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The Iranian Deal

by | November 26th, 2013 | 07:00 am

The Iranian and North Korean nuclear cases are different in a number of respects, and Secretary Kerry was quick to point them out following the conclusion of the deal. On CNN’s State of the Union it was the first question that Kerry got from Candy Crowley, and he was clearly prepped: “First of all, [Iran’s] a member of the NPT. Secondly, they have engaged in a negotiation.  Thirdly, they have committed to have daily inspections of certain facilities. They have committed to restrict their activities with those inspections taking place. And in addition to that, they have publicly committed that they are not going to build a nuclear weapon. North Korea already has and has tested and will not declare a policy of denuclearization.” Columnists supportive of the deal were quick to point out these differences; Fox News and other critics were equally quick to jump on the possible parallels of the North Korean deal ultimately gone sour.

The Iran deal should not be read through the lens of what it actually accomplishes now—which is very modest–but through the broader opportunity to engage; Steve Walt makes the point eloquently from a realist perspective at Foreign Policy. To us, the core difference between Iran and North Korea, however, is that there has been an observable shift in the ruling coalition in Iran with the controlled election of Rouhani that makes such a negotiation worth risking; nothing similar is visible in North Korea. The last time we failed to take up such an opportunity during the second Khatami presidency we helped pave the way for the rise of Ahmadinejad. Imposing more sanctions at this point would only sour negotiations, and we are pleased that there has been some domestic restraint, even if our allies have been much less diplomatic.

In this post, we simply annotate the Joint Plan of Action through a Korean lens: what is familiar, what is new, what might be learned?


Geneva, 24 November 2013

Joint Plan of Action


The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons. This comprehensive solution would build on these initial measures and result in a final step for a period to be agreed upon and the resolution of concerns. This comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein. This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the programme. This comprehensive solution would constitute an integrated whole where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This comprehensive solution would involve a reciprocal, step-by-step process, and would produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions, as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme.

There would be additional steps in between the initial measures and the final step, including, among other things, addressing the UN Security Council resolutions, with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the UN Security Council’s consideration of this matter. The E3+3 and Iran will be responsible for conclusion and implementation of mutual near-term measures and the comprehensive solution in good faith. A Joint Commission of E3/EU+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of the near-term measures and address issues that may arise, with the IAEA responsible for verification of nuclear-related measures. The Joint Commission will work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern.

 SH for Witness to Transformation: The equivalent document in the Six Party Talks process is the Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks of September 19, 2005. The Joint Statement was more terse in its statement of the DPRK’s rights to a peaceful nuclear program. The Iran agreement is much more granular with respect to enrichment, which did not come up at the equivalent stage of the Six Party Talks. The preamble contains the nub of the problem: the Iranians will “fully enjoy” their right to a peaceful program, yet there will be “practical limits” on its ability to enrich. No sooner was the ink dry then debate ensued on whether the document recognized an Iranian right to enrich; Iran said “yes,” the US “absolutely not,” noting that neither the NPT nor the document contained an explicit right to enrich. In subsequent negotiations with the DPRK, this issue will come up if North Korea claims that its enrichment program is tied to fueling its new light-water reactor.

The general approach of incremental exchange of concessions is similar to the Joint Statement agreement to take coordinated steps “in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action.’” In the North Korean case, the details were not worked out until after the North Koreans had tested in October 2006 in two documents called the Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement and the Second Phase Actions for Implementation of the Joint Statement. The problem with incremental approaches is that they can stretch out over an infinite horizon; deadlines contained in the Initial and Second Phase Actions documents were missed and negotiations subsequently fell apart over what was actually meant by the two implementation agreements. The Iran deal carries similar risks, but compared to what? An “all at once” deal was not going to happen.

Elements of a first step

 The first step would be time-bound, with a duration of 6 months, and renewable by mutual consent, during which all parties will work to maintain a constructive atmosphere for negotiations in good faith.

 Iran would undertake the following voluntary measures:

 From the existing uranium enriched to 20%, retain half as working stock of 20% oxide for fabrication of fuel for the TRR. Dilute the remaining 20% (sic) UF6 to no more than 5%. No reconversion line.

Iran announces that it will not enrich uranium over 5% for the duration of the 6 months.

