Historic P5+1 Interim Agreement With Iran Buys Time for Permanent Solution

There will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth by Bibi (Red Line) Netanyahu, war mongers John (Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran) McCain and Lindsey Graham and paid MEK shills throughout Congress today because an agreement was reached early Sunday morning local time in Geneva, culminating a process that has been over ten years in the making to seek a peaceful route to preventing any weapons development in Iran’s nuclear technology. Although this is only an interim agreement, it takes significant steps toward making it much more likely that any move by Iran to construct a weapon would be detected and would take longer. More or less simultaneously with the announcement of the agreement, AP reported that the US and Iran have been engaging in secret bilateral talks since March, well before Rouhani’s election this summer.

A fact sheet on the agreement is posted at the White House web site.

Concern over Iran’s nuclear program had ratcheted up in early 2012 when Iran significantly increased its rate of production of uranium enriched to 20%. That concern arose because 20% enriched uranium is technically much easier to take the remaining way to the 90%+ needed for a weapon. Before that point, most of Iran’s work had been directed toward uranium enriched below 5%. Netanyahu’s famous “red line” applied to the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that would be needed to produce sufficient weapons grade uranium for one nuclear bomb. Significantly, the agreement reached today stops all of Iran’s enrichment to 20% and calls for Iran to either dilute back to below 5% or convert to a chemical form that makes it much harder to convert to weapons grade all of Iran’s stock of 20% uranium. In addition to halting enrichment to 20%, the agreement also prevents Iran from increasing its stockpile of uranium enriched to up to 5%.

Recall that when the IAEA’s latest report came out, I noted that Iran had been showing restraint since the beginning of 2012 by not committing any of the new centrifuges it was installing to actual enrichment activity. Further, no new centrifuges had been installed since Rouhani’s election. The agreement reached today includes a commitment by Iran to take steps to reduce the the number of centrifuges that are available for enrichment, among other restrictions on centrifuges. From the fact sheet:

Iran has committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity:

·         Not install additional centrifuges of any type.

·         Not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.

·         Leave inoperable roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich uranium.

·         Limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.

·         Not construct additional enrichment facilities.

My initial understanding of the reductions in centrifuges would apply only to those centrifuges that had been installed but were not yet in use. By consulting the actual IAEA report (pdf) from earlier this month, I calculated that there are roughly 15,660 centrifuges installed at Natanz, with about 9048 of them in use. That means there are an excess of 6612 centrifuges installed but not being used. Half of those would be about 3306 centrifuges to be made unavailable. At Fordow, there are about 2976 centrifuges installed, with 744 in operation. Of the 2232 extra centrifuges there, 1674 are to be made unavailable. Combining the numbers for the two facilities, Iran would be giving up access to 4980 centrifuges under this understanding of the agreement.

However, the fact sheet states quite clearly that the reductions apply to all installed centrifuges. With that as the case, then the reduction is much more dramatic, with 7830 centrifuges being made unavailable at Natanz and 2232 at Fordow, for a total of 10,060 centrifuges being made unavailable. These numbers seem to reduce the centrifuges actually being used for enrichment at Natanz, with the number going down from 9048 to 7830. This reduction of 1200 or centrifuges does seem to match with the number shown in the graph in Annex II of the November IAEA report that are associated with enrichment to 20%, so it would appear that those centrifuges are being shut down entirely rather than being shunted back to enrichment to 5%.

Of course, promising these changes is one thing, but verifying them is critically important. The agreement comes with much greater access to Iranian facilities by IAEA inspectors. Returning to the fact sheet:

Iran has committed to: 

·         Provide daily access by IAEA inspectors at Natanz and Fordow.  This daily access will permit inspectors to review surveillance camera footage to ensure comprehensive monitoring.  This access will provide even greater transparency into enrichment at these sites and shorten detection time for any non-compliance.

·         Provide IAEA access to centrifuge assembly facilities.

·         Provide IAEA access to centrifuge rotor component production and storage facilities.

·         Provide IAEA access to uranium mines and mills.

·         Provide long-sought design information for the Arak reactor.  This will provide critical insight into the reactor that has not previously been available.

·         Provide more frequent inspector access to the Arak reactor.

·         Provide certain key data and information called for in the Additional Protocol to Iran’s IAEA Safeguards Agreement and Modified Code 3.1.

The other key concern about Iran’s nuclear technology centered on the heavy water reactor being built at Arak, since it would produce significant amounts of plutonium. Even though Iran has no technology for recovering this plutonium from the reactor fuel, the reactor was seen as a significant risk by those most concerned about weapons development. Significantly, the agreement halts construction activity at the reactor, specifically prevents its being fueled and even halts work on producing fuel for the reactor.

In return for these concessions, Iran gets limited sanctions relief totaling around $7 billion. The bulk of the world-wide sanctions on Iran’s sales of oil and banking transactions remain in place, and so there is almost no easing of the pressure on Iran’s economy. The blocking of Iranian bank transactions has limited not just purchase of dual use materials by Iran, it also has led to extreme shortages of medical supplies and equipment. The agreement puts into place a new pathway designed to allow transactions related to humanitarian supplies:

Facilitate humanitarian transactions that are already allowed by U.S. law.  Humanitarian transactions have been explicitly exempted from sanctions by Congress so this channel will not provide Iran access to any new source of funds.  Humanitarian transactions are those related to Iran’s purchase of food, agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices; we would also facilitate transactions for medical expenses incurred abroad.  We will establish this channel for the benefit of the Iranian people.

