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Iran Nuclear History: Framework for a Deal

(August 2015)

Framework For a Deal

In the final days of the negotiations for a nuclear deal it became clear that the Iranians had the advantage, as the United States negotiators did not want to return home to Congress at the end of March without a framework for a deal. No such internal pressure existed within Iran, and the United States did not have time on their side. The president of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, stated on the final day of negotiations that “part of the reason the Iranians are playing such hardball right now is they know the U.S. can’t go back without anything. But if the Iranians walk away, it’s less of a problem for them, because the interim deal is still in place for another three months” (Foreign Policy, March 30, 2015).

The negotiators failed to complete a plan by the self-imposed deadline of the end of March, but they announced on April 2 that they had agreed on “key parameters” for resolving the nuclear Iran issue. European Union Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini confirmed that under the supposed agreement Iran would not have the ability to produce weapons-grade nuclear materials, and Iran would allow wider international access to their nuclear facilities for inspections. International sanctions are to be lifted as a part of the agreement, but a timetable was not revealed. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif proclaimed that the agreement represents “a major step forward.” Twitter was abuzz with news of the negotiations, with John Kerry tweeting “Big day: #EU, P5+1, and #Iran now have parameters to resolve major issues on nuclear program. Back to work soon on a final deal,” and Zarif posting hopeful statements like “Found solutions. Ready to start drafting immediately” (USA Today, April 2, 2015).

Under the agreement:

  • Iran agreed to reduce its installed centrifuges by approximately 2/3. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years.
  • All centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.
  • Iran agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67% for the following 15 years.
  • Iran agreed to reduce its current stockpile of 10,000kg of low-enriched uranium to 300kg of 3.67% enriched uranium for the following 15 years.
  • Iran agreed to not build any new facilities for the purposes of uranium enrichment for the following 15 years.
  • Iran’s breakout time will be extended from the current time of 2-3 months to a full year.

Many U.S. states have passed their own sanctions against Iran, and even in the context of a final nuclear agreement these sanctions may stay in place. States such as California, Oregon, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York have their own state policies in place that divest public funds from businesses conducting business with Iran.

The Iranians released their own “fact sheet” pertaining to the framework agreement, which stood in stark opposition to the one released by the White House. On the Iranian fact sheet, it claimed that the agreement was limited to only five years, and during the agreement period 10,000 centrifuges would continue to operate at the Fordow facility. The Iranian text also specifies that the rest of their non-operational centrifuges would be kept in the facilities themselves instead of a UN monitored storage facility, and that all sanctions are to be immediately lifted once the agreement takes effect. A “reversibility” measure was also included in the fact sheet, stating that “In case of the two sides’ non-commitment to their undertakings, there will be a possibility for reversing all measures” (Fars News, April 15, 2015).

The day following the announcement of the framework agreement, Benjamin Netanyahu sternly asserted that any permanent Iran deal must include “Unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.” President Barack Obama fired back during an interview with NPR the next day: “The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment. We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing” (Politico, April 4, 2015).

Unsatisfied with the assurances present in the framework agreement, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, published on April 5 a list of specific requirements that in his opinion should be part of any final agreement with Iran. Some of the requirements on this list were ones that the United States had unsuccessfully tried to implement in the basic framework agreed to earlier in the month. Wary of unraveling an already delicate deal, the United States government showed little inclination to consider any of these ideas.

In the wake of the announcement of the framework agreement, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak urged the United States to give Iran an ultimatum: get rid of your nuclear program, or else. Speaking of ways to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, Barak explained that “the Pentagon and the forces of America under the backing and probably directive of the [U.S.] president [could] create an extremely effective means to destroy the Iranian nuclear military program over a fraction of one night.” The former Prime Minister said that in his opinion “there is no deal, basically,” but went on to state that he is confident that the United States will protect Israel’s domestic and international security interests (CNBC, April 8, 2015).

