Iran, P5+1 “Succeeded in Making History”

It has been a very long road since the announcement in November of 2013 that a preliminary agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations had been made on Iran’s nuclear technology. There have been extensions along the way and times when a permanent deal appeared imminent along with times when no such deal seemed possible. Despite tremendous pressure from Israel and the neocon lobby who lust after a war with Iran, the outlines for a permanent deal are now in place. What remains is to nail down the details by the June 30 deadline when the extensions of the interim agreement expire. Laura Rozen and Barbara Slavin capture the historic significance of what has been achieved:

We have “found solutions,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif first proclaimed on Twitter on April 2, “Ready to start drafting immediately.”

We have “succeeded in making history,” Zarif said at a press conference here April 2. “If we succeed, it is one of the few cases where an issue of significance is solved through diplomatic means.”

We have “reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” US President Barack Obama said from the White House rose garden after the deal was announced April 2.

What stands out about the agreement is just how much Iran was forced to give up on issues that had been seen by most observers as non-negotiable. Jonathan Landay interviewed a number of nuclear experts on the agreement:

On its face, the framework announced Thursday for an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program goes further toward preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon than many experts expected it would, including requiring an international inspection system of unprecedented intrusiveness.

The Agreement

The version of the agreement as released by the US can be read here. Let’s take a look by sections.

The first section addresses the general concept of uranium enrichment. Although hardliners in the US want all enrichment in Iran stopped, it was clear that Iran would never have agreed to stop. But what has been achieved is staggering. Iran will take two thirds of its existing centrifuges offline. Those centrifuges will be placed in a facility under IAEA inspection, so there is no concern about them winding up in an undisclosed facility. Further, only Iran’s original IR-1 centrifuge type will be allowed. That is a huge concession by Iran (everybody knows the IR-1’s suck), as they had been developing advanced centrifuges that are much more efficient at enrichment. Many critics of a deal with Iran had suspected that advanced centrifuges would be a route that Iran would use to game any agreement to increase their enrichment capacity if only the number and not the type of centrifuge had been restricted. Further, Iran will not enrich uranium above 3.67% for a period of 15 years. And the stockpile of 3.67% uranium will be reduced by 97%, from 10,000 kg to 300 kg. This reduction also will apply for 15 years. This section also carries an outright statement of targeting a breakout time of 12 months to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb. [But as always, it must be pointed out that merely having enough enriched uranium for a bomb does not make it a bomb. Many steps, some of which there is no evidence Iran has or could develop under intense international scrutiny, would remain for making a bomb.]

The next section of the agreement is titled “Fordo Conversion”. Iran’s Fordo site is the underground bunker built for uranium enrichment. Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium at Fordo or to have uranium or any other fissile material present for 15 years. While many have advocated a complete shutdown of Fordo, the agreement provides a very elegant alternative. Fordo will now become a research site under IAEA monitoring. Had the site shut down, where would all of the scientists who work there now have gone? By keeping them on-site and under IAEA observation, it strikes me that there is much less concern about those with enrichment expertise slinking into the shadows to build a new undeclared enrichment facility.

The section on the Natanz facility follows and it is further documented that only the reduced number of IR-1 centrifuges and no advanced centrifuges will be used. Even research on the advanced centrifuges will be limited and only under IAEA supervision.

The next section addresses inspections and transparency. Iran has agreed to an unprecedented level of IAEA inspections. Some have even suggested on Twitter that Parchin will be inspected, but that is not laid out in the document. What is noted is that Iran will abide by the IAEA’s “additional protocol” and investigation of “possible military dimensions” of the nuclear program, which were suggested in part by IAEA after material came from the Laptop of Death. This is another huge concession by Iran that I never expected.

Finally, Iran has agreed to scrap the current reactor core of the Arak heavy water reactor and replace it with a redesigned core that will not produce weapons grade plutonium.

