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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, June 29
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Authored by Kelsey Davenport and Daryl G. Kimball on June 29, 2015

Talks Extended, But Differences Resolvable

Just days before the June 30 deadline for completing their talks, foreign ministers from the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran descended on Vienna. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry kicked off the weekend arrivals on Friday night. He was followed by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday morning and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius later that day.

Upon arrival, Fabius said that there are three areas where difference still exist: sanctions relief, inspections, and research. Zarif held bilateral meetings with Kerry and Fabius on Saturday. Zarif told reporters on Saturday that his team is “determined to do everything we can in order to be able to get to this important milestone.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini joined the talks on Sunday, followed by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The Chinese deputy foreign minister also arrived on Sunday. Zarif met with each before heading back to Tehran on Sunday night. He is expected to return to Vienna on Monday. Fabius and Steinmeier also left the talks but could return.

Upon arrival, Mogherini told press that she was “rather positive that if there's strong political will from all the parties” a deal is possible. Later she told reporters that all the parties agreed that there would be no extension, but if the parties needed an additional few days after June 30, it would “not be the end of the world.”

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano also dropped into the Coburg Palace, the hotel where the foreign ministers are staying, on Saturday and Sunday for the talks. Amano met with Kerry on Monday.

—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, in Vienna, with DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, in Washington

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

Navigating the Remaining Issues

When French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived at the Coburg yesterday, he mentioned three outstanding areas that are “indispensible” in a good, final deal. Fabius said there must be “a lasting limitation of Iran's research and development capacity, a rigorous inspection of sites, including military if needed, and the third condition is the automatic return of sanctions in case it violates its commitments."

Our sources indicate the two sides are on their way to reaching agreement on the technical implementation on these key issues within the next several days. Despite public rhetoric from some officials that might suggest there are “vast differences,” the positions of the two sides overlap just enough to allow each side to meet their core concerns.

A deal based on the parameters agreed to on April 2 at Lausanne is in the interest of both Iran and the international community. Most of the major and most difficult political decisions have already been made and the negotiators are within sight of reaching agreement on the important details of technical implementation.

  1. Inspections: It is unrealistic to expect carte blanche access to Iran’s military sites. Iran, like any other country, has legitimate concerns about safeguarding sensitive military sites. However, the IAEA must be able to access sites when and if concerns arise and with reason, as is permitted under the terms of the IAEA additional protocol, which Iran has already agreed to implement and ratify. Establishing a dispute mechanism to broker fair compromises between Iran and the IAEA in a timely manner if disputes over access arise will be helpful. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said Iran will not allow “unconventional” inspections, but inspections under the terms of the additional protocol are not “unconventional.” Iran already has an additional protocol agreement with the agency that it implemented voluntarily from 2003 to 2005. Over 120 countries also have additional protocols in place and Amano has stated that the agency has requested managed access to military facilities in the past.
  2. Reimposition of Sanctions: A good deal should differentiate between levels of potential noncompliance and respond accordingly. On one hand, small infractions should not go unpunished. However, minor infractions, technical issues, or ambiguities in the deal should also not result in all of the sanctions being snapped back into place. It will be important to define different levels of violations and consequences accordingly. This will incentivize Iranian compliance. Furthermore, the P5 can and may have already agreed on a mechanism to re-impose UN Security Council sanctions in the event of a major Iranian violation without allowing one state to veto such action.
  3. Research and Development: Under the terms of the April 2 framework agreement, after ten years of restrictions, Iran will be able to introduce advanced centrifuge machines according to an agreed upon set of conditions and schedule. As Iran transitions to advanced machines, other key restrictions will remain in place, providing assurances that Iran will not be able to amass enough fissile material for one bomb before the international community could intervene. Iran also has expressed interest in moving to the IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges in the future, machines it has little or no experience testing. Iran will not be able to immediately install and run these machines. Time would required to test and develop them. In addition to more robust monitoring and transparency measures, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will remain capped, and it will only be allowed to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent U-235 until at least 15 years after the beginning of implementation of the deal.

Options for Shrinking Iran’s LEU Stockpile

According to the White House factsheet on the agreed to April 2 parameters for a comprehensive nuclear deal, Iran agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kilograms, and hold it at that amount for 15 years. Iran’s LEU is enriched to about 3.5 percent U-235. Weapons-grade uranium must be enriched to greater than 90 percent U-235.

As of the May 2015 report by the IAEA, Iran has approximately 8,715 kilograms of uranium enriched to about 3.5 percent in gas form. An additional 2,700 kilograms enriched to this level has been fed into a plant to covert it into oxide powder, which can be made into fuel for power plants.

To reduce its stockpile, Iran has three options. One option is it could ship the excess LEU out of the country for storage in a third party country. Russia has been floated as an option.

Iran could also sell its LEU on the open market for fabrication into fuel. The Associated Press reported on June 27 that this option remains under consideration. There are several countries with the technology to fabricate fuel, including Russia, China, France, the United States, and others.

Iran could also dilute its stockpile back down to the level of U-235 that is present in natural uranium gas. Iran took this step as part of the interim agreement. As part of the extension announced last July, Iran agreed to blend down its stockpile of “tails,” which is leftover from the enrichment process.

In any of these three scenarios, the stockpile is out of reach for further enrichment. Reducing the stockpile, in combination with the reduction of centrifuges, will ensure that it would take Iran at least 12 months to obtain enough weapons-grade material for one bomb, which is about 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to over 90 percent U-235.

Experts Available for Comment

A group of 30 leading nonproliferation experts issued an April 6 joint statement after the Lausanne framework was announced stating, "When implemented, it will put in place an effective, verifiable, enforceable, long-term plan to guard against the possibility of a new nuclear-armed state in the Middle East."

Many of these experts are available for comment during the final phase of negotiations toward a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. Bios and contact details are available online or by calling Arms Control Association Communications Director Tim Farnsworth (cell: 202-550-9402; email: [email protected]).

Looking Ahead ...

June 30: Target date for a comprehensive deal.

July 1: Likely return of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Vienna for further talks with the P5+1

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. Time: 2:00-3:30pm.

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. Time: 9:30-11:00am.

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.

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.

Kelsey Davenport and Daryl G. Kimball