The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 3

Ministers and Momentum

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano returned from Tehran on Friday after meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Shamkhani.

The Iranian press and The Los Angeles Times reported Shamkhani as saying that Iran is ready to continue cooperation with the IAEA to “resolve the remaining issues.”

Upon return to Vienna, Amano said on July 3 that he discussed monitoring and verification under a comprehensive deal and the agency's investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program. He said that "both sides have a better understanding on some ways forward," although work remains.

Meanwhile, back in Vienna, negotiations on a final deal continue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi joined the talks on July 2 and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini returned for additional meetings.

When Mogherini arrived she said the talks are making progress, but the sides are “not there yet.” She also noted the importance of Amano’s trip to Tehran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Mogherini yesterday and also held bilateral meetings with U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and Yi.

Upon arrival, Hammond said that the ministers would continue to come and go to “maintain momentum” in the talks.

Ali Akhbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, also met with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz yesterday.

After meetings at the Coburg Palace Hotel, where the negotiations are taking place, Fabius left Vienna, but said he would likely return on Sunday. Hammond also left Vienna. He and Mogherini are both likely to return to Vienna on Sunday.

—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, in Vienna, with GREG THIELMANN, senior fellow, and DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, in Washington, D.C.

Quick Reference Links

The Nuclear Deal at a Glance Issue Brief: Under a Microscope
Experts Available for Interview Editorials Supporting a Deal
Archived Iran Nuclear Alerts Additional Resources

The IAEA, Iran, and the PMD Issue

One of the most difficult issues in reaching a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program is what exactly to require from Iran in the IAEA’s investigation of possible military dimensions (PMD) in that program. Although the most critical allegations about PMD relate to activities more than eleven years in the past, Iran has not yet cooperated fully in resolving outstanding questions. In November 2013, the IAEA and Iran agreed on a framework for cooperation to deal with the matter. Progress in some areas has been achieved, but Iran has not fully cooperated in all key areas.

Under the terms of the April 2 framework agreement outlined in Lausanne, Iran must provide the necessary cooperation to the IAEA for its investigation before UN Security Council nuclear-related sanctions on Iran are “lifted.”

However, some have argued that, prior to reaching a comprehensive P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran deal, Tehran should fully resolve the IAEA’s concerns about its past work on nuclear weapons. Such an approach would unnecessarily delay the imposition of further limits and transparency measures on Iran’s nuclear program and remove a powerful incentive for Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA’s PMD investigation: sanctions relief.

Others suggest that “prior to lifting key sanctions,” Iran must accept (or at least not disagree with) the IAEA’s provisional determination that Iran had a nuclear weapons program prior to 2004, and possibly beyond. This view risks confusing what is desirable with what is necessary to ensure compliance with the terms of a comprehensive agreement.

As former IAEA safeguards expert Thomas E. Shea observed in the June 2015 edition of Arms Control Today, “establishing a baseline on what took place where and when will be important for the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s continuing commitments.”

The logic of the IAEA pursuing Iranian cooperation in its PMD investigation is indisputable. Although much is already known from intelligence sources about Iran’s activities; any additional information will help in efficiently tailoring ongoing verification efforts.

However, Shea also notes: “The extent or nature of past military dimensions of a nuclear weapons program in Iran may never be known. Even a full disclosure by Iran of weaponization activities within its nuclear program would not be accepted as full and complete by skeptics.”

Shea advises that the IAEA should proceed on the assumption that “Iran probably has learned everything it needs to know to build a nuclear weapon” Accordingly “measures that are to be put into place by the IAEA to detect possible future clandestine activities have been designed to take [into] account a wide range of possible past activities.”

As time passes, information gained from the ongoing implementation of the comprehensive agreement’s intrusive inspection regime will be much more critical to success than aggressively pushing to resolve lingering ambiguities from past decades in a way that attempts to force confessions from Tehran.

Shea concludes, “If the IAEA receives the support it needs, which is likely, it will be able to verify Iran’s commitments effectively. Even the skeptics should have confidence that if Iran changes course, IAEA verification will work in time for intervention to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Americans Support the Nuclear Deal

The Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs will release new data on Monday demonstrating support for the emerging P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal amongst the U.S. general public.

Highlights of the survey data include:

  • Six in ten Americans favor the reported framework of an agreement with Iran (59%). A solid majority of self-described Democrats (74%) and a smaller majority of Independents (57%) favor the nuclear deal, while Republicans tend to oppose it (51% oppose, 46% support).
  • Before any mention of the current negotiations with Iran in the survey, two in three Americans say they would support the use of U.S. troops, in principle, "to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons” (67%).
  • Later, in the context of Iran committing a major violation of a deal, 56 percent say they would support US airstrikes specifically "to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities." Six in 10 would also support cyber-attacks against Iran’s computer systems (60%). Fewer support sending U.S. troops directly to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities (44% support, 51% oppose).
  • If Iran “commits a major violation of this agreement,” solid majorities also would support the U.S. imposing tighter economic sanctions on Iran (80%) and continuing diplomacy (71%).

