The Iran Nuclear File: No Alternative but a Diplomatic Solution

By Tariq Rauf[i]

VIENNA, 7 July 2015: The diplomatic minuet continues in the historic Palais Coburg in Vienna between Iran and the United States, to the accompaniment of China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union, on finalizing an agreement on limiting the proliferation potential of Iran’s nuclear programme and the rescinding of Western sanctions.

Originally scheduled to conclude by 7 July, the talks continue with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif struggling to bridge their remaining differences and to have their legal and technical experts come up with the elements of detailed technical annexes to a comprehensive agreement on the Iran nuclear file.

This comprehensive agreement would lay out the details of the limits to 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. The fact that a great deal of long-standing mistrust continues between Iran and the US is a sticking point in the talks.

The divergences appear to be the timing and extent of the lifting of Western sanctions as Iran implements the technical aspects of a comprehensive agreement on 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 live up to its respective commitments and obligations.

Even though the negotiations which started in June 2013 have been extended four times beyond their self-imposed timelines respectively in November 2013, July 2014, March 2015 and June 30, and a fifth deadline of 7 July also is likely to go by, unprecedented progress already has been achieved both in terms of Iran’s nuclear restraint and IAEA verification, as well as a breakthrough in US-Iran diplomacy. These achievements are the product of painstaking diplomacy and could never have been achieved through military action (as advocated by the ‘new crazies’ of the times).

Joint Plan of Action

In accordance with the “voluntary measures” that Iran has agreed to implement under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA)[1] agreed between Iran and the EU/E3+3[2] on 24 November 2013, as confirmed by the IAEA[3] Iran has is fulfilling its obligations under the JPA and inter alia to date has:

  • continued to provide daily access to the enrichment facilities under safeguards at Natanz and Fordow[4];
  • not enriched uranium above 5% U-235 at any of its declared facilities – Natanz and Fordow;
  • diluted – down to an enrichment level of no more than 5% U-235 – 108.4 kg of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235;
  • not reconverted uranium oxides back into UF6;
  • not made “any further advances” to its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) or the Arak reactor (IR-40 Reactor), including the manufacture and testing of fuel for the IR-40 Reactor;
  • provided updated Design Information for the IR-40 Reactor and agreed on a safeguards approach and safeguards measures for the reactor;
  • not accumulated enriched uranium while continuing enrichment R&D practices at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) under safeguards;
  • not carried out (plutonium) reprocessing related activities at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) and the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production (MIX) Facility or at any of the other facilities to which the Agency has access;
  • provided information and managed access to the uranium mine and mill at Gchine, to the Saghand Uranium Mine and the Ardakan Uranium Production Plant;
  • provided regular managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities, and provided information thereon; and
  • provided, in relation to enhanced monitoring: – plans for nuclear facilities and a description of each building on each nuclear site; – descriptions of the scale of operations being conducted for each location engaged in specified nuclear activities; and – information on uranium mines and mills, and on source material.

Thus, it is clear that the technical measures agreed through diplomatic understandings contained in the JPA between Iran and the EU/E3+3 are working and already have reduced the proliferation potential of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme even while negotiations continue on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This success is the result of the diplomatic path wisely chosen by US President Barack Obama and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and implemented by their foreign ministers John Kerry and Javad Zarif, despite the irrational clamour of their critics.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

On 2 April 2015, the ‘key parameters’ of a JCPOA regarding Iran’s nuclear programme were decided in Lausanne between Iran and the EU/E3+3.[5] These elements form the basis upon which the final text of the JCPOA and its technical annexes is presently being negotiated in Vienna. In summary, the JCPOA provides for the following measures to be implemented that remove the proliferation dangers of Iran’s nuclear programme and specify the phasing out of sanctions against Iran.

Enrichment

  • Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its 19,000 installed centrifuges to 6,104 installed IR-1 centrifuges, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years, and to not enrich uranium over 3.67 % U-235 for at least 15 years;
  • Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67% LEU for 15 years;
  • Iran has agreed to convert its Fordow uranium enrichment facility to a nuclear, physics, technology, research centre, and to not conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years nor have any fissile material at Fordow for 15 years;
  • All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will remain under IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment;
  • Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters that have been agreed to by the EU/E3+3;
  • Iran has agreed to not build any new uranium enrichment facilities for 15 years;
  • For 10 years, enrichment and enrichment research and development will be limited to ensure a breakout timeline of at least 1 year. Beyond 10 years, Iran will abide by its enrichment and enrichment R&D plan submitted to the IAEA, and pursuant to the JCPOA, under the Additional Protocol resulting in certain limitations on enrichment capacity.

