Implementation of Interim Agreement With Iran Begins January 20, Paving Way for Further Negotiations

Although the P5+1 interim agreement with Iran was first reached in late November, ongoing talks have been required to fill in the details of just how the agreement is to be implemented. Those talks came to fruition yesterday with the announcement that on January 20, the six month period of Iran making concessions on enrichment in return for limited sanctions relief will begin. The hope is that this period of pausing progress in Iran’s development of nuclear technology and the loosening of some sanctions will provide a window to negotiate a broader agreement that provides verifiable prevention of Iran producing nuclear weapons.

US Secretary of State John Kerry noted the significance of the latest negotiating progress:

We’ve taken a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

On January 20, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with Iran in Geneva.

As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.

Because of the determined and focused work of our diplomats and technical experts, we now have a set of technical understandings for how the parties will fulfill the commitments made at the negotiating table. These understandings outline how the first step agreement will be implemented and verified, as well as the timing of implementation of its provisions.

Iran will voluntarily take immediate and important steps between now and January 20 to halt the progress of its nuclear program. Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment. As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran’s actions, an effort that will be led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The United States and the rest of our P5+1 partners will also take steps, in response to Iran fulfilling its commitments, to begin providing some limited and targeted relief. The $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets that Iran will gain access to as part of the agreement will be released in regular installments throughout the six months. The final installment will not be available to Iran until the very last day.

That last bit is critical. While the war mongers will be crying about the US giving sanctions relief to Iran, that relief will be doled out over time and only provided as Iran continues to live up to its side of the agreement, with the final portion of funds only coming on the very last day of the six months. Central to this agreement, as previously reported, is that Iran will completely halt its enrichment to 20% uranium and, by the end of the six month period, will have no stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that is in a chemical form that could rapidly be enriched further to weapons grade.

Kerry appreciates that the six month period will provide a large window in which Congressional war mongers will be doing their best to disrupt the agreement:

We now have an obligation to give our diplomats and experts every chance to succeed in these difficult negotiations. I very much appreciate Congress’ critical role in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, but I feel just as strongly that now is not the time to impose additional sanctions that could threaten the entire negotiating process. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for statesmanship, for the good of our country, the region, and the world.

As I pointed out when Robert Menendez put together his bill for further sanctions, that particular bill goes far beyond a mere promise of further sanctions if a final agreement is not reached. Instead, it promises these sanctions even if a final agreement is reached that allows Iran to retain the right of enrichment of uranium below 5%. It has been clear to me from the start that Iran will insist on retaining the right to low level enrichment, and today’s Washington Post story on implementation of the agreement makes that point very strongly:

The weeks of bargaining to put the November agreement in force were more difficult than anticipated, with one brief walkout by Iranian envoys and rancor among the bloc of nations that negotiated the deal. Russia and China, long Iran’s protectors at the United Nations, pushed the United States to accept technical concessions that further make clear that Iran will retain the ability to enrich uranium, a key Iranian demand, once a final set of restrictions on its program is approved.

The Obama administration has preferred to blur that point in public, while arguing in private that the enrichment will be a face-saving token that does not pose a threat.

Somehow, Obama and/or Kerry will need to find a way to get Menendez and his fellow war mongers to remove the language from their sanctions bill that sets preconditions for the structure of the final agreement. Further, any new sanctions taking effect during this critical six month period would immediately result in Iran exiting the negotiations and negating the interim agreement.

In essence, there will be parallel sets of negotiations. The P5+1 group will be starting work with Iran on the final agreement in early February while the Obama administration will be emphasizing its plan to veto any new sanctions bill that is passed during the negotiations. Of course, it would be best for Congress to merely abstain from interfering during the negotiations, since a virtually unanimous and instantaneous vote on new, stiffer sanctions would be guaranteed should the negotiations with Iran fail. But since Congress has already shown that they fully intend to pass some sort of bill, I would look for Obama to make a big push to get the automatic triggers, especially any that require Iran to halt even low level enrichment, removed from the bill. A bill requiring verification from Obama or Kerry that the negotiations have failed before the new sanctions are implemented might escape an Obama veto. Posturing on this second set of negotiations has already started. From CNN:

Word of the deal’s start date drew mixed reactions from Capitol Hill Sunday.

“I’m concerned that this agreement takes us down that path where sanctions pressure is relieved, but Iran maintains its ability to produce a nuclear weapon,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-California. “Given these stakes, it’s regrettable that the President does not want to work with Congress to bolster his negotiating hand with additional sanctions, which would go into effect should Iran fail to meet its commitments.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, called the interim agreement a “meaningful step forward” and said new sanctions would be counterproductive.

