After three days of talks in Vienna, Iran and six world powers agreed last month on a framework and timetable to guide the first four months of negotiations on a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who leads the negotiating team for the six-country group known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), said in a Feb. 20 statement that the parties had “identified all of the issues” to be addressed in the comprehensive agreement.
An official who was briefed on the talks told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 20 e-mail that this is not a “written agenda” but an “understanding of the issues that must be covered.” The official, who is from a P5+1 country, said that most of the discussions were on process but that “some substance was covered.”
The Feb. 18-20 meetings marked the resumption of political-level negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, following a Nov. 24 agreement on a plan of action, which laid out initial steps for each side to take and the broad parameters to guide negotiations on the comprehensive deal. (See ACT, December 2013.)
Implementation of the initial actions began Jan. 20 and is to last six months. The time period can be extended for an additional six months with the agreement of all the parties. But a senior U.S. official said at a Feb. 20 press briefing that the parties are aiming to negotiate the agreement within the six-month time frame of the initial deal.
The political-level meetings are scheduled to resume March 17, with experts gathering earlier in the month to discuss technical details.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who leads the negotiating team for Iran, told reporters Feb. 20 that the parties agreed that “nothing except Iran’s nuclear activities” will be part of the negotiations. Iran’s “defensive issues and scientific capabilities” will not be part of the talks, he said.
Zarif may have been referring to the recent comments from U.S. lawmakers about limiting Iran’s ballistic missile development and research as part of the deal.
UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which was approved in June 2010, prohibits Iran from “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” including launches. In addition to Resolution 1929, the UN Security Council passed five resolutions dating back to August 2006 that prohibit countries from selling items to Iran that could be used to build ballistic missiles. The resolutions also require Iran to suspend certain nuclear activities, including those that are part of its uranium-enrichment program.
At a Feb. 17 press briefing, the senior U.S. official said that the UN Security Council resolutions must be addressed “in some way as part of the comprehensive agreement” but how to address them remains to be negotiated.
Under the Nov. 24 agreement, Iran is permitted to continue its nuclear research and development activities, including testing of advanced centrifuges. The most recent quarterly report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear program said that Tehran notified the agency of a new advanced centrifuge, the IR-8, that it will begin testing. The centrifuge was not yet installed as of the Feb. 20 IAEA report.
On Jan. 20, the day that implementation of the November agreement began, the IAEA issued a special report confirming that Iran had taken the steps required by the Nov. 24 agreement to halt certain nuclear activities, including enrichment of uranium to 20 percent.
Uranium refined to that level is more easily enriched further to weapons grade than if it begins as reactor-grade uranium, which is enriched to less than 5 percent. Iran’s stockpile of the 20 percent-enriched material was a key concern for the international community.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but some countries are concerned that Iran could use its nuclear capabilities to develop nuclear weapons.
As part of the initial deal, Iran agreed to dilute half of its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium to an enrichment level of less than 5 percent. The remaining half would be converted to a powder form that can be used to make fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes.
According to the Feb. 20 IAEA report, the conversion and the dilution of the 20 percent-enriched stockpile had begun. As of the release of the previous IAEA quarterly report, in November, Iran had 196 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium. The Feb. 20 report said that the stockpile was 160 kilograms.
In the Nov. 24 agreement, Iran agreed to more-stringent monitoring and verification measures by the IAEA, including allowing daily access to Iran’s enrichment sites at Natanz and Fordow. The senior U.S. official said at a Feb. 17 press briefing that daily inspections at the enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow had begun.
The Feb. 20 IAEA report also said additional surveillance measures were put in place to ensure that Iran does not operate or install any additional centrifuges during the six months of the deal.
The Nov. 24 agreement also provides for IAEA access to centrifuge rotor production facilities, centrifuge assembly workshops, and centrifuge storage facilities. This access will give the agency a “clearer picture of Iran’s centrifuge production” and allow the international community to monitor the movement of any centrifuges, the official from the P5+1 country said in his Feb. 20 e-mail. Increased monitoring of key centrifuge production facilities, along with IAEA access to uranium mines, will help reassure the international community that Iran is not pursuing a clandestine enrichment program, he said.
According to the Feb. 20 IAEA report, the centrifuges that had been enriching uranium to the 20 percent level at Fordow are now being used to produce reactor-grade enriched uranium.
The future of Fordow will likely be a controversial issue, the official said, as Iran will want to continue enrichment activities there, whereas the P5+1 in the past has pushed for its closure. A compromise allowing Iran to continue research activities, but not commercial enrichment, may be a possibility, he said.
Also on Jan. 20, the United States and the European Union announced a sanctions waiver that allows Iran to resume selling petrochemical products and trade in gold and other precious metals. In addition, Iran will receive spare parts for its civilian aircraft and $4.2 billion in revenues from oil sales that is tied up in foreign banks. The P5+1 agreed to these measures in the Nov. 24 deal.
The revenue is to be released to Iran in installments on a set schedule over the course of the six months. The first payment took place Feb. 1.
During the six-month implementation period of the Nov. 24 agreement, a joint commission set up by the agreement will serve as a mechanism to clarify and resolve any compliance issues. The official said the goal of setting up a separate monitoring mechanism was to keep any disagreements about implementation out of the political-level negotiations between Iran and the P5+1.