The November 24, 2013, Joint Plan of Action contained first-phase steps for Iran and the P5+1 to take, initially for a six-month period, to address urgent concerns of both sides. When negotiators extended the talks in July 2014 and again in November 2014, each side undertook additional commitments. The interim deal also contained the broad parameters that guided the negotiations on a comprehensive agreement.
This breakthrough accord was reached after three rounds of talks between the P5+1 and Iran, following Rouhani’s inauguration as president of Iran and his appointment of a new negotiating team led by Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
The framework agreement's first-phase steps froze progress in all areas of acute concern regarding Iran's nuclear program, rolled back Iranian capabilities in some areas and significantly increased IAEA monitoring and verification of Iranian nuclear activities. The IAEA submitted monthly reports assessing Iran’s compliance with the nuclear-related elements of the interim deal.
In exchange, Iran received some relief from proliferation-related sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, including the repatriation of some frozen Iranian oil revenue, and a pledge that new nuclear-related sanctions would not be imposed for the duration of the agreement. The rest of the existing international financial and oil sanctions regime against Iran remained in place and were implemented during the negotiations on a final deal.
The agreement also set up a joint commission to evaluate any disputes over implementation that emerged while the interim deal was in effect.
Implementation of the first phase of the agreement rolled back Iran’s uranium-enrichment program by capping the levels of enrichment at no more than 5 percent, freezing the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, and neutralizing the most proliferation-sensitive aspect of Iran’s nuclear program: its stockpile of uranium gas enriched to 20 percent.
On January 20, 2014 the IAEA confirmed that Iran halted production of uranium enriched to 20 percent at Fordow and the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz and disconnected the interconnected design of the cascades at Fordow. The IAEA had daily access to monitor Natanz and Fordow.
On January 20, 2014 Iran’s stockpile of uranium gas enriched to 20 percent was 209.1 kilograms, just short of the estimated 240 to 250 kilograms that, when further enriched, is enough for one weapon.
Between January 20 and July 24, 2014, Iran blended down 105 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium gas to 3.5 percent enriched uranium gas. The other half was fed into process to convert the gas to powder, which can be used to make fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.
The powder can be reconverted, but the IAEA would be aware of Iran’s attempts to do so.
Iran was allowed to continue enriching uranium to 3.5 percent under the November 24 agreement, but Tehran agreed to convert the uranium enriched to that level as part of the interim deal to a powder form that can be used to fuel nuclear power reactors. Essentially, Iran had about 7,650 kilograms of uranium gas enriched to 3.5 percent. All of the gas produced above that amount was fed into an plant to convert it to powder, which can be used for reactor fuel.
Under the November 24 agreement, Iran committed not to install any additional centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant and not to operate any additional centrifuges. Over the course of the interim deal, Iran had 15,420 IR-1 machines in 90 cascades, of which about 9,200 were operating, and 1,008 IR-2M machines installed at Natanz.
An additional two cascades, 328 machines, that had been producing uranium enriched to 20 percent at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz were converted to enrich uranium to 3.5 percent and are no longer enriching in an interconnected design.
Iran halted uranium enrichment to 20 percent at the Fordow facility and committed not to operate or install any additional centrifuges at the facility as part of the November 24 agreement. Iran operated its four cascades, totaling 696 centrifuges, to enrich to 3.5 percent during the interim deal.
Centrifuge Production and Monitoring
Under the Joint Plan of Action, the IAEA was allowed managed access for the first time to Iran’s centrifuge assembly workshops, rotor production sites, and centrifuge storage areas.
This access helps guard against the pursuit of any clandestine enrichment programs because it will gives the IAEA greater oversight of Iran’s centrifuge production capabilities and allows it to better track the total number and locations of centrifuges Iran has produced.
Under the November 24 agreement, Iran was required to provide the IAEA with updated design information for the heavy-water reactor at Arak (IR-40), refrain from installing any major components, and halt production of fuel assemblies. Also, Iran committed not to engage in any reprocessing activities or build a facility to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel.
Research and Development
Under the terms of the November 24 agreement, Iran was allowed to continue its research and development activities under existing IAEA safeguards.
According to the IAEA’s quarterly reports in 2014 and 2015, Iran continued to test its advanced centrifuges (the IR-2M, IR-4, IR-6, and IR-6s machines) as single machines and in cascades at its R&D plant at Natanz. Iran also has an IR-5 centrifuge at the facility that it was not yet testing and a partially installed IR-8 centrifuge.
The P5+1 committed to provide relief from proliferation-related sanctions over the course of the first-phase agreement. The Joint Plan of Action also committed the United States, the EU, and UN Security Council from passing any further sanctions related to proliferation concerns.
On January 20, 2014, the United States and the EU suspended sanctions that prohibited the purchase of Iranian petrochemical products and trade with Iran using gold or other precious metals.
The United States also suspended sanctions on Iran’s auto industry and allowed for the supply of spare parts for civilian aircraft and installation services for the necessary repairs. On April 4, 2014 Boeing Co. announced that it received a license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury that will allow it to export spare aircraft parts.
Sanctions relief also targeted Iran’s oil sector. A December 2011 U.S. law required countries to stop importing oil from Iran unless granted a six-month waiver by the United States. Failure to comply would result in exclusion from the U.S. financial system. The waivers were renewable if countries continued to reduce their oil imports from Iran.
By the time of the November 24 agreement, Iran’s oil exports were limited to six countries: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Turkey and Taiwan. In total, this amounted to approximately 1 million barrels per day by mid-2013, roughly one-third of what Iran exported in mid-2011.
Under the November 24 agreement, the United States suspended its requirement that countries continually reduce their oil imports from Iran and froze Iran’s export levels at the November 2013 levels.
In addition, the agreement enabled the repatriation of frozen Iranian revenue held abroad. Provisions that went into effect in 2013 prevented Iran from transferring oil payments back to Iran and required that the money only be used for trade between the country holding the funds and Iran. This has resulted in billions of dollars of Iranian oil revenues being held in foreign banks. The money was repatriated to Iran over the course of the first-phase agreement. Some of the payments were tied to the completion of Iranian actions, such as completion of the dilution of uranium enriched to 20 percent.
The first-phase agreement established a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade using the oil revenues held abroad. This channel was designed to allow for the purchase of food, medicine, and medical products and to pay for Iran’s UN obligations and tuition for Iranian students abroad.
The EU announced on January 20 a 10-fold increase in the authorizations for non-sanctioned trade with Iran.
Over the course of the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action, the IAEA issued monthly reports assessing Iran’s compliance with the nuclear elements of the interim deal. This included tracking the progress of dilution and conversion of Iran’s uranium enriched to 20 percent, and the conversion of the uranium gas enriched to 3.5 percent that was produced over the duration of the agreement. The agency also tracked implementation of the additional commitments made in July 2014 and November 2014 when the talks were extended.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted at the November 24, 2014 extension announcement that Iran had complied with all of its obligations under the final deal.
The IAEA noted Iran’s implementation of its commitment under the interim deal over the course of its duration. It noted one issue of concern in November 2014 related to the testing of the single IR-5 machine at the Natanz Pilot facility. The agency noted in its November 2014 report that Iran was testing the machine using natural uranium gas.
The interim deal allowed Iran to continue its ongoing research and development, but prohibited feeding new centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment plant with uranium gas. Iran maintained that the testing was allowed under the interim deal, whereas the United States said it was an ambiguity.
Iran agreed to stop testing the machine using natural uranium. The resolution of this dispute is noteworthy, as it indicates a willingness of both sides to work through ambiguities and maintain compliance with the deal.