The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 28

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.

Political-Level Talks Resume in Early September

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told an Iranian news agency on July 22 that nuclear negotiations between the Iranian and the P5+1 political directors would resume in early September.

After nearly three weeks of intense talks, negotiators agreed on July 19 to extend the provisions of the interim agreement and negotiations for about four months. The extension ends on Nov. 24, the one-year anniversary of the interim agreement reached by Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva.

At the time the extension was announced, negotiators did not say when talks would resume, but said in a joint statement that the parties would “reconvene in the coming weeks in different formats.” Western officials have said that expert level meetings could begin again in late August.

State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said in the July 21 press briefing that the meetings will resume “hopefully in the next weeks” and that the talks over the next few months will be a combination of experts meetings, bilateral and multilateral meetings.

It also remains undecided where the talks will take place. Over the past six months, negotiations on the comprehensive agreement have taken place in Vienna.

Many key U.S. officials involved in the negotiations will be consulting with Congress about the status of the negotiations over the break, including during Senate and House hearings on Tuesday.

–KELSEY DAVENPORT,  nonproliferation analyst 


Many Senators Think Its Unwise to Spell Out Terms of Deal

Senators on both sides of the aisle think that a proposed letter  to President Barack Obama co-authored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) goes too far in prescribing what a nuclear deal with Iran should look like. As of Friday, July 25, the letter has not been sent and it is unclear how many Senators have signed on. Graham has said the goal was to reach 30 signatures.

The Menendez-Graham letter, first reported by Reuters, has been circulating for signatures since July 11. It calls for dismantlement of Iran’s “illicit nuclear infrastructure,” including the enrichment facility at Fordow and the Arak heavy water reactor. Graham says he will not support lifting sanctions on Iran if the agreement does not meet the specific terms spelled out in the letter.

Several senators that have signed letters in the past that spell out what the United States should push for in a deal have decided not to support this most recent attempt.

A report in National Journal on July 25 quotes several Senators who have decided not to sign on to the letter, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who said that he did not want to “gratuitously condemn or throw out suggestions as to what the right solution should be.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) also decided not to sign the letter, although he thought it made some good points. Reed was quoted in the same National Journal piece as saying that Congress should “allow the negotiators to reach a position and then evaluate if it is effective.”

Both Reed and Sessions signed an earlier letter in March written by Graham and Menendez that laid out conditions for a deal.

The language requiring dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in this most recent letter undercuts U.S. diplomats at the negotiating table. It is also unnecessary. Both Arak and Fordow can be repurposed to limit their proliferation potential as part of a strictly monitored and limited Iranian nuclear program.

“I don’t want to do anything to undermine the negotiations,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told National Journal. Levin is the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I think it’s a mistake to put in stone what I would vote against unless certain criteria were met,” he said.


GOP Senators Want to Vote on Deal, Bar Extension of Talks

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) introduced legislation last week that would require an up-or-down vote in the House and Senate on any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran within a month of its completion. The goal, according a press release from the office of Senator Corker, would be to prevent implementation of a final agreement if a veto-proof majority of Congress disapproves of the deal. The bill would also prohibit an extension of the negotiations beyond the November 24 deadline.

Clearly Congress wants and is playing an important role in the process, but an automatic vote on the agreement in the politically-charged House and Senate is not the most prudent or productive way for it to do so.

Such a vote risks the premature rejection of the diplomatic solution to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran that the majority of members of Congress say they want. The vote would come well before Iran’s willingness to follow through on its commitments can even be tested.

While the conclusion of an effective comprehensive agreement is in the U.S. national security interest, a prohibition on P5+1 talks with Iran beyond the November 24 negotiating deadline unnecessarily constrains the diplomatic process and ignores the negative consequences of terminating the interim agreement, know as the Joint Plan of Action, which has verifiably halted the most worrisome aspects of Iran’s nuclear program for the past six months.

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The Week Ahead, July 28 – August 1: Congressional Hearings on Iran Nuclear Talks; CD Begins Final Session; House Hearing on North Korea; Unfinished Congressional Business; Compliance Report Due

The following are some of the key arms control dates and developments to watch over the next week. WeekAheadSOLO

For more news and analysis on these and other weapons-related security issues, consider subscribing to ACA’s monthly journal Arms Control Today, which is available in print/digital and digital-only editions.

- written and compiled by Tim Farnsworth

July 29: Senate and House Hearings on P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks

At 10am the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the P5+1 Talks with Iran. Witnesses include lead U.S. negotiator, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, and the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen.