“We will know soon enough if Iran is committed to a diplomatic resolution of its nuclear program. If it is not, new sanctions will move with lightning speed out of the Congress and with my full support.” he said. “Many obstacles remain, and I continue to be skeptical of Tehran’s willingness to abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons technology, but I am also fully convinced that we must try the diplomatic path.”

Note that even Schiff, who seems to be taking Obama’s side in preferring to let the negotiations continue before Congress acts, reserves some skepticism over Iran giving up pursuit of nuclear weapons. The inability of Congress to see that even before Rouhani was elected there were signs that Iran was slowing its nuclear work is disappointing. In fact, I fear that the Menendez bill, or a similar bill calling for new stiffer sanctions even if a final agreement allows low level enrichment could override an Obama veto. Such a bill would be an unmitigated disaster and lead to a war with Iran, but it seems like a very distinct possibility unless there is a rare outbreak of sanity on Capitol Hill.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
11 replies
  1. TarheelDem says:

    If one of the signatories to the Menendez-Kirk bill is one of your Senators, and a good many of them are from progressive states, today is an excellent time to have a fun phone call with their staff to tell them to back off of their warmongering. And get as many folks in your personal network to do the same before Thursday.

    Your investment 5 minutes of time. Tell the staff that you are conducting an experiment to see if members of Congress are still responsive to actual constituents or completely locked up with lobbyists.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    How will SecState Kerry deal with the worst part of the sanctions bill — the (sovereign) right to enrich? Kerry has been — **gasp** — on both sides of the issue.

    “The Bush administration [argument of] no enrichment was ridiculous . . . . because it seemed so unreasonable to people,” said Mr Kerry, citing Iran’s rights as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. “It was bombastic diplomacy. It was wasted energy. It sort of hardened the lines, if you will,” he added. “They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.”–Jun 10, 2009

    “There is no inherent right to enrich,” Kerry said on ABC’s “This Week.” “And everywhere in this particular agreement it states that they could only do that by mutual agreement, and nothing is agreed on until everything is agreed on.” Kerry added: “We do not recognize a right to enrich.” — Nov 24, 2013

    So this configured photo of Kerry in front of Waffle House fits.
    http://0.tqn.com/d/politicalhumor/1/0/O/5/kerry_wafflehouse.jpg

  3. Don Bacon says:

    The White House is now openly declaring that Senate Democrats who support new sanctions against Iran are warmongers itching for war. Don’t they realize that only Obama is allowed to be a warmonger?

    On Iran, Obama has said repeatedly for years that “all options are on the table” regarding Iran. The of course there are other examples: Libya, Syria, Afghanistan…

    In any case, it there is another war it won’t be Iran who starts it, so Obama’s war-talk is disingenuous.

  4. TarheelDem says:

    Hypocrisy in the White House still doesn’t want me to experience the schadenfreude of Menendez getting his bill through Congress. I am quite willing to waste 5 minutes talking to Hagan’s staff and Burr’s staff to make sure that Congress does not lock the US into a war footing. And hope there is enough pushback, as there was on Syria, to move the White House away from the brink. It really is actions that matter, not talk-talk.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    The US would be unusually stupid to initiate any hostilities with Iran, because Iran is not a patsy similar to other countries that US has started wars with (usually unsuccessfully). Iran has agents in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon who could hurt the US. Iran also has conventional military forces and weapons that could sink ships and kill US land-based troops.

    The carrier fleet and big-deck amphib in the 5th Fleet operating area plus other smaller ships are useless. Actually, they are worse then useless. If hostilities start there, they would be sitting ducks for Iran’s ballistic/cruise missiles, smart mines and torpedoes. One indication of impending hostilities would be if the ships left the Persian Gulf. But that leaves the extensive US land bases.

    US bases in Persian Gulf Area
    SUMMARY
    –about 40,000 US military personnel
    BAHRAIN
    –7,000 U.S. military personnel
    –Isa Air Base, 5th Fleet HQ – expanding
    –Naval Support Activity Bahrain
    –Patriot Battery Site in Riffa, Bahrain
    KUWAIT
    –15,000 US troops, including a couple of brigade
    combat teams and a combat aviation brigade.
    current bases
    Ali Al Salem Air Base
    Camp Arifjan
    Camp Buehring (formerly Camp Udairi)
    “K” Crossing
    Camp Virginia (closed in 2013)
    Camp Patriot (Shared with Kuwait Naval Base)
    QATAR
    –10,000 military personnel
    — Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar
    SAUDI ARABIA
    –2,000 US military personnel
    –Eskan Village Air Base
    UAE – United Arab Emirates
    –5,000 US military personnel
    — Al-Minhad air base in Dubai, UAE
    — Al-Dhafra Air Force Base

  6. Don Bacon says:

    The current scenario is presented as yet another case of the conciliatory attempts of a valiant young president being thwarted by retarded opposition forces. The truth is a bit different.

