Thanks largely to the crippling sanctions that US and EU worked hard to put in place, our partners were able to achieve the six-month “interim” deal that halted further progress in Iran’s nuclear programat a minimal price in terms of measures to ease sanctions. The Joint Plan of Action adopted by Iran and the P5+1 partners in Geneva on November 24 was an important first step in the effort to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.
Iran and the P5+1 nations appear to be fulfilling their commitments under the six-month interim agreement – but reaching a final deal will be challenging, as the sides remain far apart on key issues. Negotiations on a final agreement may prove difficult, or even impossible, to bring to a successful conclusion.
P5+1/EU negotiations with Rouhani’s new team— supplemented and accelerated by secret U.S.-Iranian engagement—led to agreement in November 2013 on a Joint Plan of Action (JPA), a six-month interim agreement designed to provide the time and space needed to work out a final, comprehensive solution. Intensive negotiations are now proceeding on the comprehensive agreement, with all parties seemingly committed to trying to reach agreement by the time the JPA expires on July 20. If not carefully balanced sanctions can be an appropriate policy instrument to prevent Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
Achieving an agreement that meets the requirements outlined here will not be easy. It will require continued unity among the P5+1 and a firm resolve among members of the broad sanctions coalitions to keep in place the measures needed to give Tehran the incentive to reach an acceptable deal.
The JPA halts further progress in all significant aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, reverses progress in a few areas, and provides Iran modest relief from certain sanctions. It took effect on January 20, 2014, and has so far operated smoothly.
In his Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Series paper, “Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement,” Robert Einhorn and Kenneth M. Pollack explores the difficult issues facing negotiators as they prepare for their next round of talks, scheduled for the week of April 7.
The domestic Iranian backlash against the interim agreement and the P5+1 negotiating position for a final agreement has been intense. The Iranian negotiators have demonstrated the same seriousness of purpose as they did during negotiations of the interim deal. But they oppose deep reductions in their enrichment capacity, insist on operating the Arak reactor and Fordow enrichment plant, and have resisted monitoring arrangements that go beyond the Additional Protocol.
They argue that the interim deal concedes too much and receives too little in return.
- But total Iranian earnings from agreed sanctions-easing measures would be $7 billion at most during the six months – a small fraction of the huge losses the sanctions will continue to impose. With oil sanctions still in place, Iran will still be making about $30 billion less in oil sales every six months than it was making before the sanctions were imposed. Although Iran will receive $4.2 billion of its own funds now held in restricted overseas accounts, most of its sharply-reduced oil revenues will still have to be deposited in such accounts. During the six-month period, the hole Iran has dug for itself will only get deeper.
. They inaccurately claim that we have already accepted a legal “right to enrich” and assert that we are reneging on the interim deal by denying such acceptance;Robert Einhorn
If prospects for a negotiated outcome begin to look remote, we may soon find ourselves confronted by an aggressive Iranian effort to erode the sanctions in the absence of agreement and to move its nuclear program closer to the weapons threshold
Iran’s track record provides plenty of grounds for skepticism. Since the mid-1980s, Iran has engaged in numerous undeclared nuclear activities, including the construction of major, dual-use “fuel cycle” facilities. In response to numerous IAEA requests for clarification of suspicious activities, Iran cooperated grudgingly, belatedly, or not at all.
- Tehran’s current leaders seem to recognize that Iran has a special responsibility to demonstrate convincingly that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated in September 2013 that the nuclear negotiations should be based on “two principles:” respect for Iran’s rights in the area of nuclear technology, especially enrichment, and the need to allay international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
But Iran is not like any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT. It has committed numerous violations of its safeguards obligations; it has been formally found in non-compliance by the IAEA’s governing body; it has been sanctioned in several legally binding U.N. Security Council resolutions (all of which it defied and called illegal); and it has not cooperated in addressing credible concerns about past nuclear weapons-related activities. Its longstanding cat-and-mouse game with the international community has produced deep and widespread suspicions. The burden must be on Iran to earn the international community’s trust, not the other way around. Iran will have to accept constraints and monitoring measures that go well beyond what is required of non-nuclear parties to the NPT in good standing—at least for a substantial period of time.
An especially worrisome aspect of Iran’s track record is a persuasive body of information indicating that Tehran pursued an organized program to develop a nuclear weapons capability and carried out a significant number of weapons-related procurement and research activities associated with that program. In November 2011, IAEA Director General Amano issued a comprehensive report to the Agency’s Board of Governors outlining widespread evidence of what was called the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program.
IAEA’s own investigations (2011), concluded that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”The Director General’s report was consistent with the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released by the U.S. intelligence community in November 2007.