At 2pm, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will hold its own hearing on the P5+1 Talks with Iran. Undersecretaries Sherman and Cohen will testify. The hearing will be webcast live.

July 28 – Sept. 12: The UN Conference on Disarmament Begins Third Session

The UN Conference on Disarmament will begin its third and final session of the year on July 28 through September 12, in Geneva, Switzerland. Except for a Group of Governmental Experts that is working this year and next on technical concepts and issues regarding a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, the CD has not been able to reach consensus on a work-plan that would allow negotiations to move forward on key issues.

See: “Disarmament Consensus Eludes UN,”by Tom Collina, Arms Control Today, November 2013.

July 30: House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Hearing on North Korea

The six-party talks (China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States) over North Korea’s on-going nuclear and missile programs have been stalled since 2009, when North Korea launched the three-stage Unha-2 rocket and conducted its second nuclear test explosion.  Recent trips to China by U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, have aimed at finding ways to restart the talks.

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing on “Twenty-Years of U.S. Policy on North Korea: From Agreed Framework to Strategic Patience,” with Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy and Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights from the U.S. State Department.

For more information and analysis on North Korea’s nuclear program and the efforts by the United States and other world powers to dismantle its program, see:

August 1 – September 7:  Summer Recess for Congress

Starting August 1, Congress will take a little more than a month off from their work in Washington, D.C. and head back to their districts to meet with their constituents.  They leave with unfinished business on several key arms control issues. One issue that remains is the passing of Senate’s version of the defense authorization bill, S. 2410, which was voted out of committee June 2. The House version, HR. 4435, which was passed in May, includes provisions calling for the acceleration of missile defense deployment in Europe as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach and raised questions about implementation of the New START Treaty.

State Department Arms Control Compliance Assessment Due Soon

The U.S. State Department said in January that Russia may have committed a technical violation of the INF Treaty by testing a new type of cruise missile. At the time, administration officials said no final determination had been made about the possible violation and the specific allegations were not revealed. The Obama administration is expected address the issue in its annual report to Congress on arms control compliance, which is due to be released very soon.

For background and analysis, see: “No Evidence of INF Treaty Violation in 2013 Compliance Report,” by Greg Thielmann in ArmsControlNow.org

“Russia Should Uphold Its INF Treaty Commitments,” ACA Issue Brief, by Tom Collina, May 23, 2014.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 21

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert will suspend its daily update until talks resume in August, but will update readers of the latest developments as necessary.  

Four-Month Extension Opens Way for Comprehensive Deal

In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 19 in Vienna, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that the negotiations between the United States, other great powers, and Iran to resolve concerns about that country’s nuclear program will continue for as many as four more months.

13930428000037_PhotoIIn a joint statement, Ashton and Zarif said the two sides had agreed to extend the interim agreement (also known as the Joint Plan of Action) reached on November 24, 2013 and will resume talks on a comprehensive agreement within weeks–most likely in mid-August in Vienna–with the goal of concluding a comprehensive deal by late-November.

“Our negotiators have made progress in some areas and, while real gaps remain, there is a credible prospect for a comprehensive deal. Because of this – and because Iran has upheld its commitments under the initial accord – we agreed today to extend the Joint Plan of Action to November 24,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “This extension will allow us to continue the negotiations while ensuring that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program remains halted during the negotiations,” he said.

On July 19, the State Department announced additional measures that would be undertaken through the extension of the interim agreement that provide additional nonproliferation benefits.

In the agreement, Iran diluted half of its 20 percent enriched-uranium hexafluoride gas and converted the rest to oxide. Iran has now committed to make all of the 20 percent oxide into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be converted into fuel by the end of the extension. This will make if far more difficult to use this material for further enrichment to weapons-grade.

In return for these steps maintaining its original commitments under the interim agreement, Iran will be allowed to access $2.8 billion of its restricted assets, the four-month pro-rated amount of the original interim agreement commitment. These ongoing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and additional steps are a net-plus for nonproliferation.

While the goal remains a comprehensive, long-term deal, it is clear that the interim agreement has been a significant success without which Iran’s nuclear capabilities, including its stockpile of 20% enriched material and total number of installed centrifuges, would have been far larger and more worrisome.

–KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst from Vienna


What’s Next?

For the next couple of weeks, the respective P5+1 and Iranian negotiating teams will return to their capitals for consultations, review the gaps between the two sides, and evaluate how those gaps can be bridged in the coming round of negotiations over the next four months.