Speaking in public about the deal for the first time, on April 8, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the framework agreement ““non-binding,” and stated that nothing had been officially finalized. Khamenei claimed the document outlining the framework agreement published by the White House the day following the conclusion of negotiations contained false information. He expressed his skepticism about the deal, confirming that he neither supports nor opposes the framework nuclear accord. Earlier in the day, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asserted that the Iranian team would not sign any final agreement unless it completely lifts all economic sanctions levied against Iran on the first day of implementation. Rouhani proudly commented that Iran had “not surrendered to a policy of pressure, sanctions, and bullying. This is our victory” (Haaretz, April 8, 2015).

The White House responded, “It’s very clear and understood that sanctions relief will be phased.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov explained that “we adhere to our view that the lifting of Iran sanctions stipulated by the UN Security Council resolution should run parallel to signing of the [nuclear] agreement. But it does not mean that all sanctions will be removed altogether. What sanction are to be removed or suspended and in what sequence continues to be a matter of debate”(The Iran Project, April 10, 2015).

According to a statement issued by the Iranian Defense Ministry on April 9, “visiting military centers are among the red lines and no visit to these centers will be allowed.” Iranian Defense Minister, Brigadier General Hossein Deghan, said reports the deal would allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to Iran’s nuclear sites for inspections were not based on factual information (Times of Israel, April 9, 2015). His view was reinforced by General Hossein Salami, a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, who said Iran “ will respond with hot lead (bullets) to those who speak of it.” He added, “Iran will not become a paradise for spies. We will not roll out the red carpet for the enemy”(Times of Israel, April 19, 2015).

On April 12, 2015, Israeli political leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni called for a strategic discussion between U.S. and Israeli lawmakers concerning the nuclear talks between the P5+1 (USA, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia) and Iran. The goal of this proposed discussion would be to give preliminary approval for Israeli use of force against Iran and the Iranian nuclear facilities, should Iran violate the terms of the agreement.

During the week following the announcement of the framework agreement, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree lifting a ban on the delivery of S-300 anti-missile systems to Iran. According to Russian officials the arms embargo was no longer needed due to progress made during the nuclear negotiations. The Russians cancelled the original delivery of these missile systems in 2010 due to international pressure. In addition to the missiles, Russia and Iran signed an oil-for-goods agreement by which Russia will sell Iran grain, construction materials, and other supplies in exchange for oil.

American officials including Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concerns over the Russian decision (Haaretz, April 13, 2015). The following week at a meeting of the G-7, all member nations heavily criticized the Russian decision. The German Foreign Minister asserted that the deal violated the spirit of the negotiations. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said, “When at the end of June there is a complete accord, Italy will be one of the countries in there trying to reestablish commercial relations. But first we need the accord, we shouldn’t be getting ahead of ourselves”(Bloomberg, April 14, 2015).

 Russian Foreign Ministry officials clarified on April 23 that the delivery of the S-300 missile system to Iran was not something that would happen in the immediate future, seeming to cave to international pressure. On June 2, 2015, Russian officials said the missile system would not be delivered to Iran until after a final deal was reached. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on July 30, 2015, that the missile system would be upgraded and modernized before being delivered to Iran, but did not specify a delivery date.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on April 13, 2015, that the Pentagon has a bunker-busting bomb capable of destroying Iran’s underground nuclear facilities to ensure that Iran does not cheat on the agreement and begin to develop a nuclear weapon. The weapon, called the Massive Ordinance Penetrator, is being “continually improved and upgraded” and provides the United States with the capability to “shut down, set back, and destroy” Iran’s nuclear program, he said (The Hill, April 10, 2015).