Notwithstanding Iran’s protestations about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program—including assertions by President Rouhani that Iran “never” sought nuclear weapons10—the evidence available to the IAEA and several Western intelligence agencies is persuasive that, at least until 2003, Iran made a determined, regime-sanctioned effort to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons. The timing of Tehran’s early nuclear activities tends to support this conclusion.
It is also not surprising that today, when it wants an agreement with the P5+1 that would remove sanctions and end its isolation, Iran would try to get the international community to shift its attention from Iran’s highly incriminating past record to the task of monitoring Iran’s nuclear program going forward —and to persuade the international community to treat that task as essentially the same as would be required to monitor the program of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT.
In addition to analyzing Iran’s intentions toward nuclear weapons and discussing the principal issues in the negotiations, Robert Einhorn outlines the key requirements for an acceptable comprehensive agreement that would prevent Iran from having a rapid nuclear breakout capability and deter a future Iranian decision to build nuclear weapons.
Iran would reject any extension of the current interim agreement, portray itself publicly as having been the reasonable side in the talks, reach out aggressively to governments and companies around the world to entice them to circumvent or ignore sanctions, and ramp up nuclear activities that have been frozen under the interim deal.
We should seek to head off this scenario by keeping the pressure on Iran to accept a final agreement along the lines of our proposal. That will involve three priorities:
(1) continuing to urge governments and companies to enforce existing sanctions,
(2) showing additional flexibility within the delegation’s existing instructions to avoid an Iranian narrative that we are the intransigent party, and
(3) maintaining a strong consensus among the P5+1 governments and the broader international sanctions coalition that the rigorous measures necessary to make a deal acceptable to us are reasonable, fair and essential to a sound agreement.
- While pressing for an acceptable agreement, we must also prepare for the eventuality that the interim deal will lapse and that Iran will seek to undermine sanctions and resume its nuclear activities.
In that circumstance,
- we would need to demonstrate that Iran, and not the P5+1, was responsible for the breakdown, explaining publicly that our position was supportive of meeting the practical needs of Iran’s civil nuclear energy program.
- We would discourage Iran from moving closer to a rapid breakout capability—in particular, by urging countries with influence in Tehran, including Russia and China, to press Iran’s leaders to forgo such steps and by encouraging the international community at large to convey a clear message to Iran that such action would be met by a sharp ratcheting up of sanctions or even more coercive actions.
To thwart Iranian efforts to erode the sanctions regime without an agreement,
- we would consult actively with members of the international sanctions coalition to explain that prospects for resolving the issue diplomatically and avoiding a military confrontation depend on maintaining a united front on sanctions.
- We would also work with Congress to adopt additional sanctions and make the case internationally on the need for ramping them up.
To encourage Iran’s crude oil purchasers to make further reductions,
- we could continueurging major producers in the Middle East, Africa and North America to increase production in order to provide alternate sources of supply.
Our goal in pursuing these policies would be to make the Iranians amenable to accepting a deal along the lines we propose or, failing a negotiated solution, to deter significant Iranian movement toward or across the nuclear threshold.
- While pressing for a sound comprehensive agreement with Iran, the U.S. should prepare for a possible failure of nuclear negotiations. In that event, Robert Einhorn and Kenneth Pollack recommend that President Obama reinforce international support for strengthening sanctions, and for credibly threatening much greater penalties for any Iranian movement toward or across the nuclear threshold.
The other main alternative—the use of military force—would only set back Iran’s nuclear program temporarily, could result in a region-wide conflict of unpredictable dimensions, and could well trigger an Iranian decision to evict inspectors, withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and go for nuclear weapons as soon as possible.
If Iran is determined to maintain and even shorten its nuclear breakout capability and is unwilling to accept significant limits on its nuclear capacities and rigorous monitoring measures, the United States will have little choice but to turn to these alternatives. But before it does, it should make every effort to negotiate an agreement that can influence future Iranian nuclear decision-making and significantly reduce the likelihood that Iran will opt to build nuclear weapons.
No two countries feel more strongly about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons than the United States and Israel, although the heated rhetoric of recent weeks might have given the impression that the two close allies were adversaries on the issue. With the initial deal done and major negotiating challenges ahead, it is critical now that the public arguments give way to quiet engagement in which the two partners work together on a pathway forward that can produce an outcome that both agree will protect their vital security interests.
On March 31, the Brookings Institution will host a panel to discuss the Iran nuclear negotiations, especially to consider the elements of a final deal and the policies supplementing it that would be required to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and serve the security interests of the United States and its security partners in the Middle East.