Our assessment that a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful is still within reach if both sides remain focused and if both sides engage in creative, innovative, and smart diplomacy.

Progress has already been achieved on several key issues. such as: strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and oversight at all of Iran’s nuclear sites and related facilities; modifying Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor to drastically cut its plutonium output; and an understanding on the phasing of sanctions relief. However, the two sides have more work to do to bridge differences on the most difficult issue: limiting Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity over the duration of the multi-year comprehensive agreement.

Negotiators can square the circle with a combination of additional measures that should be acceptable to both sides. These measures would substantially increase the time Iran would need to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its civil nuclear program.

Last week, David Sanger reported in The New York Times that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran 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.

The Zarif proposal certainly falls short of what it will take to reach an agreement, but it represents an Iranian attempt to find a compromise formula on the key sticking-points and it stands in stark contrast to earlier statements about Iran’s growing uranium-enrichment capacity needs.

It is 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.

Such measures include:

  • Limiting uranium enrichment to levels of less than five percent and keeping stocks of its enriched uranium gas to near zero levels.
  • Limiting Iran’s enrichment capacity for 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 and operate 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.
  • Working with Iran on joint scientific ventures to help Iran develop the technical means to indigenously produce fuel for the Bushehr reactor and possible other electricity producing reactors that may be built in the future.

These measures would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to 12 months or more and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its civil nuclear program.

When negotiators from the two sides reconvene in mid-August at Vienna’s Coburg Palace, they will need to engage is pragmatic discussions on these and other approaches if they are going to bridge the uranium enrichment gap.

--DARYL KIMBALL, executive director in Washington, DC.


The Latest Reads: Editorial Boards Support Extension  

Keep Negotiating on Iran’s Nukes: “They should not hesitate to [extend the talks]. The whole point of this exercise is to ensure that Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon. That goal is within reach, and it would be irresponsible not to make the maximum effort to bridge the final gaps.” The Editorial Board, The New York Times. http://nyti.ms/1jT8er7

Nuclear Talks With Iran Should Be Given More Time: “In our view, prolonging the negotiations is better than declaring a breakdown, which could lead to a military conflict at a time when the United States is already juggling multiple crises in the region and beyond. The preliminary accord struck with Iran last fall, while far from perfect, has appeared to succeed in curtailing Tehran’s enrichment of uranium. Contrary to predictions by Israel, the limited economic relief given in exchange has not caused the overall sanctions regime to break down.” The Editorial Board, The Washington Post. http://wapo.st/1nO3r9J

Don’t Worry About the Deadline and Keep Talking With Iran: “It will be disappointing if Sunday comes and goes without a permanent agreement in which Iran convincingly commits itself to a purely peaceful use of nuclear power in exchange for an end to economic sanctions. But a missed deadline need not be a disaster – unless members of Congress jeopardize an extension of the negotiations by pressing for additional sanctions against Iran.” The Editorial Board, the Los Angeles Times. http://lat.ms/1qkbJcH

Extending Iran Nuke Talks Worthwhile: Our View: “But amid all the maneuvering, one thing should be clear – at least to reasonable observers: Any agreement in which Iran abandons nuclear weapons would be an astounding achievement, one that could lead to a reassessment of the caustic U.S.-Iran relationship. It would avoid a nearly certain nuclear arms race in the Middle East, not to mention an equally likely U.S. war with Iran prompted by an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.” The Editorial Board, USA Today. http://usat.ly/WqMXdr

Keep Talking With Iran: “Should the talks collapse after Iran made concessions, it would empower the more militant, conservative and anti-Western elements of Iran’s government and likely scuttle the chance for any deal in the near future. Mr. Rouhani’s moves toward reform and openness were greeted with skepticism in the West when he took office last year, but so far he has largely stayed true to his word. Undermining him at this point would only put the United States and its allies further at risk.” The Editorial Board, The Baltimore Sun. http://bsun.md/1mVXUxZ

Keep Talking to Iran: “The world has been better off since the temporary agreement was reached. Iran has compliedfully with requirements that it halt production of uranium enriched to 20 percent, and has converted 80 percent of its stock of the fuel to less threatening forms. As a result, Iran is further than it would have been from achieving a “breakout” capacity that would allow it build a bomb faster than the U.S. could mount a pre-emptive response.” The Editors, BloombergView. http://bv.ms/1rqJ8zp

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Arms Control Association Statement On Extension of P5+1 Nuclear Talks With Iran

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS(UPDATED 7:45 pm EST)

By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Tonight in Vienna, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that the negotiations between the United States, other great powers, and Iran to resolve concerns about that country’s nuclear program will continue for as many as four more months.