On April 14, 2015, President Obama caved in to Congressional pressure and the White House announced that the President would sign a compromise bill that would allow Congress to review the nuclear accord with Iran if one were to be agreed to by the June 30 deadline. The bill would allow Congress to approve the text of the deal, which was to be sent to Congress along with all necessary classified information as soon as a deal was reached. The agreement also delayed lifting of sanctions pending a 30-day Congressional review period, a change from the original proposal for a 60-day review period. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said the President wasn’t very satisfied with the legislation, but it was acceptable. In response to this news, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated during a press conference that “we (Iran) are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress” (Washington Post, April 15, 2015).

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) revealed on April 14, 2015, that China, in addition to Russia, was going to begin constructing nuclear plants in Iran. Their spokesman stated that “we have inked an agreement with the Russians to construct two nuclear power plants for the generation of electricity, while the Chinese will also enter this arena soon” (Algemeiner, April 14, 2015).

“Constructive” talks were held between Iranian leaders and the IAEA on April 15, with their investigation of the potential military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program running parallel to the negotiations for an agreement aimed at limiting the program. The IAEA officials held technical talks with the Iranian leadership, in which they addressed issues that Tehran had been avoiding since August. IAEA officials stated that they expected progress within the month on issues such as Iranian experimentation on explosives that could be used to develop an atomic bomb (Reuters, April 16, 2015).

Iranians celebrated Rouz-e Artesh, their annual “Army Day,” on April 18, complete with parades and displays of Iranian military vehicles and equipment. During these celebrations, the usual cries of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” were heard, accompanied by banners hanging from military vehicles and local stores advertising the same message.

In contrast to Iranian assertions, member of the U.S. negotiating team and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz stated that “we expect to have anywhere, anytime access” to the Iranian nuclear facilities under the framework for a nuclear deal. Moniz said that the inspections would be part of a well-defined process and would not be erratic or frivolous (Bloomberg, April 21, 2015).

Reaching an Agreement

Iranian and P5+1 officials reconvened on April 22, 2015, to begin the difficult task of trying to pull together a final deal by June 30. This round of negotiations included EU diplomat Helga Schmid, Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, and technical experts from the P5+1 and Iran. The main issues remained the pace and timing of sanctions relief and the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to keep.

The New York Times reported on April 21 that the United States had constructed a secret replica of Iran’s nuclear facilities deep in the heart of the woods of Tennessee. The Oak Ridge Nuclear Reservation in Tennessee was used to replicate Iranian nuclear capabilities. Moniz, a nuclear physicist who oversees these facilities ,and was a key negotiator in the talks with Iran, stated that negotiators would have been “stumbling in the dark if we did not have this capability nurtured over many decades”(New York Times, April 21, 2015).

Worried that Prime Minister Netanyahu would publicly air his criticisms of the administration’s Iran policy and the nuclear framework, President Obama stated that he had no intention of inviting Netanyahu for a face-to-face meeting before the deal was finalized. During a meeting at the White House with leaders from prominent organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, and the Jewish Federations of North America, Obama said he would be talking with Netanyahu on the phone regularly in the meantime but would not meet with him until after June 30.

With slightly more than two months to formulate a deal by the self-imposed “final” deadline of June 30, Kerry and Javad Zarif met in the New York residence of the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations on April 28. The was the first time the two had met since the framework deal was announced on April 2. While negotiations were underway in New York, the Senate began a debate over empowering Congress to review and accept or reject the potential nuclear deal.

The Senate rejected a measure to classify any Iran deal as an international treaty on April 29, 2015. If it were a treaty, the deal would have to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. Knowing he would lose, Obama vehemently opposed the idea and convinced almost all the Democrats to vote against it ensuring its defeat.

The Senate subsequently rejected an amendment that would have linked sanctions relief to a requirement that Obama certify that Tehran is not supporting acts of terrorism against Americans. A handful of Republicans joined Senate Democrats to reject the proposal by a 54-45 vote (Reuters, April 29, 2015). Senator Marco Rubio pushed for an amendment to require that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state as a part of any final nuclear accord. That too was rejected.

Obama threatened to veto any legislation that would restrict his ability to negotiate the terms of an agreement with Iran and had the votes to sustain it.