Solutions That Prevent a Nuclear-Armed Iran Are Within Reach
For Immediate Release: July 15, 2014
Media Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Nonproliferation Analyst (317)-460-8806
(VIENNA, AUSTRIA)--With days before their July 20 target date, the negotiating teams of the United States, other great powers, and Iran are working full time on the text of a comprehensive agreement to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran.
"Progress has already been achieved on several key issues--strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and oversight at all of Iran's nuclear sites and related facilities; Iran has agreed to modify its Arak heavy-water reactor to drastically cut its plutonium output; and a general understanding on the phasing of sanctions relief appears to have been reached, but the two sides have more work to do to bridge differences on the most difficult issue: limiting Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association from Vienna.
"U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks to the press this morning set a more positive tone than statements made earlier this week by officials about the nuclear negotiations with Iran," noted Arms Control Association Nonproliferation Analyst Kelsey Davenport, who is also in Vienna to monitor the negotiations.
On a positive note, Kerry stressed that all parties were negotiating in good faith and it is a question of finding the right formula that allows Iran a peaceful nuclear program while ensuring the world that it cannot be used for nuclear weapons. These are realistic and compatible goals, he said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif noted in his remarks that the parties came to Vienna to present solutions and they have made progress and remain committed to reaching an agreement.
Kerry's and Zarif's remarks followed several days of talks since Kerry arrived on Sunday, including several bilateral meetings, at the Coburg Palace where negotiators have been meeting since July 2.
Kerry stressed that negotiators would remain in Vienna through the 20th and that all parties are committed to a diplomatic solution. He said that he would brief President Obama on the status of the talks and return to Vienna later, if necessary.
Kerry confirmed that there has been progress on key areas but gaps remain. He would not comment on the U.S. position on the specific capacity of Iran's uranium-enrichment program, a key issue in the talks, but said that the 19,000 centrifuges currently installed (only about 10,200 are operating) are too many. Kerry also responded to comments made earlier by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about Iran's needs for 190,000 separative work units (SWU), saying that this capacity is a long-term goal and not a new figure.
David Sanger reported in The New York Times yesterday that Iran is showing a new flexibility and Zarif is willing to negotiate on a uranium-enrichment proposal that would freeze Iran's current capacity (10,200 centrifuges - or about 9,000-10,000 SWU) for several years.
"While this proposal still raises questions about the duration of the limits, it is a positive sign and hopefully represents the progress that the P5+1 wants to see on a key issue to extend talks past July 20 if necessary," said Davenport.
"The Zarif proposal represents an Iranian attempt to compromise on the key sticking point at this the 11th hour," Kimball said. "It stands in stark contrast to earlier statements about Iran's growing uranium enrichment capacity needs. The proposal certainly falls short of what it will take to reach an agreement, but its vital that the P5+1 respond with similarly creative and innovative ideas that adequately reduce Iran's capacity to make a dash for nuclear weapons before any such effort can be disrupted," Kimball said.
"Negotiators can square the circle with a combination of additional measures that should be acceptable to both sides," Kimball suggested. "These measures would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its civil nuclear program," he said.
These measures include:
- Limiting uranium enrichment to levels of less than 5 percent and keeping stocks of its enriched uranium gas to near zero levels.
- Limiting Iran's enrichment capacity for 6-10 years at, or below, its current capacity and allowing for appropriate increases in Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity at a later stage if Iran provides sufficient information to the IAEA to prove that any past experiments with possible military dimensions have been discontinued.
- Agreeing to phase out, remove and store under IAEA seal Iran's less efficient, first-generation IR-1 centrifuges and, over a period of years, replace them with a smaller number of more-efficient centrifuges. During the transition period, the total operating enrichment capacity would be held below agreed limits, ideally less than Iran's current capacity. This would allow Iran's scientists to make the desired transition to more cost-effective machines over time, but still constrain Iran's overall enrichment capabilities.
- Agreeing not to assemble the more-efficient centrifuges until there is a demonstrable need for commercial-scale enrichment. This would increase the time it would take Iran to operate the machines, and provide added insurance against rapid breakout scenarios.
- Providing strong P5+1 nuclear fuel-supply guarantees to Iran to help meet its future nuclear energy and research needs. Such guarantees could include pre-delivery of fuel for Iran's Bushehr light-water, electricity-producing reactor before the current fuel-supply contract with Russia ends in 2021.
"Concluding an effective, comprehensive agreement will require difficult compromises from both sides. However, solutions that prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, lower the risk of yet another major conflict in the region, and still provide Iran with the means to pursue a realistic, peaceful nuclear program are within reach," said Kimball.
"It is not yet clear if an extension will be necessary, but a framework agreement by July 20 is still in the cards if both sides can agree on a suitable uranium-enrichment formula. However, more time may be necessary to conclude the technical details of this complex agreement," Davenport said.
The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.