In a joint statement, Ashton and Zarif said the two sides have agreed to extend the interim agreement (a.k.a. the Joint Plan of Action) reached on November 24, 2013 and will resume talks on a comprehensive agreement within weeks–most likely in mid-August in Vienna–with the goal of concluding a comprehensive deal by late-November.

To this point, the talks have yielded progress and the two sides say there is a credible path forward, but significant gaps remain on key issues.

It is our assessment that a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful is still within reach if both sides remain focused and if both sides engage in creative, innovative, and smart diplomacy.

The two sides have also agreed to extend their commitments under the terms of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPoA), including the cap on enrichment above 5 percent U-235 and a halt to installing additional or new types of centrifuge machines.

The extension of the JPoA agreement prolongs the pause of Iranian nuclear activities of greatest proliferation concern, maintains additional IAEA monitoring measures, and provides the negotiators with the time, the incentives, and pressure necessary to reach a comprehensive agreement in the near future.

In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced additional measures that would be undertaken through the extension of the JPoA. He said:

In this extension, Iran has committed to go one step further and make all of this 20 percent into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be converted into fuel by the end of the extension. Once the 20 percent material is in fuel form, it will be very difficult for Iran to use this material for a weapon in a breakout scenario. Attempting to do so would be readily detected by the IAEA and would be an unambiguous sign of an intent to produce a weapon.

In return, we will continue to suspend the sanctions we agreed to under the JPOA and will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA commitment. Let me be clear: Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months, and the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible.

These additional steps are net-plus for nonproliferation.

Next Steps

It is also important at this critical stage in the process that lawmakers in Washington support the administration’s ongoing efforts at reaching a diplomatic solution. Congress should refrain from actions, such as pursuing new sanctions legislation against Iran, that would undermine the chance for an agreement that would reduce Iran’s nuclear capacity and provide the additional transparency to guard against an illicit dash for nuclear weapons.

Based consultations with knowledgeable officials on both sides, negotiators have made substantial progress on several tough issues, including: strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and oversight at all of Iran’s nuclear sites and related facilities; re-purposing the underground Fordow enrichment facility into a small-scale research facility; and modifying Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor to drastically cut its plutonium output.

But the two sides clearly need more time and have more work to do to bridge differences on the deadlines, duration, and sequencing of key steps, as well as finding a solution to the toughest issue: setting limits Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity over the duration of the agreement.

Negotiators can square the circle on uranium enrichment with a combination of practical but innovative measures that would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough material for nuclear weapons, but would still would address Iran’s right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Some Washington politicians like to say that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” In reality, it is clear that a good deal is better than no deal, and such a deal is still within reach.

Those who argue that there should be no more time for diplomacy, or otherwise seek to block an effective agreement, have a responsibility to present a viable alternative. Without a good, comprehensive agreement:

  • There would be no constraints on Iran’s enrichment capacity. Iran could resume enriching uranium to higher levels and increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The time required for Iran to produce enough material for nuclear weapons would decrease, not increase.
  • Inspections of Iranian facilities would likely continue, but would not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which would be the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so.
  • Sanctions would remain in effect, and some might be strengthened. Sanctions alone, however, cannot halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Eventually, the willingness of international allies to help implement those sanctions could erode.

We urge both sides to continue to work toward a realistic and effective agreement as soon as possible.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 18

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.

Extension Announcement Expected Soon

Two days before the July 20 deadline to conclude a comprehensive nuclear agreement, it’s still not clear when the P5+1 and Iran will agree to the terms of an extension of their nuclear talks or when the extension will be announced.

vienna-iran-talks

While an extension seems almost certain given comments by a number of leaders and senior officials about progress on some areas and the need for more time to close the gaps in other areas, there are a number of unknowns.

The two sides could agree to additional actions beyond the terms of their interim agreement, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPoA). Negotiators may also decide to extend the JPoA and the deadline to conclude a comprehensive agreement for a period of several weeks or up to several months. The Nov. 2013 interim agreement called for the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement within a year.

When to resume negotiations on a comprehensive deal is also a question. While it is important to allow negotiators a break, and time to go back and consult in their capitals, it is important not to lose momentum.