 If a deal is reached, Americans ultimately are unsure about its lasting effects. Only three in ten Americans are confident that the agreement will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons in the next ten years (29% are confident; 69% are not).

A Win-Win Deal, or Dangerous Capitulation by One Side?

Since reaching a framework agreement on April 2 and as the P5+1 and Iran have moved closer to a resolution of the complex and important issues of technical implementation of a final nuclear deal, an increasing number of U.S. Republican political figures and presidential candidates have boldly claimed that the United States has retreated from its original goals in the negotiation and conceded on a range of issues to the Iranian side.

Some, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have gone so far as to say that the United States should “walk away” from the talks because the agreement in-the-making is a “bad” deal.

Most of these critics either

  • mischaracterize the original aims of the P5+1;
  • recommend that the P5+1 negotiators hold out for terms that are not attainable nor necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran (such as dismantling all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure);
  • fail to acknowledge the very substantial nonproliferation benefits that would derive from the agreement as outlined on April 2; or
  • all of the above.

Few, including McConnell, seem to be able to describe what a “good” deal would look like or how such a deal might realistically be achieved.

What’s more, at this point, “walking away” from an agreement that is consistent with the April 2 framework—which would block all of Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons and put in place extraordinary, new monitoring and verification measures to provide very early warning of noncompliance—would be an “own goal” error with long-term, dangerous security ramifications.

“Walking away” from an effective deal would only serve to undermine our negotiating partners, unravel the international sanctions on Iran, open the door to a vast expansion of Iran’s nuclear capacity, and increase the risk of an Iranian bomb and a military conflict.

The deal on the table, however, by meeting the core concerns of the P5+1 and Iran, incentives both sides to follow up on their obligations.

In an April 18 essay published by the Brookings Institution, former U.S. negotiator Richard Nephew provides an important reality check.

He points out that both sides in the negotiation—the P5+1 and Iran—have bargained hard, have each made adjustments to their original positions, but both appear to be coming out with an agreement that meets their respective core goals and objectives.

Nephew writes, in part:

As with everything in Washington as late, the discussion quickly divided into two camps: those convinced that Obama gave up critical advantage over Iran too readily in order to get a nuclear deal that, even if better than what was anticipated, still is not satisfactory; and, those convinced that, given the alternatives, what Obama achieved was worth such concessions.

Lost in all of the noise is any consideration of what Iran had to give up in order to get a deal and the value of what it will really get from sanctions relief. For some, it is assumed that Iran’s temporary concessions are so meager that, in effect, the Iranians sacrificed nothing for a deal.

But, this misses an important point: Iran had to make several compromises in order to get a satisfactory nuclear deal and, in the end, the separation between Iran’s public and private stances is far wider than those of the Obama administration. Moreover, the U.S. readiness to engage in sanctions relief is not a give-away to Iran but rather a result of a proportional exchange of concessions that, though some may wish not to hear it, is the only way that diplomacy actually works.

These negotiations and constraining Iran’s nuclear program are serious business that requires thoughtful consideration of the agreement, its overall impact, and the realistic alternatives.

As Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said to Bloomberg View this week: "Should a final agreement with Iran be reached, it will be incumbent upon all members of Congress to not prejudge the agreement, but rather, to rigorously and judiciously review the accord and, with a seriousness of purpose, fulfill our oversight responsibilities during the congressional review period.”

Looking Ahead ...

July 7: New target date for a comprehensive deal.

July 9: Atlantic Council Event with Cliff Kupchan, Eurasia Group; Ken Katzman, Congressional Research Service; Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Association; and John Limbert, US Naval Academy.

Location: Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C. Time: 2:00-3:30pm. RSVP online.

July 13: Iran Forum Event co-hosted by US Institute for Peace, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the RAND Corporation, the Arms Control Association, the Center for a New American Security, the Stimson Center, Partnership for a Secure America, and the Ploughshares Fund. Speakers include Olli Heinonen Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University; Robin Wright Joint Fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars; Ilan Goldenberg, Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program, Center for a New American Security, Joe Cirincione President, Ploughshares Fund.

Location: United States Institute for Peace, Washington, D.C. Time: 9:30-11:00am. RSVP online.

July 16: Arms Control Association event on the outcome of the negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran and elements of a 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; Ilan Goldenberg, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security and Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy.

Location: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C. Time: 9:30-11:30am. RSVP online.

July 21: Center for a New American Security forum on “Iran and the Future of the Regional and Economic Security Lanscape,” with keynote speaker Colin Kahl, National Security Advisor for the Vice-President, and other expert speakers.

Location: NYU Washington, DC, 1307 L Street NW. Time: 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. RSVP online, or by contacting Axel Hellman at 202-695-8162.