P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, June 9

Slow But Steady Progress on Draft Deal

Just three weeks remain before the June 30 deadline for Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Iran and the P5+1 met June 4 in Vienna at the political director level. Technical talks between the two sides on the annexes are ongoing. 

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Abbas Araqchi told Iranian news outlets on June 6 that the main text will be about 20 pages with five technical annexes totaling 40-50 pages. Araqchi said that the task of completing the text is "moving ahead, although slowly" but negotiators are focused on completing the deal by June 30. 

The Iran nuclear deal was also a subject of discussion amongst world leaders at the G7 summit in Germany. Four of the P5+1 countries (France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States) are members of the G7 and were represented at the June 7-8 meeting at the head of state level. U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the nuclear talks with his counterparts at the summit, and said in a June 8 press briefing that the countries "remain united heading into the final stages of the talks."

--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy 

Amano Addresses IAEA Board 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors began its weeklong quarterly meeting yesterday, June 8, in Vienna. 

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano opened the meeting with an address to the board. His remarks included a section on Iran and confirmed the agency's ability to carry out verification activities as part of a final nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (EU3+3).

Another important element of Amano's remarks was his statement that he is "confident" that the agency can complete its investigation into the issues with possible military dimensions in a "reasonable timeframe" if Iran implements a final deal based on the Lausanne parameters.

The agency's investigation in the possible military dimensions is proceeding slowly since Iran and the IAEA agreed to a framework for cooperation in November 2013. After Iran stalled the investigation between August 2014 and May 2015, Tehran is beginning to cooperate and provided the IAEA with some information on an activity related to nuclear weapons development in May. 

The full transcript of Amano's remarks is available here, and the excerpt on Iran is below.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Madam Chairperson,

Concerning safeguards implementation in Iran, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

At their talks in Lausanne in April, Iran and the E3+3 countries took a step forward by announcing key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. If requested, the IAEA is ready to undertake monitoring and verification of the nuclear-related measures to be agreed under the Plan, subject to the endorsement of the Board of Governors and the availability of resources. In order to help make the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action technically sound, the Agency has been engaging closely with both Iran and the E3+3 countries.

Conclusion of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that includes implementation by Iran of the Additional Protocol will strengthen safeguards implementation in Iran and significantly increase the Agency's ability to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in the country. Other measures in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are expected to provide additional assurance.

I am confident that the clarification of issues with possible military dimensions is possible within a reasonable timeframe if Iran implements the measures envisaged in the Lausanne announcement. Once the Agency has established an understanding of the whole picture concerning issues with possible military dimensions, I will report our assessment to the Board of Governors.

I had talks with Foreign Minister Zarif and Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi, in which we discussed how the resolution of all outstanding issues related to Iran's nuclear programme can be accelerated. The Agency remains ready to accelerate the resolution of all outstanding issues under the Framework for Co-operation. This can be realised by increased co-operation by Iran and by the timely provision of access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel in Iran.

For more information on the monitoring and verification measures expected in a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action, see the Arms Control Association Issue Brief, "Under a Microscope: Monitoring and Verification in an Iran Deal.

The Verification Challenge: Iran and the IAEA

Thomas Shea, a 24 year veteran of the IAEA department of safeguards, examines the challenge of verifying the comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran in an article in the June issue of Arms Control Today

Shea concludes that if the IAEA receives adequate support, the agency will be able to effectively verify that Iran is complying with the terms of comprehensive nuclear deal based on the April 2 parameters. Shea says that the agency monitoring will give the international community "time for intervention to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon" if Tehran choses to cheat on the agreement.

Shea urges the IAEA to operate based on the assumption that Iran could build a nuclear weapon, has tested and developed components necessary, thus requiring only the highly enriched uranium necessary to build a nuclear weapon. Based on this assumption, and the verification measures outlined in the April 2 parameters, he writes that the agency will likely organize its verification measures along five lines:

  • Detecting clandestine nuclear weapons facilities in Iranas early as possible.
  • Monitoring declared nuclear installations to detect misuse.
  • Detecting diversion of declared nuclear materials from declared facilities to verify that no declared stocks of nuclear material are diverted, especially nuclear material that might be quickly converted to weapons-usable forms under a breakout scenario.
  • Monitoring potential supply arrangements through which Iran might secure external assistance.
  • Monitoring agreed limitations on Iranian capabilities.

The IAEA's Iran Task Force, which currently implements the November 2013 interim deal, will likely be responsible for carrying out the monitoring and verification under the final deal, Shea writes. 

Senate Pushes to Extend Iran Sanctions

Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would extend sanctions on Iran that are set to expire at the end of 2016. The sanctions act that would be extended, the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, targets Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and human rights abuses. Some of these measures would be waived as part of the implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran.

Jessica Schulberg reported on this development for Huffington Post on June 6.

Schulberg quoted Peter Billerback, a former Senate staffer and current policy adviser at a think tank called Third Way, who called the action "needlessly reckless and premature, especially at this point in the negotiations when we're at the one-yard line."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) will determine if the amendment is voted on. President Barack Obama threatened to veto the authorization act already over certain spending concerns.

An Effective Deal is Better Than No Deal 

A nuclear deal with Iran does not have to be perfect. A good nuclear deal must block Iran's pathways to nuclear weapons and put in place an intrusive monitoring and verification regime to deter and detect any covert nuclear activities.  The alternative--no deal--is far worse.

Some critics also assert that a "better deal" is possible if the United States increases the pressure on Iran. Colin Kahl, national security advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden, dismissed that line of argument at the Arms Control Association annual meeting on May 14. Kahl said "other critics reject the deal we are negotiating on the grounds that there is a better deal out there.  If we just step back, dial up the sanctions, rattle the saber, make more military threats, and drive the Iranian regime to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure completely and forever. There's just one problem with this line of argument.  It's wishful thinking.  We've seen this movie before.  And, spoiler alert, it doesn't end well."
Kahl concluded that "pulling back and attempting to unilaterally escalate the pressure would likely backfire, producing less international consensus and thus less net pressure on Iran.  That would be the very definition of self-defeating."

Chart showing effects from a deal or no deal with Iran.

Looking Ahead ...

June 8-12: International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting in Vienna.

June 10
: Senate Foreign Relations Committee, (closed) hearing on "Verification and Assessment: How Do You Create A Successful Inspections Regime?" with  Dr. Gary Samore, executive director for research, member of the Board Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, and Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani, president, Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
June 10: House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and Africa, hearing on "Iran's Enduring Ballistic Missile Threat," with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn; Robert Joseph, National Institute for Public Policy; David Cooper, Naval War College; and Anthony Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies. 2172 House Rayburn Office Building, Washington. Webcast on the committee website.

June 30: Target date for a comprehensive deal.