Inspections and Transparency

  • The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies;
  • IAEA inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear programme and the new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret programme;
  • IAEA inspectors will have access to uranium mines and continuous surveillance at uranium mills, where Iran produces yellowcake, for 25 years;
  • A dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s nuclear programme will be established to monitor and approve, on a case by case basis, the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology;
  • Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to its NPT Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, thus providing the IAEA much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, including both declared and undeclared facilities;
  • Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country;
  • Iran has agreed to implement Modified Code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to its NPT Safeguards Agreement on requiring early notification to the IAEA of construction of new facilities;
  • Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear programme.

Reactors and Reprocessing

  • Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design that is agreed to by the EU/E3+3, that will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, and which will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production;
  • The original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country;
  • Iran will ship all of its spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the reactor’s lifetime;
  • Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel, and Iran will not accumulate heavy water in excess of the needs of the modified Arak reactor, and will sell any remaining heavy water on the international market for 15 years;
  • Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors for 15 years.

Sanctions

  • Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments;
  • U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place;
  • The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance;
  • All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency);
  • Core provisions in the UN Security Council resolutions – those that deal with transfers of sensitive technologies and activities – will be re-established by a new UN Security Council resolution that will endorse the JCPOA and urge its full implementation. It will also create the procurement channel mentioned above, which will serve as a key transparency measure. Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution;
  • A dispute resolution process will be specified, which enables any JCPOA participant, to seek to resolve disagreements about the performance of JCPOA commitments;
  • If an issue of significant non-performance cannot be resolved through that process, then all previous UN sanctions could be re-imposed;
  • U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.

Phasing

  • For 10 years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development – ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Beyond that, Iran will be bound by its longer-term enrichment and enrichment research and development plan it shared with the EU/E3+3.
  • For 15 years, Iran will limit additional elements of its nuclear programme. Iran will not build new enrichment facilities or heavy water reactors and will limit its stockpile of enriched uranium and accept enhanced transparency procedures.
  • Important inspections and transparency measures will continue well beyond 15 years. Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is permanent, including its significant access and transparency obligations. The robust inspections of Iran’s uranium supply chain will last for 25 years.
  • Even after the period of the most stringent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits Iran’s development or acquisition of nuclear weapons and requires IAEA safeguards on its nuclear programme.

The Way Forward

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 under the terms of a JCPOA.

The IAEA seems to have been given its directions by the Western parties “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”[6]. This timeline likely cannot be met as the IAEA probably will 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 a way out for moving on from the PMD issue, particularly as Secretary Kerry has said 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”[7].

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, however, could be done in a few months with Iran’s cooperation, providing the IAEA’s findings that could be accepted by the Agency’s Board of Governors and the EU/E3+3 as forming 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. Thus, paving the way forward for the continuation of the implementation of the JCPOA and the lifting of sanctions leading to a sort of normalization of relations between the West and Iran and signifying a major success for diplomacy.

________________________

[i] Tariq Rauf in his personal capacity is a Director of Atomic Reporters. He is the Director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at SIPRI since February 2014. From 2002­ to 2011, he served as Head, Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General at the International Atomic Energy Agency and covered both high-priority and routine safeguards matters among other issues – Rauf@sipri.org. A version of this essay is available at www.sipri.org.

[1] For a brief history of the Joint Plan of Action, see SIPRI Yearbook 2015, Chapter 12, Iran’s nuclear programme by Tariq Rauf.

[2] EU/E3+3 = European Union, plus France, Germany and the UK, plus China, Russian Federation and the United States.

[3] IAEA, Report by the Director General, Status of Iran’s Nuclear Programme in relation to the Joint Plan of Action, GOV/INF/2015/12 (1 July 2015).

[4] For a list of nuclear facilities in Iran, see Tariq Rauf and Robert Kelley, Nuclear Verification in Iran, Arms Control Today, September 2014.

[5] US Department of State, Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program, Media Note, Office of the Spokesperson, Washington, DC, 2 April 2015.

[6] IAEA, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano’s Remarks to Media in Vienna on Iran Talks, Saturday 4 July 2015 10:00 CEST, 2015/27.

[7] Secretary Kerry’s Press Availability, Via Teleconference, 16 June 2015, http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2015/06/243892.htm.

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