Negotiators are working through these issues and talked late into the night yesterday and have resumed their meetings again this morning.

A press conference announcing how and when the talks will continue is likely later today or tomorrow.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Additional Sanctions Legislation? No Thanks Says Kerry

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry briefed members of both chambers of Congress on the status of the P5+1 talks with Iran in closed-door sessions.

Following the meetings, some members of the House of Representatives were reported to have claimed that Kerry expressed an openness to new congressional legislation that would impose new sanctions against Iran.

“I sensed an openness toward a sanctions bill that would be triggered by future events – or untriggered by positive future events,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) told Al-Monitor.

The State Department and the White House said the administration remains opposed to any additional nuclear-related sanctions while negotiations are ongoing.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said via Twitter that: “It should come as no surprise that members of Congress in AM session w/@JohnKerry raised their own proposals re triggered sanctions,” and “@JohnKerry does not support new nuke-related sanctions while we negotiate bc it would be counterproductive to negotiations.”


Pivotal Issue No. 5: Sanctions Against Iran

Iran has been subjected to comprehensive U.S. sanctions since the early 1980s for a variety of reasons, including the regime’s support for terrorism, human rights violations, and proliferation concerns.

Since the UN Security Council took up the Iran nuclear file in 2006, Iran has also been subjected to increasingly rigorous multilateral sanctions aimed at encouraging compliance with its nuclear nonproliferation obligations and addressing international concerns about the nature of its nuclear program.

These sanctions focus on preventing Iran from acquiring the technologies and materials needed for its nuclear and missile programs by requiring all countries to restrict sensitive exports to Iran.

The sanctions geared toward slowing Iran’s nuclear and missile programs appear to be increasingly effective as additional countries strengthen controls over exporting sensitive goods to Iran. But they have not prevented Iran from improving its domestic capabilities nor led Iran’s leadership to abandon the pursuit of a nuclear capability. In 2006, when the last major round of negotiations to limit Iran’s nuclear potential broke down, Iran had some 300 first generation centrifuges; today it has nearly 20,000, of which 10,200 are operating.

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 17

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.

The Fog of Diplomacy

What began as a quiet day yesterday for journalists covering the P5+1 and Iran talks ended in a flurry of speculation about if and when an extension of the negotiations would be announced. While nothing has been confirmed officially, numerous reports about the timing of such an announcement are circulating in Vienna and beyond.

Some heard that the talks might recess as early as Friday; others heard that negotiators may announce an extension on Friday and then begin negotiating the terms of an extension; and still others heard that the decision on Friday would be whether or not to extend this round of talks past Sunday. There are also contradictory rumors about when the talks may resume if there is an extension, ranging from early August to September.

President Barack Obama speaks about several foreign policy issues, including an update on the P5+1 and Iran nuclear talks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama speaks about several foreign policy issues, including an update on the P5+1 and Iran nuclear talks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Others say nothing has been decided yet–and with EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1 Catherine Ashton absent from the Coburg Palace yesterday, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry just having briefed President Barack Obama, it is hard to imagine that a decision about an extension had been made.

Obama’s remarks Wednesday evening that the parties “need to determine whether additional time is necessary to extend negotiations” suggested that there has not been a decision yet.

In short, everyone has heard something, but as of midday Thursday no decision on the terms of an extension has been made.

While an extension seems very likely at this point, there are still a number of unknowns. The interim agreement can be extended for additional months, but negotiators could agree to less time. A longer extension might require additional actions: Iran may want additional sanctions relief and the P5+1 could ask for additional restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Despite the speculation, however, one thing remains certain: a comprehensive nuclear deal is in the best interest of all of the countries involved, and if more time is needed to get a good agreement, an extension of the talks is warranted.

Progress has been achieved in several areas, but gaps remain on several issues. Negotiators will need time and flexibility from political leaders in their capitals to square the circle on uranium enrichment. They will need to explore a combination of innovative but practical measures that would substantially increase the time Iran would require to produce enough nuclear weapons material but would still address Iran’s right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In the meantime, with three days left before the original July 20 deadline, more talks at various levels are scheduled for today.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Nuclear Weapons 101

As David Sanger from The New York Times notes in his latest news report on the status of nuclear negotiations between the United States, key allies, and Iran, a key goal for the P5+1 side is to reach a deal that provides “at least a year’s warning time that Iran was racing to produce enough bomb-grade fuel for a nuclear weapon – even if fabricating the weapon itself would take longer.”

