Negotiations

On Sunday, November 24 in Geneva, the "P5+1" (U.S., UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China) announced that it reached an interim agreement with Iran.

The full text of the agreement is available here, and the White House’s fact sheet here

What does this deal include?

To alleviate some concerns of the P5+1, Iran agreed to several constraints on its nuclear program for a period of six months as negotiators work out a final, comprehensive agreement. In signing the interim deal, Iran agreed:

  • To halt enrichment of uranium beyond 5%;
  • To eliminate its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium;
  • Not to add to its stockpile of gaseous enriched uranium (at any enrichment level);
  • Not to install additional centrifuges or bring online new centrifuges that are not already operating (including more than 1,000 advanced centrifuges that Iran has installed but not activated);
  • Not to build additional enrichment facilities;
  • Not to commission or complete any of the critical components of the plutonium-producing, heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak;
  • To allow IAEA inspectors daily access to the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities and “managed” access to Iran’s centrifuge production facilities and uranium mines and mills.

In return, the P5+1 agreed to what the Obama administration calls “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” economic relief. This includes a promise:

  • Not to implement new sanctions against Iran;
  • To suspend sanctions on gold, precious metals, petrochemicals, and Iran’s auto industry;
  • To pause efforts to further curtail Iran’s oil revenues (Iran currently produces about 1 million barrels of oil per day);
  • To allow Iran to buy spare parts and solicit repairs for its airline industry;
  • To loosen restrictions on the trade of food and medicine.

The Obama administration estimates these measures amount to roughly $7 billion in relief for Iran’s $514.1 billion economy.

Interim Deal Takeaways

What is the U.S. objective?

In pursuing an interim deal, the United States aimed to (a) implement verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program that would lengthen Iran’s “breakout” time to a bomb; (b) broaden inspectors’ access to and knowledge of Iran’s nuclear facilities; and (c) lay the foundation for a long-term, comprehensive solution that significantly rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. In return, as CFR’s Les Gelb put it, the United States gave up only “trifling sanctions” that could be reinstated should Iran not comply with its commitments.

As President Obama explains, however, the interim agreement is only a “first step” that “will create time and space over the next six months for more negotiations to fully address our comprehensive concerns about the Iranian program.” American policymakers and experts expect the comprehensive agreement to (a) circumscribe the extent and purpose of Iran’s enrichment capabilities and (b) provide greater assurances that Iran’s nuclear program will be peaceful in nature. One could expect that the United States will require Iran to formally sign the IAEA Additional Protocol, offer a more detailed accounting of past potentially weapons-related activities, and, as Secretary Kerry put it, dismantle parts of its nuclear infrastructure. 

What is Iran’s objective?

Iran’s objective, at least publically, appears to be two-fold: first, lift all sanctions against Iran and second, ensure “official recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights,” including a right to enrich. On the latter point, the interim agreement did not expressly endorse Iran’s nuclear “rights,” although chief Iranian negotiator Javad Zarif has acknowledged that he was satisfied with the result. “In the final step,” Zarif noted, “the enrichment process will be accepted and at the same time all the sanctions will be lifted.”

How did we get here? 

The United States and Iran have been engaged in indirect negotiations over the future of Iran’s nuclear program for nearly a decade, most recently through what is known as the “P5+1” structure—U.S., UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure as Iran’s president (2005-2013), these multiparty discussions failed to bear fruit.* 

Contacts between the United States and Iran in 2013, however, provided new momentum toward a deal. Publicly, Hassan Rouhani's surprise victory in Iran’s June 2013 presidential elections energized Iranians eager for sanctions relief and an end to Iran's international isolation. In September, observers hailed a brief phone call between President Obama and President Rouhani as a significant breakthrough in relations between the two countries. Rouhani signaled a willingness to engage in serious negotiations by nominating a sensible and talented negotiating team led by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, a career diplomat who has spent nearly half his life in the United States. After three rounds of negotiations in Geneva, Zarif’s team and the P5+1 announced an interim deal in the early morning hours of November 24 Geneva time. 

As an Associated Press story revealed the next day, however, a parallel track of secret, high-level talks between senior State Department and White House officials beginning in March 2013 helped propel the two sides toward the contours of a nuclear agreement. 

*One exception: in 2009, the Iranian delegation, with Ahmadinejad’s blessing, agreed in Europe to an offer that would have swapped some of Iran’s low-enriched uranium for fuel for its research reactor in Tehran. But when Ahmadinejad took the offer home to Iran, the deal died, likely at the hands of the Supreme Leader himself.

In general, why is it hard to reach an agreement? 

In past negotiations, failure has been more a function of confusion and division within the parties than between them. Making one agreement in international relations requires three deals: first a deal within party A; then a deal within party B; and then sufficient overlap between each party's minimum requirements that diplomacy can reach agreement. When Iran was motivated to offer terms that the U.S. should have found acceptable in 2003-2004, the U.S. was unwilling to accept them. When the U.S. was prepared to make a deal in 2009, Iran was too divided to accept it.* 

The inclusion of five additional parties (Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) to make up the so-called “P5+1” adds another layer of complexity, as illustrated by France’s firm position in the Nov. 7-9 round of talks. 

*Reprinted from Graham Allison, “Will Iran Get a Bomb—Or Be Bombed Itself—This Year?” (The Atlantic, 8/1/13)

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