The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, June 19

Vienna For the Long Haul

Iran’s deputy foreign ministers and nuclear negotiators Abbas Araqchi and Madjid Takht Ravanchi returned to Vienna to continue talks on a comprehensive deal on Wednesday, and are likely to remain through the June 30 deadline. Political directors from the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) traveled to Vienna this week to continue negotiations on the final deal. Araqchi said the sides are making slow, but steady progress on the text.

On Thursday, the Iranian team met with EU political director Helga Schmid and U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman. Friday’s meetings include another meeting with Schmid to lay out a plan for upcoming meetings and sessions. Araqchi and Ravanchi also met with Russian political director Sergei Ryabkov and had a meeting with the political directors from the three EU countries.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on June 16 that he would be traveling to Vienna to conduct what “should be the closeout of the negotiations with respect to the Iran nuclear program.” He said the date of his departure depends on “how things move in Vienna” over the next few days.

—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

Quick Reference Links

The Nuclear Deal at a Glance Issue Brief: Under a Microscope
Archived Iran Nuclear Alerts Additional Resources

U.S. Position on PMD is Not Softening

In a June 16 press conference, Kerry said that the United States is not “fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another” regarding the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

Kerry’s remarks have been construed by some to mean that the United States is letting Iran off the hook for its past work related to nuclear weapons development and that Washington is moving the goalposts for Iranian disclosure about the possible military dimensions under a final deal.

But the U.S. position on the possible military dimensions is not softening—nor should it. Iran must comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) investigation in a timely fashion. In the April 2 parameters outlining the final agreement it was clear that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation before sanctions relief is granted—that is a considerable incentive. As Kerry also said June 16, resolution of the possible military dimensions is part of a final deal and that “access is very, very critical.”

There is a difference between Iran accounting for its past activities related to nuclear weapons development and confessing that it had a nuclear weapons program. Extracting a “confession” from Iran that it engaged in work related to weapons development is unrealistic and unnecessary. Given Iran’s past denouncements of nuclear weapons—including the Supreme Leader’s fatwa against weapons of mass destruction—and repeated denials that it had a nuclear weapons program, it is unrealistic to expect Tehran to walk back and admit it violated its own religious taboos and international commitments.

What is realistic—and necessary—is for Iran to cooperate with the agency’s investigation. Not only will this allow the IAEA to make a determination about the peaceful nature of Iran’s current nuclear program, it will also strengthen the nonproliferation regime. Complying with the agency’s investigation demonstrates that past violations of international commitments will be uncovered and factored into the design and implementation of verification regimes.

But completion of the investigation is not necessary to reach a verifiable, comprehensive agreement. As Kerry noted, the key concern going forward is knowing that those “activities [with possible military dimensions] have been stopped.”

While it is vital that Iran cooperate with the investigation in a timely manner, the IAEA will need time to pursue leads, conduct a thorough review of the evidence, and assess whether activities with possible military dimensions took place and if they have been halted. It would be unwise to rush the IAEA into a quick resolution of its investigation solely to meet negotiating deadlines or to hold up the conclusion of the talks in order to wait months, or even years, for the IAEA to wrap up its work.

A comprehensive deal can put in place an intrusive monitoring and verification mechanism to provide assurance that Iran is not undertaking any activities relevant to nuclear weapons development. The multi-layered approach laid out in the April 2 factsheet covers Iran’s entire fuel cycle. The inspections regime will allow the IAEA managed access to military sites if there are concerns about illicit nuclear activities.

For more on the possible military dimensions in a final deal, see A Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement and Possible Military Dimensions to Iran’s Nuclear Program.