The final sections address sanctions and phasing. Iran, of course, wants immediate cessation of the sanctions. The agreement “suspends” sanctions once IAEA verifies that Iran has taken all of the key steps. I’ve seen some hawks very concerned about just how these sanctions would “snap back” into place in the event of a breach of the agreement by Iran. I don’t find that to be particularly concerning, since it seems virtually certain to me that in the event of a verified breach of the agreement, Israeli bombs would be falling on Iran long before any effects of restored sanctions came into play.


The New York Times praises the agreement in an editorial:

The preliminary agreement between Iran and the major powers is a significant achievement that makes it more likely Iran will never be a nuclear threat. President Obama said it would “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”

Officials said some important issues have not been resolved, like the possible lifting of a United Nations arms embargo, and writing the technical sections could also cause problems before the deal’s finalization, expected by June 30. Even so, the agreement announced on Thursday after eight days of negotiations appears more specific and comprehensive than expected.

Fred Hyatt, on the other hand, is stamping his foot like a good little neocon:

THE “KEY parameters” for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities — including the Fordow center buried under a mountain — will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.

Wow, Hyatt is spinning faster than an Iranian centrifuge on Stuxnet.

But the biggest surprise of all comes at the end of David Sanger and Michael Gordon’s New York Times piece on the deal:

Those conditions impressed two of the most skeptical experts on the negotiations: Gary Samore and Olli Heinonen of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and members of a group called United Against Nuclear Iran.

Mr. Samore, who was Mr. Obama’s top adviser on weapons of mass destruction in his first term as president, said in an email that the deal was a “very satisfactory resolution of Fordo and Arak issues for the 15-year term” of the accord. He had more questions about operations at Natanz and said there was “much detail to be negotiated, but I think it’s enough to be called a political framework.”

Mr. Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said, “It appears to be a fairly comprehensive deal with most important parameters.” But he cautioned that “Iran maintains enrichment capacity which will be beyond its near-term needs.”

Hell just froze over, folks. Sanger and Gordon appear to have finally given in to my campaign for full disclosure about Heinonen’s association with UANI. That Samore and Heinonen have to admit that this is a good deal tells us everything we need to know.

Hearty congratulations are in order for all of the negotiators, especially John Kerry and Javad Zarif. If this deal does get written down and agreed to in anything close to the current understanding of it, their work will stand as the gold standard for patient diplomacy winning out over military action as a means of resolving conflict.

12 replies
  1. Mick Savage says:

    United Snakes of Amerikka got played again.
    Iran pre-1979 cannot be addressed by the snakes cuz they regime changed an elected government when they nationalized a western oilco.
    So, Iran didn’t want a weaponized nuclear program to begin with, and crows they achieved a historic achievement and prevented Iran from developing a nuclear weapon program. Smart.
    Can sanctions get aimed somewhere else please, like DC?

  2. J M Ward (UK) says:

    This is great news. Thank you for for your analysis. We just have to hope now that the agreement is not subverted between now and the end of June by Netanyahu and the neocons.

    By the way, I’m all for free speech and all that, but this is your website and I think you might be justified in removing incoherent comments like number one below.

  3. wallace says:

    quote”On its face, the framework announced Thursday for an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program goes further toward preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon than many experts expected it would, including requiring an international inspection system of unprecedented intrusiveness.”unquote

    Fine. Now, when can I expect the same inspection system of unprecedented intrusiveness into Israeli nuclear facilities and disarmament under the threat of sanctions, hmmmm?

    (Flood of Mick Savage outrage in 5…4…3…2…) 1st A right is now in effect. fuck you.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Three caveats.
    1. The US congress and other parliaments still have to weigh in. There are US laws imposing sanctions on Iran (as well as executive orders).
    2. All of the details in the linked AP report came from the US side’s statement, whereas the joint statementgherini, at a press conference in Lausanne on Thursday afternoon alongside Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, was more brief. And that still leaves out Russia and China.
    3. In Obama’s statement, Iran is still a miscreant, which deal opponents will no doubt seize upon.

