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.
Did the Khamenei Call for 190,000 Centrifuges? No.
On July 8, as negotiators from the P5+1 and Iran met in Vienna to hammer out a comprehensive nuclear deal, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered an address in which he expressed support for the Iranian negotiating team and their argument that Iran’s future nuclear reactor fuel needs will increase and may require additional uranium-enrichment capacity.
Later in the day, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, gave a television interview in which he provided some clarification of Khamenei’s remarks.
Khamenei’s comments have nevertheless been incorrectly interpreted by some, including House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) as a demand for 190,000 centrifuges and a hardening of Iran’s position on enrichment capacity.
Khamenei actually said that Iran might need 190,000 separative work units (SWU) of enrichment capacity per year, not centrifuges, and not immediately but in a number of years. As calculated by Iran, 190,000 SWU per year of capacity would require 100,000 of Iran’s first generation centrifuges.
While it is significant that Iran’s Supreme Leader spoke up on the topic, his comments do not break new ground nor do they set any new red lines.
For weeks, Iranian officials have argued that their civil nuclear fuel needs may increase in the coming years and said they do not want to depend on foreign suppliers. According to the officials, Iran’s fuel needs would increase after 2021, when and if the current Russia-Iran fuel-supply deal for the Bushehr light water reactor expires.
While the real gap in the Iranian and P5+1 negotiating stances on defining enrichment capacity is large, it is not as large as Khamenei’s confusing comments suggest and there are practical options the two sides can explore to reduce Iran’s “breakout” capacity while still addressing Iran’s interests in a peaceful nuclear energy program.
The Latest Reads…
Why Overtime in Nuclear Talks With Iran is Better Than Game Over: “[E]xtending the talks is much better than the alternatives: a return to an escalating cycle of more sanctions and more centrifuges, an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran. At the very least, a breakdown now would reduce the chance of success later, as it would erode trust, discredit politicians who are deeply invested in diplomacy and harden positions.” Ali Vez, Al-Jazeera America, July 25. http://alj.am/X3Im1e
Looking Ahead …
July 29, 10am – Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the P5+1 Talks with Iran. Witnesses include Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and David Cohen.
July 28, 2pm – House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the P5+1 Talks with Iran. Witnesses include Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and David Cohen. The hearing will be webcast live.
August 24 – deadline for Iran to exchange information with IAEA with respect to the allegations related to the initiation of high explosives, a technical visit to a centrifuge research and development center and information and managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops, and storage facilities, and the conclusion of the safeguards approach for the Arak reactor.
Late August – possible resumption of experts-level talks in Vienna.
Early September – likely resumption of political-level talks in Vienna.
November 24 – target date for the conclusion of the comprehensive nuclear deal.
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