The Status of the IAEA’s Investigation

On November 11, 2013, Iran and the IAEA reached an agreement outlining Tehran’s cooperation with the agency’s investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities with possible military dimensions and to clarify the agency's unresolved concerns about Iran's nuclear program. The IAEA first laid out many of these issues in an annex to its November 2011 quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program. There were 12 main areas for investigation that the IAEA laid out in the November 2011 annex: 1) program management and structure; 2) procurement activities; 3) nuclear material acquisition; 4) nuclear components for an explosive device; 5) detonator development; 6) initiation of high explosives and associated experiments; 7) hydrodynamic experiments; 8) modelling and calculations; 9) neutron initiator; 10) conducting a test; 11) integration into a missile delivery vehicle; and 12) fuzing, arming, and firing system.

These areas include the alleged “possible military dimensions,” frequently referred to as PMDs, of Iran’s nuclear program and questions regarding the clarity and completeness of Iran’s declaration to the IAEA.

Under the November 11 Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation, Iran and the IAEA committed to resolve the agency's concerns through a step-by-step process to address all of the outstanding issues. An annex to the framework laid out the first six actions that Iran pledged to take within three months.

On February 9, 2014 Iran and the IAEA announced a further seven actions that Iran would take by May 15, 2014. Iran completed the initial two sets of these actions within the time period specified, all of which fall into one of the 12 main areas of investigation. One of the areas that Iran provided the IAEA with information about before the May 2014 deadline had to do with one of the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program—experiments with explosive bridgewire detonators. In June 2014, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said that the agency would not issue an assessment on any action until the investigation was completed and the agency could assess the information gathered as a system.

A May 20, 2014 meeting resulted in an agreement on an additional 5 actions to be taken by August 25, 2014. Iran completed three of the five actions by the end of August 2014. Two remaining issues related to nuclear weapons development remain unresolved. Iran and the IAEA met several times throughout the spring, and in its May 29, 2015 quarterly report, the IAEA noted that Iran shared information on one of the outstanding issues related to nuclear weapons development.

The full text of the Framework for Cooperation and its accompanying annex is available here. For a full list of the actions and their status, see "Implementation of the Iran-IAEA Framework for Cooperation"

Where will the $100 billion go?

As part of a nuclear deal, Iran will receive access to some of its restricted oil funds—around $100 billion—that was frozen as a result of sanctions.

Richard Nephew dismisses the idea that Iran will pour this money into “regional adventurism” in a June 16 op-ed in Reuters. Nephew notes that while Iran will be likely  to invest in some groups that oppose U.S. interests, this eventuality has become “widely exaggerated” and can be countered. He also points out that Iran’s economic support for extremism in the region, like the Syrian regime, has continued even during times of economic hardship. He says that “the issue of Iranian support for terrorism is not whether they have the financial resources to do it but rather whether they have the political will, opportunity, and foreign policy incentive” and points out that a nuclear deal will not change this calculation.

Nephew concludes, “There are regional implications from the sanctions relief embodied in a nuclear deal with Iran. But, they are manageable so long as we focus on regional solutions and cooperation rather than implausible boogeymen scenarios, and, of course, on the strategic implications to the region and beyond of having prevented Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Looking Ahead ...

June 19: Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) is hosting a congressional briefing releasing the results of its 2015 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans as well as a parallel poll assessing the opinions of the larger American public. Panelists include Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institution; Alireza Nader, Rand Corporation; Alex Vatanka, Middle East Institute. 12:00-2:00PM HC-8.

June 23: Iranian Public Opinion on the Nuclear Negotiations, Ebrahim Mohseni, University of Tehran’s Center for Public Opinion Research, and Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland. 

Steven Kull, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland; 

Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institution; and Trita Parsi, president, National Iranian American Council. Co-sponsored by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland and the University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion Research, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 9:30-11:00.

June 25: Evaluating Key Components of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing. Witnesses, David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security; Ray Takeyh, Council on Foreign Relations; Jim Walsh, MIT. Senate Dirksen 419, 10:00AM

June 30: Target date for a comprehensive deal.

July 16: Hold the date - Arms Control Association event on the outcome of the negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran and elements of a final, comprehensive nuclear deal. Speakers will include Richard Nephew, program director of Economic Statecraft, Sanctions and Energy Markets and former principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the U.S. State Department; and Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C.