By destroying its supply and stopping further production of 20% uranium, while at the same time giving up access to over 10,000 centrifuges for enrichment, Iran has taken significant steps toward making the path to a nuclear weapon much more unlikely. By further increasing access to IAEA inspectors, Iran also is moving toward much greater transparency. Much work remains to be done to reach a final agreement, especially regarding a solution to the disagreement over what work may or may not have been carried out at Parchin, but for the first time in over a decade, diplomats can now take credit for a huge accomplishment that has taken a significant step toward making the world a safer place.

Update: A pdf of the agreement has been posted by the EU. Here is how the enrichment sites are handled there, from footnotes one (addressing Natanz) and two on page 2:

1 Namely, during the 6 months, Iran will not feed UF6 into the centrifuges installed but not enriching uranium. Not install additional centrifuges. Iran announces that during the first 6 months, it will replace existing centrifuges with centrifuges of the same type.

2 At Fordow, no further enrichment over 5% at 4 cascades now enriching uranium, and not increase enrichment capacity. Not feed UF6 into the other 12 cascades, which would remain in a non-operative state. No interconnections between cascades. Iran announces that during the first 6 months, it will replace existing centrifuges with centrifuges of the same type.

Iran is clearly giving up use of centrifuges that are installed but not being used for enrichment. That corresponds to the 10,000 centrifuge number discussed above.

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.

13 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    So the big two questions are 1) can Rouhani survive without an improvement in the quality of life for average Iranians and 2) will the Chuck Schumers of the world scuttle this by increasing sanctions?

  2. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: Yeah, selling this in Iran will be a huge challenge. Their economy is in tatters and the tiny bit of relief for them in this agreement does nothing for the average citizen other than what eventually makes it through the new pipeline for transactions on humanitarian goods. Rouhani would be smart not to use the entire six months in getting to the final agreement and real sanctions lifting.

    As for folks like Schumer and Mark Kirk, my plan is to mock them mercilessly over accepting MEK money in exchange for their war mongering. Who knows, maybe we can get a little pressure on them for how transparent their position now is.

  3. what constitution? says:

    But, but, but, who are we gonna demonize if not the Iranians? Might want to take a closer look at New Zealand, they may be stockpiling Kiwis or, worse yet, about to halt access to Lord of the Rings film sites. And hey, how come there’s nothing in the WH talking points about any restrictions on Iran using its nuclear medicine capabilities to cure cancers within its military personnel? Shouldn’t that be included, just to be on the safe side?

  4. shoirca says:

    Iran is sitting on a goldmine with the South Pars gas field, one of the biggest in the world. The U.S. is desperate to get its hands on it for the Southern Corridor pipeline project. Controlling Iran’s energy by controlling energy corridors isolates China and Russia. Now that the TAPI pipeline seems doomed given the failure of the Afghan war, an Iranian deal seems like a no-brainer.

  5. Snoopdido says:

    From Buzzfeed – Israeli Officials Knew White House Was Holding Secret Talks With Iran – http://www.buzzfeed.com/sheerafrenkel/israeli-officials-knew-white-house-was-holding-secret-talks

    “Israeli officials knew they were being kept in the dark as the U.S. conducted secret talks with Iran, and the knowledge that the White House was “going behind Israel’s back” was one of the key sources of tension between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, according to a senior Israeli minister and other Israeli officials.

    “We did not know from the beginning, but we knew, we had intelligence that these meetings were happening,” said the Israeli minister, who spoke to BuzzFeed by phone from his Jerusalem office. He said that a “friend in the Gulf” shared intelligence with Israel that the meetings were taking place, and urged Israel to find out more. “I would like to say we knew the content of the talks, but we didn’t. What we knew was that the U.S. was choosing not to tell us about them and that was very worrying.”

    That “friend,” one foreign ministry official said, was Saudi Arabia, which along with Israel has most strongly objected to the nuclear deal reached between Iran and the West over the weekend.”

  6. emptywheel says:

    @bmaz: And as someone (think that Sanctions guy I retweet a lot) noted that existing sanctions are mostly derived from EOs. So trying to force Obama to keep them may present interesting legal issues.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    This is a huge win for Iran — and Netanyahu recognizes it as such.

    The Real Deal:
    –recognition of democracy in Iran
    –Iran’s willingness to negotiate in good faith
    –rupture of anti-Iran coalition
    –an example, for other countries, of Western defiance
    –highlighting of UNSC malfeasance

    The Iran economy? Sanctions cut two ways — buyer and seller.

    Sure, Iran has been hurt but Iran is adjusting by increasing domestic capabilities and by re-orienting toward the East, where the growth is. (Plus avoiding sanctions in many ways.) So while there has been an impact, Iran is working through it.

    In Europe there has been an impact also because Iran’s significant trade with Europe has been lessened. There have been an impacts on various European suppliers, including major impacts on Peugeot and Renault which (along with other economic problems) have led to plant closings and layoffs.

    Looking at 2014 GDP increase predictions: Euro Area – 1.067%, Iran 1.089%. World average 4.40%.
    http://www.economywatch.com/economic-statistics/year/2014/

  8. Nigel says:

    The agreement comes with much greater access to Iranian facilities by IAEA inspectors

    Something else that is likely to trouble opponents of the agreement, as it reduces their opportunity to overestimate Iran’s nuclear capabilities….

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