- Armament and disarmament
- Conflict, peace and security
- Peace and development
While the talks were originally scheduled to conclude by 7 July 2015, they are set to continue, with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif struggling to bridge their remaining differences. Their respective legal and technical experts have also so far failed to provide the necessary details for the technical annexes to a comprehensive agreement. Such an agreement would set out the limits of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, restrictions on the characteristics of its research reactor, an enhanced monitoring and verification regime supplementing nuclear safeguards implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and clarification of possible military dimensions (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear programme. However, the long-standing mistrust between Iran and the USA is delaying progress on the final aspects of the deal.
Sticking points include the timing and extent of the rescission of Western sanctions as Iran implements the technical aspects of scaling back its nuclear programme, as well as the re imposition of sanctions by the West and the resumption of full-scale nuclear fuel cycle activities by Iran, should either side fail to honour its respective commitments and obligations. Another obstacle relates to the PMD aspect of Iran’s nuclear programme.
The negotiations, which started in June 2013, have already been extended four times: in November 2013, July 2014, March 2015 and at the end of June 2015. A fifth deadline of 7 July has now been extended to 10 July while efforts continue to make a final breakthrough. Nonetheless, the negotiating parties have made unprecedented progress in terms of Iran’s nuclear restraint and IAEA verification. The talks also mark a turning point in US–Iran diplomacy. These achievements are the product of a commitment to diplomatic processes and would never have been achieved through military action. The first of these milestones was the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) agreed in 2013.
Iran agreed a JPA with the E3/EU+3 (a group composed of representatives from the EU plus France, Germany and the UK, along with China, Russia and the USA) on 24 November 2013.(note 1) Pursuant to the JPA, Iran agreed to implement a series of ‘voluntary measures’ under supervision by the IAEA. On 1 July 2015 the IAEA confirmed that Iran had carried out a number of obligations under the JPA.(note 2) The report states that, among other things, Iran has:
Thus, it is clear that the technical measures agreed through diplomatic understandings between Iran and the E3/EU+3 are working and have already reduced the proliferation potential of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme even while negotiations continue on a JCPOA. This success is the result of the diplomatic path chosen by US President Barack Obama and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and implemented by their respective foreign ministers Kerry and Zarif, despite the occasionally irrational criticism voiced by some of their opponents.
On 2 April 2015 the key parameters of the JCPOA regarding Iran’s nuclear programme were decided in Lausanne, Switzerland, between Iran and the E3/EU+3.(note 4) These elements form the basis upon which the final text of the JCPOA is presently being negotiated in Vienna. In summary, the JCPOA provides for the extensive measures to be implemented by Iran that remove the proliferation dangers of Iran’s nuclear programme and specify the phasing out of sanctions against Iran.(note 5)
Inspections and transparency
Reactors and reprocessing
Negotiations continue in Vienna to resolve the remaining differences over the phasing out of sanctions and the parallel measures to be implemented by Iran on scaling back its uranium enrichment programme and accepting an enhanced IAEA monitoring and verification regime. Resolving the PMD issue appears to be one of the major stumbling blocks.
Has sufficient effort been deployed to integrate the military approach into a Seemingly under the direction of the Western parties to the negotiations, the IAEA has been requested ‘with cooperation from Iran . . . [to] issue a report by the end of the year on the assessment of the clarification of the issues related to the possible military dimensions’.(note 7) It is unlikely that the IAEA will meet this deadline as it will probably need about six months after agreement on a JCPOA to issue an assessment report on PMD—the normal practice for the IAEA is to provide safeguards conclusions not assessments. However, such an assessment could provide the means for overcoming the PMD issue, particularly as the USA has shown signs that it is looking to the future and not the past. For example, in June 2015 Kerry stated that: ‘the possible military dimensions, frankly, gets distorted a little bit in some of the discussion, in that we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in. What we’re concerned about is going forward. It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way’.(note 8)
It would likely take the IAEA up to two years or more to come up with safeguards conclusions for Iran pursuant to Iran’s implementation of the Additional Protocol given the time-consuming and complex safeguards activities and determinations required. An IAEA “assessment” report on PMD, on the other hand, could be accepted by the IAEA’s Board of Governors and the E3/EU+3. Such an assessment could form the basis for moving to routine implementation of safeguards in Iran along with JCPOA monitoring and verification, without requiring a formal admission by Iran on PMD. This could pave the way for the implementation of the JCPOA and the rescission of sanctions, leading to a normalization of relations and marking a significant success for diplomacy.