    Of course, this deal alone — even if fully implemented — will not end the deep divisions and mistrust between our two countries. We have a difficult history between us, and our concerns will remain with respect to Iranian behavior so long as Iran continues its sponsorship of terrorism, its support for proxies who destabilize the Middle East, its threats against America’s friends and allies — like Israel. So make no mistake: We will remain vigilant in countering those actions and standing with our allies.

    Iran’s proxies “destabilize the Middle East” — that’s a good one.

    • lefty665 says:

      Sure Don, don’tchyaknow our proxies, the Israelis and Saudis, and their proxies like Likud and ISIL, would have single handedly brought peace, stability and happy days to the Middle East if it weren’t for the dastardly Iranians and their proxies.
      I’m confused about the neo-cons, since they have been, and still are (Victoria Nuland, Cotton,, officially part of our government. That makes them more than proxies. They’ve done more than their share of destabilizing of the Middle East and elsewhere. What do we call them, beyond morons and assholes?

  5. Don Bacon says:

    oopsy — the missing words – “read by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, at a press conference in Lausanne ….”

  6. bevin says:

    This puts the neo-cons in an interesting position: they have the capability to sabotage this agreement. But in doing so they would isolate the US internationally, and ensure that UN and other international sanctions would crumble rapidly. It would force allies including Europe to declare their independence-to do otherwise would lead to governments’ domestic political discrediting.
    At a time when the sanctions against Russia are causing considerable embarrassment to several European governments, Washington risks the prospect of waking up in the near future with Israel and the Saudi tyranny as its only solid allies while its Atlanticist friends in Europe-carefully cultivated over three generations- slip into electoral oblivion.
    No doubt Iran understands that it is using judo against a clumsy though very large opponent.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    Zarif has tweeted:
    The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using “fact sheets” so early on.
    I suspect the Iran strategy is to give the US American Exceptionalists just enough rope to hang themselves, as Bevin suggests in #6. It could end up as Obama and Kerry against the Congress and the world. UN sanctions can’t be enforced (as China has demonstrated) and there could be mass disobedience of US sanctions coupled with more reliance on non-US banking systems as the US becomes a pariah state, . But that would be fitting for Obama, making a U-turn this late in his presidency without support in Congress.
    It’s ironic that the US has mistakenly called Iran “isolated” for years when Iran has the support of most of the world, and there is a world-wide travel caution out for American travelers.

  8. TarheelDem says:

    What stands out about the agreement is just how much Iran was forced to give up on issues that had been seen by most observers as non-negotiable.

    That is a striking statement and points out that “most observers” were assuming that Iran was negotiating in bad faith. That assumption, as Don Bacon points out, hangs over the White House framing of its announcement.

    That position reflects IMO the mythology of nuclear weapons as the great equalizer. I had thought we (the world) had learned better than that from the near catastrophes during the Cold War. It would not surprise me that a country could decide that nuclear weapons were not worth the trouble and seek a diplomatic and opportune and strategic way to get out of the nuclear weapons business.

    Other nations with nuclear reactors are allowed the prerogatives of national sovereignty as long as they keep their civilian nuclear program transparent. And in fact, the nations most directly related to instances of breakout or near breakout — Brazil, South Africa, Iraq, India, Pakistan, China, North Korea — these nations are still accorded no special inspection as a result of their failure to abide by the non-proliferation regime. But under this agreement Iran will be. That’s sort of the wrong barn to have its door shut for all sorts of geopolitical reasons. If the US details of the parameters are indeed correct, that nonetheless is what Iran has agreed to. If the US has mistated them, we are in for an interesting three months.

    If, however, this is indeed the historic agreement of its current reputation, if one can within a couple of years check the box marked Iran as not being a nuclear weapons state, there are a number of steps next on the agenda.

    1. The US has nuclear weapons sharing agreements with Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey. There is an implicit weapons sharing agreement of some type between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. And there are extensions of the US “nuclear umbrella” to nations like Japan and South Korea and who knows which others. Proliferation by proxy needs to be rolled back.

