By Kelsey Davenport
Iran and six world powers announced last month that they had reached agreement on the broad parameters of a comprehensive nuclear deal.
In an April 2 joint statement in the Swiss city of Lausanne, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) said the agreement on the key elements is a “decisive step” that will form the basis of a final text for a comprehensive agreement.
The two sides aim to complete a final deal by June 30. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but the international community is concerned that Iran may choose to pursue nuclear weapons.
The April 2 statement did not contain much detail, but noted that Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and stockpiles would be limited, that the Fordow enrichment facility would be repurposed for research and development, and that the currently incomplete Arak heavy-water reactor would be redesigned so as not to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
Parameters of a Comprehensive Deal
After 15 months of intensive negotiations, Iran and six world powers reached agreement on the broad parameters of a comprehensive nuclear deal. A joint April 2 announcement in Lausanne, Switzerland, by Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) laid out the framework that will guide negotiators as they work to complete the final deal by June 30. The White House released a summary that offered details on the framework.
According to the summary, the comprehensive agreement would require Iran to
• reduce the number of installed centrifuges from about 19,000 to 6,104, of which 5,060 will be used for enriching uranium for 10 years;
• store dismantled machines under seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA);
• cap uranium-enrichment levels at 3.67 percent (reactor grade) for 15 years;
• reduce stockpiles of reactor-grade enriched uranium from 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms;
• convert the Fordow enrichment facility to a research center, with no uranium enrichment for at least 15 years;
• convert the 900 centrifuges at Fordow to enrichment of elements other than uranium for medical purposes;
• limit research and development on advanced centrifuges for at least 10 years;
• destroy and replace the core of the Arak heavy-water reactor so the reactor cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium;
• commit not to separate plutonium from spent fuel;
• allow continuous monitoring of uranium mines and mills for 25 years;
• allow continuous monitoring of centrifuge production and storage facilities for 20 years;
• allow continuous monitoring of the Fordow and Natanz enrichment sites;
• implement an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA; and
• cooperate with the IAEA investigation into allegations that, in the past, Iran’s nuclear program had “military dimensions.”
In addition, the P5+1 would develop a dedicated, monitored channel for Iran’s procurement of dual-use technology.
The P5+1 would be required to terminate some and suspend other nuclear-related UN, U.S., and EU sanctions as Iran takes key steps.
The statement outlined additional transparency measures that Iran is to take under a final deal. The statement also said that EU sanctions will be terminated and U.S. nuclear sanctions suspended simultaneously as Iran takes key nuclear steps.
Opinions on the agreed parameters and on whether the limitations will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons were mixed, generally breaking along predictable lines.
President Barack Obama said shortly after the announcement that if the framework is translated into a final deal, it will “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon” and will make the United States and the world safer.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on April 5 that the agreed parameters will make for a “very bad deal.” He criticized the agreement for leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and doing nothing to curb Iranian ballistic missile development. Critics, including Netanyahu, have called for a deal to limit the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles.
The White House released a detailed summary of the parameters that included a description of specific cuts to Iran’s nuclear program and agreed transparency measures. In April 3 remarks in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif did not endorse the document and emphasized different elements than the White House did.
In his statement in Tehran, Zarif highlighted particular provisions of the deal permitting Iran to continue operating all of its nuclear sites and to conduct nuclear-related research and development in areas such as testing of advanced centrifuge machines. Zarif emphasized that sanctions would be removed at the beginning of an agreement. Those are key goals for Iran in a comprehensive nuclear deal.
Both sides said that a number of details remain to resolved before a final agreement can be reached. The parties met again in Vienna on April 22 to begin drafting the comprehensive deal.
Some of the most significant details of the White House summary related to limitations on Iran’s uranium-enrichment program.
According to the summary, Iran will cut the number of its installed first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1, from more than 19,000 to 6,104, of which 5,060 will be operating at the Natanz enrichment facility. That number is about half of the current enrichment capacity, about 10,200 operating IR-1 centrifuges.
Under a final deal, the roughly 900 IR-1 machines that are not operating would be at the Fordow facility for research. Some of those machines would be used for enrichment of elements other than uranium for research and medical purposes. These limits would remain in place for 10 years.
Iran also would limit its enrichment of uranium to reactor-grade levels, 3.67 percent uranium-235, for 15 years and limit its stockpile of enriched uranium gas to 300 kilograms. Iran currently has about 10,000 kilograms in gas form enriched to this level.
Together, these limitations would increase to at least 12 months the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one weapon, 25 kilograms of material with an enrichment level above 90 percent U-235. Currently that time period, commonly known as breakout time, is estimated to be two to three months. The Obama administration set a breakout time of one year as a goal for the talks. (See ACT, December 2014.)
One of the issues yet to be resolved involves neutralizing Iran’s stockpile of enriched material in excess of the 300 kilograms enriched to 3.67 percent. Options include diluting the material down to natural uranium levels of about 0.7 percent U-235, shipping it to Russia, or selling it on the open market.
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, expressed a preference on April 6 for shipping the stockpile to Russia.
The method of disposition does not affect the breakout time or the outcome, namely that about 97 percent of Iran’s current stockpile of enriched uranium would no longer be available for possible further enrichment to weapons-grade levels.
One of the most critical elements of an effective nuclear deal with Iran is ensuring that the enhanced monitoring and verification regime is intrusive enough to block a covert path to nuclear weapons development and is able to detect very quickly any deviation from the deal.
The monitoring regime as described in the White House summary is a multilayered approach that subjects every step of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and supply chains to intensive monitoring and verification. Obama characterized it as the most intensive monitoring regime devised to date and said that “if Iran cheats, the world will know.”
In addition to regular access to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, such as Natanz, Fordow, and Arak, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would operate continuous surveillance of Iran’s uranium mines for 25 years. The production areas for centrifuge rotors and bellows would be under continuous surveillance for 20 years. The stored centrifuges removed from Fordow and Natanz also would be under continuous surveillance. In addition, any dual-use items or materials procured for Iran’s nuclear program would move through a designated channel and be subject to monitoring and approval. Currently, UN sanctions prohibit the purchase of materials or technology that could be used to advance Iran’s nuclear program.
Taken together, these measures cover Iran’s supply chain and would help ensure that Tehran is not covertly pursuing nuclear weapons using a clandestine parallel program.
The parameters of the deal include Iran’s immediate implementation of an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. This requirement expands Iran’s nuclear declaration to include a larger number of sites that encompass the entirety of Iran’s fuel cycle. Agency inspectors would have access to a greater number of facilities and the ability to conduct short-notice inspections.
An additional protocol is permanent once ratified. Iran and the IAEA negotiated an additional protocol in 2003, and Iran voluntarily adhered to it until 2006.
The IAEA would receive earlier notification of any new nuclear facilities that Iran intends to build through implementation of a safeguards provision known as “modified Code 3.1.” Under that provision, Iran must notify the agency as soon as it decides to build a new facility. Under existing safeguards, Iran is required to provide notice to the agency only six months before it commissions a facility.
Greater notice would give the international community more time to assess the impact of the new facilities and ensure that they are in line with Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.
Critics, including Netanyahu and some U.S. lawmakers, argue that the comprehensive nuclear deal must allow for inspections at any time and at any place, including at military sites. Supporters counter that it is unrealistic to assume that any country would accept unlimited, no-notice inspections at any and all military sites.
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an April 12 op-ed in The Washington Post that the covert pathway to nuclear weapons development by Iran is blocked by “unprecedented safeguards and access” to Iran’s nuclear sites.