Iran and six-country group known as the P5+1 agreed in July to extend negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program through Nov. 24, a step officials said they hope will give the parties enough time to find solutions to the remaining gaps and reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement.
The negotiators originally aimed to conclude a comprehensive agreement by July 20, which marked the end of the implementation of a six-month interim agreement. But the interim accord, which the parties reached last Nov. 24, allows for the initial six-month time period to be extended if all parties agree. (See ACT, December 2013.)
In a joint statement announcing the extension in Vienna on July 19, Iranian Foreign Minister and lead nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), said they had made “tangible progress” in some areas but that “significant gaps on core issues” will require “more time and effort” to reach an agreement.
The statement did not give an exact date for the resumption of negotiations, but said that the parties would reconvene “in the coming weeks in different formats.”
On Aug. 7, U.S. officials, led by Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator and undersecretary of state for political affairs, met with Iranian officials in Geneva to discuss the nuclear negotiations.
A European diplomat familiar with the talks told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 14 e-mail that negotiators would likely meet before the UN General Assembly convenes Sept. 16. A ministerial-level meeting during the General Assembly is probable, he said.
He said both sides “remained entrenched” on the issue of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. A comprehensive agreement is unlikely unless both sides are willing to move away from “extreme positions” on what uranium-enrichment capacity Iran needs in the years to come, he said.
Iranian officials have opposed any cuts to the current capacity, which is about 10,200 operating first-generation centrifuges, and want to build up a program that will allow them to provide enriched-uranium fuel for domestic nuclear power reactors Tehran says it plans to build. Iran currently has one nuclear power reactor, Bushehr, and has a contract with Russia for the reactor’s fuel through 2021.
The P5+1 wants to cut Iran’s current capacity and maintain strict limits on uranium enrichment for a number of years.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who joined negotiators July 13-15 in Vienna, said in a statement after the extension announcement that, despite the gaps, there is a “path forward.”
Both sides committed to continue implementation of the measures from the six-month interim agreement and agreed to take several additional steps before Nov. 24. For example, Iran agreed to convert 25 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium powder into fuel assemblies for its Tehran Research Reactor.
During the term of the interim agreement, Iran neutralized its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium gas by diluting half to reactor-grade enrichment levels of less than 5 percent and converting the other half to powder form for fuel assemblies. Kerry said that implementation of the interim agreement was a “clear success” and rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in a decade.
The stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium in gas form was a particular concern to the P5+1 because uranium enriched to this level is more easily enriched further to weapons grade.
The P5+1 committed to allow Iran to transfer $2.8 billion of its funds locked up in overseas accounts back into the country over the course of the four-month extension. U.S. sanctions have prohibited foreign banks from transferring payments for Iranian exports such as oil to Iranian banks. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)
Meanwhile, Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visited Tehran on Aug. 17 to discuss how to “strengthen cooperation and dialogue” between the agency and Iran, according to an Aug. 15 IAEA press release.
During his one-day visit, Amano met with President Hassan Rouhani, Zarif, and Ali Akbar Salehi, chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
In comments to the press during his visit, Amano said he discussed with Iranian officials how to “move ahead with existing practical measures.”
He was referring to a May 21 joint announcement in which Tehran pledged to provide the agency with information in five areas of concern to the IAEA by Aug. 25. (See ACT, June 2014.) Amano said implementation of these measures had begun and he expected further progress to be made over the next week.
These actions are part of a November agreement, the Framework for Cooperation, in which Iran and the IAEA committed to “resolve all present and past issues.” (See ACT, December 2013.) The IAEA laid out its concerns, including allegations of activities with possible relevance for developing nuclear weapons, in detail in its November 2011 report to the agency’s Board of Governors. (See ACT, December 2011.)
As one of the May actions, Tehran was to provide the IAEA with information addressing allegations that Iran conducted experiments with certain kinds of high explosives that could be relevant to nuclear weapons. Iran also said it would provide information on studies “in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modelling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials,” another area with direct connections to nuclear weapons development.
Under one provision of the November framework agreement, Iran provided the IAEA with information by May on its past work on exploding bridge wire detonators, which is one of the activities relevant to developing nuclear weapons. Iran maintained in its communications to the agency that the detonators were developed for use in the oil and gas industry. (See ACT, June 2014.)
Amano said the IAEA “followed up” on issues related to the information Iran provided on the exploding bridge wire detonators during his visit. Salehi told reporters on Aug. 17 that Iran “responded to all of the questions” Amano asked about the detonators and said he hoped Amano would “wrap up” this topic. Salehi said future steps would be easier if the topic were closed.
Amano, however, said that to assess Iran’s need for the detonators, the agency will need to consider “all past outstanding issues” and assess them as an entire system.
Amano said he and Iranian officials also discussed new measures that Iran is to take “in the near future” to address the agency’s unresolved concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, who was in Tehran during Amano’s visit, said on Aug. 18 that Iran is trying to resolve its problems with the agency while protecting Iran’s “principles, interests, and national security.” He said he hoped this cooperation would continue but that some IAEA requests are “irrational” and unacceptable to Iran.
Iran has provided the IAEA with information to address 13 areas of concern since the November agreement. After the August talks, Amano said he was glad to hear “from the highest levels [of the Iranian government] a firm commitment to implementation” of the November agreement.
Amano said that the IAEA remains committed to “resolve all past and present issues.”
Kelsey Davenport’s reporting from Vienna was supported by a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America.