    2. Rogue states. India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. These states are rogue because no matter how responsible they have been in practice they are beyond the IAEA inspection regime and not part of any framework for disarmament. Three of those states are of interest to China. China and North Korea are of interest to Japan. It is time for talks among China, india, Pakistan, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan about denuclearizing Asia. And about handling Japan’s transition from heavily nuclear to renewable energy generation.

    Israel must join the non-proliferation treaty and open itself to the same sort of IAEA inspections demanded of Iran. Failure to move in that direction moves Israel further into the outlaw category of nations.

    3. Clean up from the formerly nuclear nations. This is primarily an environmental task.

    4. Building down the stockpiles of the US, Russia, and China. This is by far the toughest one to do, given the US delusion that nuclear weapons are game changers.

    This is historic only if it creates the political momentum to bring a sense of reality to the US view of nuclear weapons. Too many newly minted Congresscritters are too infatuated with Barry Goldwater’s 50-year-old lust for tactical nuclear weapons, clueless to the practical difficulties that would bring US troops and operations. Kids playing soldier, they are. Too flippant about what even neo-con Herman Kahn called “thinking about the unthinkable”, best expressed the the cavalier “turn it to glass” statements rife in the military. A historic turn on nuclear disarmament occurs only if those US attitudes turn.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    Excellent to hear from TD again. It’s been too long w/o superlative TarheelDem analysis.
    –sharing = proliferation, –yes.
    –rogue states- US has contributed to India, but India is good, the story goes. Israel (also good) is a charter member of the IAEA, but in spite of long-time pleas from the Arab League Israel has not signed the NPT and has nukes. The close ties between the US and despotic Saudi Arabia have something to do with it, including the keeping of Iran as an enemy. Yes, Iran would still be an enemy even if there is a real deal on the concocted “nuclear issue.” According to polls, the Arabs who actually live in the Middle East fear Israel and US which have nukes, and not Iran which doesn’t.
    –Obama is planning the spending of hundreds of billions on upgrading nuclear weapons, which have a shelf life.
    –from the NPT:
    “Declaring their intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament. ”
    The US has been negligent in this regard, but what’s new on US treaty observation.

    • TarheelDem says:

      As a straightforward analysis of capabilities of its potential rivals, Iran would move toward developing nuclear weapons if its strategic thinking used the same logic as the US uses. One suspects a lot of US projection of its own motives in interpreting others.

      Pakistan, a nuclear nation is adjacent. And on Pakistan’s borders are two nuclear nations–China and India — that could potentially create a nuclear war on Iran’s borders.

      Israel, a nuclear nation, has threatened Iran in the past.

      Saudi Arabia, a potential rival of Iran has a nuclear weapons supply agreement with Pakistan.

      Turkey shares nuclear weapons from the the United States.

      Without the non-proliferation treaty and the US enforcement of its own nuclear umbrella strategy, during the 1953-1979 period, the Shah would have successfully created a nuclear weapons stockpile for Iran. Indeed, Iran’s civilian nuclear industry and the training of a number of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists and technicians were initiated by the US Atoms for Peace program.

      The fact remains that it is the US attachment to nuclear weapons as the great equalizer that prevents further disarmament from occurring.

      With regards to US nuclear weapons modernization, it all depends on what the US actually does. Ensuring that end-of-shelf-life conditions do not create hazards in storage is a first priority. Ensuring accuracy and survivability are necessary to the credibility required under a mutually assured destruction regime. Outside of that framework (which de facto continues to exist between the US and Russia), those same improvements become temptations for a pre-emptive first strike, and that is inherently destabilizing. It is only the collective deterrent of the entire nuclear club that restrains any of its members from rash action. It is a complicated and very fragile collective restraint regime–and it could fail without a whole lot of warning should there be impetuous leadership with no countervailing naysayers.

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