measures on Iran's nuclear program will be much more intrusive and stringent than those placed on North Korea. Iran has also demonstrated that it values its position in the region and international community, viewing the UN Security Council sanctions on its program as illegal and a stigma that it wants removed. This only comes through adherence to an agreement.

10. Why is the lifting of restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in about a decade not linked to a change in Iran's behavior? According to the framework, Iran could remain the world's foremost sponsor of terror and still have all the restrictions removed. Instead, the removal of those restrictions should be linked to a cessation of Iran's aggression in the Middle East, its terrorism around the world and its threats to annihilate Israel."

The limitations and restrictions in a comprehensive agreement with Iran have multiple timeframes. While some limits will be phased out after a decade, some of the monitoring and verification mechanisms will remain in place for 20 - 25 years. Other measures designed to ensure that Iran will not pursue nuclear weapons into the future will remain permanent. This will ensure that Iran's behavior toward its nuclear program has changed and that it will be exclusively peaceful moving into the future.

Looking Ahead ...

April 24 - Resumption of P5+1 and Iran nuclear talks at the political directors level

April 27 - Start of the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York. Key P5+1 and Iranian officials may meet on the margins of the conference to advance their nuclear negotiations.

May 14 - The Arms Control Association's 2015 Annual Meeting with a panel, "The P5+1 and Iran and the Comprehensive Nuclear Deal." Speakers include Richard Nephew, former principal deputy coordinator for sanction policy at the U.S. State Department, and Ariene Tabatabai, assistant professor at Georgetown University. RSVP Today!

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