He notes that this is “something of an arbitrary measure, and, in the minds of many nuclear experts, a misleading one.” Indeed.

Sanger also reports that “American officials also believe that the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington has overestimated Iran’s skills when it reported recently that if it kept roughly 10,000 [first generation IR-1] centrifuges running, it could produce a weapon’s worth of material in three months or so, plus or minus a few weeks.”

That worst-case calculation has been widely cited (by ourselves and others) as one measure of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

But as the Arms Control Association and others have written before, the time it would take to amass enough of the gaseous form of uranium enriched to weapons grade for one bomb, while important, is but one step of many needed to make nuclear weapons.

F0r a quick review of the “Steps to Building Nuclear Weapons,” see the following summary from ACA “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”


Implementation of the Interim Nuclear Agreement

As President Obama noted in his remarks late Wednesday, “[o]ver the last six months, Iran has met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year — halting the progress of its nuclear program, allowing more inspections and rolling back its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material.”

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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, July 16

IRAN-NUCLEAR-POLITICS By the research staff of the Arms Control Association. To get this P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert delivered to your inbox, sign-up now.

This Week in Vienna

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held a press conference yesterday afternoon that touched on many of the same themes that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed in his remarks: progress in some areas, the commitment to finding solutions to the remaining gaps, and the importance of reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (AFP PHOTO / Pool / Jason Reed)

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (AFP PHOTO / Pool / Jason Reed)

While this shift in tone from both sides may come too late to reach an agreement by July 20, it demonstrates the commitment of the parties to getting a good deal. Both sides know that reaching an agreement that respects a peaceful Iranian nuclear program and assures the international community that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons is in everyone’s best interest. Negotiators will continue to work through the next four days to reach a deal, but an extension may be necessary to find the formula that fits both of these goals.

Even though no announcement about an extension has been made, and one is unlikely before the weekend, critics in the United States are already attacking what they see as a lack of progress. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Cal.) already issued a statement yesterday calling for the administration to work with Congress on new sanctions in light of the “significant gaps” that still remain between Iran and the P5+1.

Thankfully, some members of Congress see the importance of waiting until after July 20 to assess the negotiations before moving on sanctions that would jeopardize diplomacy. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told al-Monitor yesterday that it was “premature” to consider new sanctions and members should wait and see what happens before taking action.

Meanwhile, at the Coburg Palace, talks continue today amongst the experts and political directors.

KELSEY DAVENPORT, ACA Nonproliferation Analyst


Pivotal Issue No. 4: More Extensive Inspection Authority

Last weekend, during an interview with NBC News, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated that Iran sees no value in pursuing nuclear weapons .

However, if Iran were to pursue nuclear weapons development at some point in the future, it would most likely try to do so by means of a secret program carried out at undisclosed facilities rather than its declared facilities, which are already under tight international monitoring, according to the U.S. intelligence community.

One of the areas upon which the P5+1 and Iran generally agree is the value of more timely notification of Iranian nuclear activities under Iran’s current comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)–know as “Code 3.1″– and more extensive IAEA inspection authority to guard against a secret weapons program under the terms of the additional protocol.

In the first phase of a comprehensive agreement, Iran would likely be required to implement an additional protocol, which would allow the IAEA to conduct inspections of undeclared sites without prior notification, which is a strong deterrent against any clandestine nuclear weapons work.  At a later point, Iran would commit to ratify it. Once approved by the Iranian parliament, the duration of the additional protocol would be indefinite.

In addition, the P5+1 is seeking more inspection measures for an extended period of time to provide more confidence to the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is being used entirely for peaceful purposes, including ongoing monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities and support infrastructure. Iran, according to our sources, is amenable to additional transparency measures beyond the additional protocol for a limited period of time.


Background: IAEA Safeguards Measures

Safeguards are activities that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) undertakes to verify that a state is living up to its international commitments not to use nuclear programs for nuclear-weapons purposes. State parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are obligated to have a safeguards agreement in place. Safeguard activities undertaken by the agency are based on a state’s declaration of its nuclear materials and nuclear-related activities. Verification measures include on-site inspections, monitoring and evaluation.

Iran’s safeguards agreement entered into force in 1974. It grants the IAEA access to nuclear sites, including Iran’s uranium enrichment sites at Natanz and Fordow, the fuel fabrication plant at Esfahan, the Arak heavy water reactor, and the Tehran Research Reactor, for monitoring and verification purposes. Continue reading

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