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P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, February 23
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Authored by Kelsey Davenport on February 23, 2015

Talks in Geneva Intensify; Another Round Next Week

Negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran over the weekend focused on key technical issues, with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz joining U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for talks with Iran on a comprehensive nuclear deal. The Feb. 22-23 meetings were Moniz's first as part of the U.S. team negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal.

If an agreement is reached, Moniz will be a key validator. The technical expertise of the Department of Energy will play a critical role in assuring the international community that the limits on Iran's nuclear program block its pathways to developing nuclear weapons. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran also went to Geneva and met with Moniz.

A full meeting of the P5+1(China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran at the political directors level took place as well. Defining the size and scope of Iran's uranium enrichment program, including limits on future research and development involving more advanced centrifuges, was a primary focus of the talks. According to a senior U.S. official on Feb. 23, the discussions were constructive and some progress was made.

Negotiators are set to meet again next week.

--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

IAEA Notes Iran's Compliance with Interim Deal

According to the most recent quarterly report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran's nuclear program, Tehran is complying with the interim deal reached in November 2013.

The Feb. 19 report says that:

  • The number of centrifuges enriching uranium to less than 5 percent remains static, at about 10,200 IR-1 machines,
  • Iran is continuing to covert its 20 percent enriched uranium powder into fuel plates, in line with commitments made when the interim deal was extended in November 2014,
  • Iran is continuing to feed some of its stockpile of less than 5 percent enriched uranium gas into a conversion plant that will produce powder suitable for making power reactor fuel (Iran agreed to cap its stock of gas enriched to this level at about 7,560 kg),
  • Greater IAEA access for monitoring and verification of Iran's nuclear program, including daily access to the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities,
  • Research and development practices remain in line with the restrictions from the interim-deal - enriched uranium is not being accumulated and no new machines are being installed,
  • Iran has not installed any new components at the Arak reactor.

The IAEA also noted that Iran is still not complying with the agency's investigation in the unresolved concerns about Iran's nuclear program. After providing the IAEA with information about some past activities and access to particular sites, Iran missed an August deadline for handing over information about two past activities with possible military dimensions. Iran has yet to provide the information or suggest additional actions that can be taken to move the investigation forward.

Iran's delay in providing information on the two past military dimension issues is a serious problem, and it is essential that Tehran work with the agency to complete these activities in a timely fashion. Resolution of the IAEA's investigation into its unresolved concerns about Iran's nuclear program is critical to ensuring that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Without resolution, the ultimate lifting of U.S. sanctions is unlikely.

However, this delay should not disrupt the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. A comprehensive deal would result in a more intensive monitoring and verification regime that will help to ensure that any activities with possible military dimensions that may have been pursued in the past do not continue in the future.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano met with Zarif during the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 7. Amano said they agreed to intensify talks on the investigation. Additionally deputy negotiator Abbas Araghchi is set to meet with Amano later this week.

It's Not Just About Centrifuges

Centrifuge numbers have become a symbolic parameter for determining the success of nuclear deal with Iran. Currently, Iran is operating about 10,200 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, with an additional 8,300 IR-1s and 1,000 advanced IR-2M machines installed, but not operating.

But a good deal is about more than the number of centrifuges that Iran will be able to keep spinning under a comprehensive agreement.

In a Feb. 19 article for Defense One, "Why America's Obsession With Iran's Centrifuges Could Give Tehran the Bomb," Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, warns against judging the efficacy of a nuclear deal with Iran by a single metric, namely the number of centrifuges.

As Cirincione says, "It is a simple metric for success. And it is wrong. There are, in fact, many ways to limit Iran's ability to make a nuclear weapon. Centrifuges are just one factor in the equation."

According to U.S. officials, one of the goals in a nuclear deal with Iran is to push back the time it would take for Tehran to enrich enough uranium for one nuclear bomb to 12 months. Current estimates place this time at 2-3 months.

Limits on operating centrifuges are just one component necessary to meet this goal.

As Cirincione points out, limiting Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity is a complex formula that involves the efficiency of the centrifuges, the stockpiles of gas, and the inspections regime.

A solid deal would greatly reduce the amount of uranium gas Iran is allowed to keep on hand. It would also prevent Iran from replacing its current, inefficient model of centrifuges with newer designs, limit the production capabilities of the existing cascades and put in place tough, new inspection regimes that could detect any cheating.

When a nuclear deal is reached, it is important to not look solely at the centrifuge numbers, but at the entire package. A deal should not be judged on just one element of a complex equation. What matters most is the overall result. Twelve months will give the international community ample time to detect and respond to any attempt by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons.

Think About the Consequences....

A verifiable, comprehensive nuclear deal will limit Iran's nuclear program and increase the time it would take Tehran to dash toward a nuclear bomb. A deal will put in place intrusive inspections to deter and promptly detect any deviations from the agreement. Failure to reach a deal will result in an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program with less international monitoring, increasing the risk of conflict and a nuclear-armed Iran. 

Looking Ahead ...

Feb. 26, 2:30-3:30 p.m. - Arms Control Association briefing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, SD-106, with Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy, Arms Control Association; Larry Hanauer, senior international policy analyst at RAND Corporation and former senior staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; and moderated by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association. RSVP today!    

Feb. 27, 1:00-3:00 p.m. -Arms Control Association event at the National Press Club with Richard Nephew, research scholar and program director, Economic Statecraft, Sanctions and Energy Markets Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University; Larry Hanauer, senior international policy analyst at RAND Corporation; and Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association. RSVP today! 

March 3- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Joint Session of Congress on Iran.

End of March 2015 - Target date for Iran and the P5+1 to reach a political framework agreement.

June 30, 2015 - Deadline for Iran and the P5+1 to complete the technical annexes.

Kelsey Davenport