    The five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany are the non-Iran principals in the ongoing negotiation process, not Obama. The US hasn’t even been in the negotiating room. Lady Ashton, getting little respect, has done the negotiating with Iran.

    Iran and the P5+1 held talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan April 5-6, 2013. Iran proposed a freeze on centrifuge installation at Fordow and a suspension of enrichment of uranium to 20 percent (it had enough). The P5+1 wanted more, including suspension of enrichment at Fordow, a commitment to the additional protocol and the modified version of the subsidiary arrangement to Iran’s safeguards agreement. The negotiations seemed stalled.

    Then, changes in Iran.
    –Aug 3, 2013, Inauguration ceremony of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani
    –Sep 19, 2013, WaPo Op-Ed: “Why Iran seeks constructive engagement” By Hassan Rouhani
    –Sep 24, 2013, UN Speech by President Ruhani

    “. . .At this sensitive juncture in the history global relations, the age of zero-sum games is over, even though a few actors still tend to rely on archaic and deeply ineffective ways and means to preserve their old superiority and domination. Militarism and the recourse to violent and military means to subjugate others are failed examples of the perpetuation of old ways in new circumstances. . .”

    Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 resumed in Geneva on October 15-16. Iran was represented by its new negotiating team, headed by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Iran presented a new proposal during the talks. The proposal outlined the broad framework for a comprehensive end-state agreement and specific steps for each side to take in a first-phase agreement.

    The parties continued negotiating the specifics of the proposal during two subsequent rounds of talks in Geneva on November 7-10 and November 20-24. On November 24, Foreign Minister Zarif and Catherine Ashton, head of the P5+1 negotiating team, signed the proposal, known as the Joint Plan of Action. The Plan was basically what Iran had proposed at Almaty and did NOT include suspension of enrichment at Fordow, nor a commitment to the additional protocol and the modified version of the subsidiary arrangement to Iran’s safeguards agreement.

    So Obama has had little to do with it, and he hasn’t been optimistic about it.

    –But what I’ve consistently said is even as I don’t take any options off the table, what we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this issue diplomatically.
    –when people ask, why should we try to negotiate with them, we can’t trust them, we’re being naïve, what I try to describe to them is not the choice between this deal and the ideal, but the choice between this deal and other alternatives.
    –the best way for us to assure it is to test this diplomatic path, understanding that it’s not based on trust; it’s based on what we can verify.
    –we will continue to contest their efforts where they’re engaging in terrorism, where they’re being disruptive to our friends and our allies. –Saban Center, Dec 6, 2013

  7. TarheelDem says:

    @Don Bacon: I’ve already had my first chat with Hagan’s staff; got my info and opinion in their spreadsheet. IMO Hagan is running scared of the “soft on defense” ads that will be coming her way regardless of what she does. That’s what she gets for being a waffling backbencher and trying to pander to the Fort Braggies.

  8. Don Bacon says:

    @TarheelDem:

    Yeah but — the American people have been overwhelmingly propagandized about the concocted Iran “threat” for years with mighty efforts by politicians and media. So Hagan is going with popular sentiment. This is still somewhat a democracy, in that sense.

    Iran, the story goes, is the principal threat to the US, has threatened to destroy Israel, abuses human rights and is a pariah in the world community refusing to conform to United Nations requirements. Plus they talk funny and eat strange food. What’s not to hate? /s So cut Hagan a little slack, is my advice. She is a victim like the rest of us.

    And thanks for trying. Tarheels never run from a fight. (I know, I live with one.)

  9. P J Evans says:

    @Don Bacon:
    Hell, all you have to do is explain that they eat kabobs with rice, and they have noodles and meatballs and stews with meat and veggies, and the food stops being strange. (Even better if you can get people to try the food. It makes my stomach very happy.)

  10. Jim White says:

    Awesome! USAToday gets it. Check out their entire editorial, but this bit about the Menendez bill looks like I could have written it:

    But the bill does much more than that. It dictates terms of the final agreement — specifically, that Iran must halt not just its nuclear weapons program but rather stop all enrichment of uranium, including any used for nuclear power.

    That is precisely the issue that makes the negotiations extraordinarily delicate. Iran is so publicly committed to its right to enrich that its negotiators could not give in to such a dictate even if they want to.

    Link: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/01/13/iran-sanctions-nuclear-senate-bill-editorials-debates/4465399/

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