P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, May 28

The Home Stretch

With only about a month to go until the June 30 deadline for completing a comprehensive nuclear deal, Iran and six world powers have made considerable progress on the final text of the agreement but still have some tough issues to resolve. Iranian and French officials have recently said the negotiations may extend a few days into July. U.S. officials have reiterated they intend to complete the negotiations by the end of June.

Over the past month, technical teams have been hard at work in New York and Vienna working out the details of the comprehensive agreement and drafting the final text. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Abbas Araqchi met with EU negotiator Helga Schmid in Vienna on May 12. The political directors from the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) joined the negotiations for a day of talks on May 15.

After the meeting with Schmid, Araqchi said that said the two sides have reached agreement on portions of the final text, but differences remain in "certain paragraphs."

While in Vienna, between meetings with Schmid and the P5+1, Araqchi met with International Atomic Energy Agency officials about the agency's stalled probe in Iran's past activities allegedly related to developing nuclear weapons.

Iran and the P5+1 will meet again in Vienna on May 30.

--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

Inspections Versus Managed Access

Access to military sites remains a key concern in a nuclear deal with Iran. If Iran is suspected of conducting activities related to the development of nuclear weapons, access to military sites by inspectors will be important for providing assurance that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. And, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to military sites to allow the agency to complete its investigation in the alleged past actions related to weapons development is also necessary to shed light on Tehran's past weaponization work. While it is reasonable for a country to refuse to give international inspector carte blanche access to military sites, in the case of Iran, given its past weaponization work, some access will be necessary.

Recent statements by officials from Iran and the international community seemingly put the two sides at odds over procedures for inspection of military facilities designed to verify compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said as recently as May 20 that "no permission" will be given to inspect military facilities. But IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told the Associated Press on May 12 that under the additional protocol the agency can request access to a military site when it has reason to do so. The agency has made similar requests in the past, Amano said.

However, on May 24, Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Abbas Araqchi said that Iran will accept managed access to military sites.

Managed access allows the agency to visit sites, but puts measures in place to protect sensitive or classified information.

This issue of inspections of military sites is only one element of a multi-layered approach to a comprehensive monitoring and verification regime outlined in the April 2 Lausanne parameters of a final nuclear deal. Taken together, these measures help ensure that Iran is complying by the terms of a deal and not covertly pursuing nuclear weapons.

For more on the monitoring and verification read: http://bit.ly/1bDPkRF

Congressional Review

On May 22, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill giving Congress the opportunity to vote to approve or disapprove a nuclear deal with Iran.

Congress will have 30 days to review the agreement, during which Obama cannot waive or suspend congressional sanctions. If Congress votes to approve the deal or takes no action, implementation of the agreement begins under the schedule laid out by the comprehensive deal. If Congress votes to disapprove the nuclear deal, Obama is likely to veto the resolution of disapproval within the 12-day period mandated by the bill. According to the legislation, sanctions remain suspended for 10 days after a veto, giving Congress time to attempt to override the veto.

Congress now has what it wants-a chance to weigh-in on the comprehensive nuclear deal that the United States is negotiating with Iran.

But with the power of a vote on the deal comes responsibility. Congress now owns a stake in the success or failure of a nuclear agreement designed to block Iran's pathways to nuclear weapons.

In addition to restricting the president's ability to waive sanctions, a congressional vote of disapproval also sends the wrong message to Iran about U.S. intentions to follow through on commitments under an agreement. Such actions will likely blow up the agreement and lead back down the path of escalation.

No deal means an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program with far less monitoring and an increased likelihood of a military conflict. And holding out for a better deal will not work. If the Washington is seen as killing a good deal, international support for the sanctions regime will erode, decreasing pressure on the regime. That's a high price to pay, especially when the deal on the table blocks Iran's pathways to nuclear weapons.

When the time comes for Congress to vote, lawmakers must evaluate the deal on the merits. Does it block Iran's pathways to nuclear weapons? Does it rollback Iran's nuclear program? Does it put in place monitoring and verification mechanisms to detect and deter a covert nuclear program? The deal being finalized meets these criteria. Responsible lawmakers must think carefully about implications of their vote on a deal and its impact on U.S. national security.

In Case You Missed It...

The May 14 Arms Control Association Annual Meeting featured a panel with former deputy coordinate for Iran sanctions policy Richard Nephew, and Georgetown Professor Ariane Tabatabai.

Nephew discussed how to re-impose sanctions in the event of a violations of an agreement, the challenges of "snapback" and lifting sanctions under a deal.

Tabatabai offered insights into how the nuclear deal is being discussed in Iran and broke down the meaning behind the Supreme Leader's "redlines."

The final keynote speaker, National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden Colin Kahl, discussed the Lausanne framework agreement, and the on-going talks, and the implementation steps beyond the June 30 target date for concluding the talks.

To watch the video or read the transcript, click here: http://bit.ly/ArmsControl15

Looking Ahead ...

May 30 - P5+1 and Iranian negotiators meet in Vienna. 

June 3 - The Wilson Center Middle East Program and the Iran Project event, Weighing Concerns and Assurances about a Nuclear Deal with Iran, 12:00-1:00pm, Washington, D.C. RSVP Here.

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