Iran announces that it will not make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant [footnote: Namely, during the 6 months, Iran will not feed UF6 into the centrifuges installed but not enriching uranium. Not install additional centrifuges (sic). Iran announces that during the first 6 months, it will replace existing centrifuges with centrifuges of the same type], Fordow [footnote: At Fordow, no further enrichment over 5% at 4 cascades now enriching uranium, and not increase enrichment capacity. Not feed UF6 into the other 12 cascades, which would remain in a non-operative state. No interconnections between cascades. Iran announces that during the first 6 months, it will replace existing centrifuges with centrifuges of the same type] or the Arak reactor, designated by the IAEA as IR-40 [footnote: Iran announces on concerns related to the construction of the reactor at Arak that for 6 months it will not commission the reactor or transfer fuel or heavy water to the reactor site and will not test additional fuel or produce more fuel for the reactor or install remaining components.]

Beginning when the line for conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% to UO2 is ready, Iran has decided to convert to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the 6 month period, as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA.

No new locations for the enrichment.

Iran will continue its safeguarded R&D practices, including its current enrichment R&D practices, which are not designed for accumulation of the enriched uranium.

No reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing.

SH for Witness to Transformation: The deal has been portrayed as a “freeze,” but this characterization is subtly misleading. Iran can and will continue to enrich up to 5%, but has agreed that the total stock of such low enriched uranium (5% LEU) will not increase. This seems odd; why enrich and then agree to dilute what you have enriched or convert it into oxide? The reason is the political one noted above: that Iran has set as its red line the “right to enrich,” and their ability to keep the cascades running is a concession on that front. Iran also maintains the right to continue R&D into enrichment.

But there are other elements of the deal that do constitute a freeze, including in the stock of 5% low enriched uranium, in the halt on enrichment above 5%, in the use of particular new-generation centrifuges, in the addition of any centrifuges to existing cascades or even their manufacture, and in the construction of any new enrichment facilities. On the plutonium track, the agreement does constitute a more definitive freeze; further work on the Arak heavy water reactor—including transfer of fuel or heavy water to the site—has been stopped for six months.

In one sense, finally, the agreement is not only a freeze but a rollback. Iran has agreed to actually give up half of its 20% LEU.

What does this buy us? The most frequently cited source on this issue is David Albright at the Institute for Science and International Security. He concludes that “if Iran used all of its installed centrifuges, the time it would need to produce a weapon would expand to at least 1.9 to 2.2 months, up from at least 1 month to 1.6 months.” This assessment is misleading, both in its false precision and in the basis of the calculation: this is an assessment of how long it would take to generate the fissile material to build a bomb. We do not know how close they are on bomb design. This does not appear to be much, but note that in the North Korean case a freeze gets you less because the DPRK already has a stockpile of both weapons and fissile material; you are stopping an increase in the arsenal. And a freeze does not buy you any degrading of the underlying capability to generate fissile material; this would require disablement or dismantlement of the facilities. Clearly, the effect of the agreement is not in blunting Iran’s capabilities in any significant way, but in opening the path to negotiations that will do so.

Enhanced monitoring:

o Provision of specified information to the IAEA, including information on Iran’s plans for nuclear facilities, a description of each building on each nuclear site, a description of the scale of operations for each location engaged in specified nuclear activities, information on uranium mines and mills, and information on source material. This information would be provided within three months of the adoption of these measures.

o Submission of an updated DIQ for the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40, to the IAEA

o Steps to agree with the IAEA on conclusion of the Safeguards Approach for the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40.

o Daily IAEA inspector access when inspectors are not present for the purpose of Design Information Verification, Interim Inventory Verification, Physical Inventory Verification, and unannounced inspections, for the purpose of access to offline surveillance records, at Fordow and Natanz.

o IAEA inspector managed access to:

Centrifuge assembly workshops [footnote. Consistent with its plans, Iran’s centrifuge production during the 6 months will be dedicated to replace damaged machines.;

Centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities; and,

Uranium mines and mills.

SH for Witness to Transformation:When the North Korean declaration of 2008 disappointed, and when intelligence surfaced about DPRK involvement in the Syrian reactor, the US took the step of insisting on a verification protocol that was not included in the two 2007 roadmap agreements; this may have seemed reasonable at the time but it contributed to killing the deal. The verification components of the Leap Year deal appeared limited to verifying the freeze at Yongbyon; now, we have been informed by reliable sources that the US is holding out for a wider declaration—called Leap Year alpha—that would identify other nuclear sites engaged in HEU. The Iranian agreement seems both global in covering all facilities and very specific about the ones we know. Something similar will have to be on the table early for the Six Party Talks to restart.U.S. officials have said repeatedly that Iran must satisfy IAEA concerns about Iran’s past, and possibly ongoing, work on nuclear weapons; this will be a much, much harder nut to crack.

In return, the E3/EU+3 would undertake the following voluntary measures

Pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales, enabling Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil. Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad. For such oil sales, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services.

Suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on:

o Iran’s petrochemical exports, as well as sanctions on associated services. [Footnote. Sanctions on associated services” means any service, such as insurance, transportation, or financial, subject to the underlying U.S. or EU sanctions applicable, insofar as each service is related to the underlying sanction and required to facilitate the desired transactions. These services could involve any non-designated Iranian entities.

o Gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions on associated services.

Suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran’s auto industry, as well as sanctions on associated services.

License the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for safety of flight for Iranian civil aviation and associated services. License safety related inspections and repairs in Iran as well as associated services. [Footnote: Sanctions relief could involve any non-designated Iranian airlines as well as Iran Air.]

No new nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions.

No new EU nuclear-related sanctions.

The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.

Establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran’s domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad. Humanitarian trade would be defined as transactions involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad. This channel would involve specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks to be defined when establishing the channel.

o This channel could also enable:

transactions required to pay Iran’s UN obligations; and,

direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six month period.

Increase the EU authorisation thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.

SH for Witness to Transformation: Perhaps we should not say this too loudly, but the sanctions relief strikes us as incredibly modest, indeed can even be read as an indication of how anxious Iran is likely to have been for a deal. The oil export situation is not improved; there is only a promise not to squeeze it further. Iran is granted an increase in exports that was no doubt tightly calibrated and has been estimated in the vicinity of $7-15 billion out of annual sanctions that could be costing as much as $100 billion; we will provide our own analysis of this shortly. The idea of linking unfrozen assets to humanitarian imports and the payment of tuitions of Iranians studying abroad is clever.

Critics of the agreement seem to be having a hard time claiming that we gave away the store; the arguments therefore have centered on the fact that the sanctions will be difficult to re-impose if the deal goes sour. But why? The fact that it was hard to get sanctions in the first place does not mean that it will be hard to reimpose them if Iran clearly violates the deal; we don’t get it. Moreover, the feared leakage—that once the sanctions are loosened a bit they will collapse—can also be turned to the advantage of the deal; once the Iranians see the gains from lifting the sanctions they should have strong incentives to comply. President Obama has personally made this argument.

With respect to quid-pro-quos vis-à-vis North Korea, the Joint Statement was reached before North Korea had tested and UN sanctions had been imposed; the payoffs to North Korea were in immediate fuel and energy assistance rather than a commitment to partial and then full lifting of sanctions (the meaning of “addressing the UN Security Council resolutions, with a view toward
bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the UN Security Council’s consideration of this matter.”) A problem with lifting of the North Korean sanctions is that they are not likely to have any significant effect because the risks of doing business in North Korea remain substantial; in Iran, lifting sanctions has immediate effect. Assuming the North Koreans understand this, a deal with the DPRK will probably require more direct payouts, another political problem in negotiating with Pyongyang.

 Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution [Footnote: With respect to the final step and any steps in between, the standard principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” applies.]

 The final step of a comprehensive solution, which the parties aim to conclude negotiating and commence implementing no more than one year after the adoption of this document, would:

Have a specified long-term duration to be agreed upon.

Reflect the rights and obligations of parties to the NPT and IAEA Safeguards Agreements.

Comprehensively lift UN Security Council, multilateral and national nuclear-related sanctions, including steps on access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy, on a schedule to be agreed upon.

Involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities, capacity, where it is carried out, and stocks of enriched uranium, for a period to be agreed upon.

Fully resolve concerns related to the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40. No reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing.

Fully implement the agreed transparency measures and enhanced monitoring. Ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Majlis (Iranian parliament).

Include international civil nuclear cooperation, including among others, on acquiring modern light water power and research reactors and associated equipment, and the supply of modern nuclear fuel as well as agreed R&D practices. Following successful implementation of the final step of the comprehensive solution for its full duration, the Iranian nuclear programme will be treated in the same manner as that of any nonnuclear weapon state party to the NPT.

SH for Witness to Transformation: All of the difficult issues are finessed here, such as the ultimate status of Arak and the size of the centrifuge program. The debates are similar to those around North Korea with respect to a freeze vs. disablement vs. dismantlement. If Arak goes ahead, even if monitored, it provides a potential source of plutonium. And if the Iranians continue to possess 18,000 to 19,000 centrifuges, but are simply limiting their use, then it similarly provides a potential source of HEU. But the whole point of giving this six months is to see if negotiators can bite into these issues and at least get an agreement that sets some predictable time limits on Iran’s capacity to break out. If an agreement is not reached, we have a hard time seeing how we are worse off; as the odd footnote summarizes, nothing is finally agreed until everything is agreed.