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Iran-P5+1 nuclear talks: Fracturing culture of sanctions

5 July 2015 13:38


Nuclear negotiators from Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany say they want a good agreement. After all, if agreement for agreement’s sake was enough, why all the extensions?

One of the objectives of the negotiations, says Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister and senior nuclear negotiator Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, is terminating the “unjust and illegitimate” sanctions.

“Iran wants all the economic, trade and financial sanctions to be lifted and not suspended on the day a final agreement is implemented”, he says, which brings us to the suggested division of the whole agreement process into three distinct stages.

In the first stage, Iran and the P5+1 will announce that they have finally come up with a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is said to include a main text of around 20 and several annexes of around 60 pages. It’s at this stage that a new UN Security Council Resolution will be issued, reaffirming the JCPOA and annulling all previous UN Security Council Resolutions against Tehran. But would this mean that sanctions covering non-economic areas including arms and the nuclear industry are also going to be removed? That, is still under discussion, diplomatic sources say.

The second stage would come after the US Congress and the Iranian parliament have reviewed the final text. In this stage both sides would kick-start the operational phase, meaning Tehran would begin taking measures to limit the level and scope of uranium enrichment. It would begin to reduce the number of its operational centrifuges to 5,060 and limit enrichment to 3.67 percent. It would begin to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 300 kilograms. Most of the enriched uranium would be converted to fuel and the remainder would be exported.

Sources close to Iranian negotiators say Tehran would sell the low-enriched uranium in exchange for uranium ore or yellow cake, thereby ensuring that the amount of uranium in the country will not be reduced. The Arak Heavy Water reactor would be redesigned and rebuilt to prevent the production of weapons grade plutonium. What’s important for Iran at this stage is to continue the production of heavy water to produce fuel.

As Tehran takes these steps, the other side would begin in earnest procedures meant to terminate sanctions. The International Atomic Energy would need to verify this stage and Iranian negotiators have been suggesting they do not want the agreement’s implementation, specifically the lifting of sanctions, to be dependent on the IAEA’s “qualitative” judgment. It’s important they say to keep the agency’s role as objective as possible. The IAEA is also tasked with resolving issued related to what it calls the Possible Military Dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program or PMD, what’s known by Iranian negotiators as “past and present issues.”

The P5+1 initially proposed that Iran grant the IAEA access to a list of people and places. The proposal was rejected by Tehran. Diplomatic sources say Tehran believes the so-called PMD issue can be resolved without access and through the Framework for Cooperation that was signed between Iran and the agency in 2012. Some Iranian sources say if the IAEA requests access to sites, personnel or documents, Iran will examine the request to see if the claims for access are based on verifiable evidence.

It is important, informed sources say, to make a distinction between access requested over PMD and “managed access” that falls under the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran would agree to implement provisionally following ratification by parliament as part of the JCPOA. Some analysts suggest the access issue is not as problematic as it’s been made out to be particularly by those who claimed Iran was backtracking on the agreement achieved back in April in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

“What’s really happening is that Iran and the US are discussing the implementation details not the basic Lausanne framework and that is very different from backtracking from the agreement itself,” says investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter.

Sources close to the Iranian negotiating team say the PMD issue needs to be resolved before the JCPOA can be implemented. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano says he thinks the agency can issue a report on the clarification of issues related to PMD by the end of the year. The announcement was interpreted as a positive message.

“I think a lot of the blocked aspects of the PMD issue are starting to be unblocked as the two sides are getting very close to an agreement,” says Porter who has recently authored the book “Manufactured Crisis, The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.”

Porter says it’s very clear that Amano has been waiting for a signal from the US to essentially start a process that will be quickly completed. “Amano” he says, “knows that he’s not supposed to come to an agreement with Iran until there’s no point in keeping the diplomatic pressure.”

In the third and final stage of the agreement Iran would have completed its measures and the sanctions would have effectively been removed. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi says since Iran would need between one to two months to carry out its agreed measures and the other side would need a considerably shorter time to terminate sanctions, finding a formula to ensure simultaneity has become one of the toughest challenges in the talks yet.

Apart from PMD and the complicated process of simultaneous and parallel action, other issues that have still not been resolved include the scope and schedule of research and development on mainly advanced centrifuges and the duration of a final deal.

Talks have also been focused on the creation of a joint commission working on a dispute resolution mechanism that would assess claims pertaining to non-commitment by any of the involved parties or the need for further access.

Both Iran and the other side consider all options when it comes to reversing measures taken under the JCPOA in case of violation due to a lack of trust, sources close to the negotiators say. For the P5+1 this mainly means the re-imposition of sanctions and for Iran it means being able to make the 1,000 centrifuges in Fordow operational, what diplomatic sources call a deterrence policy.

Iranian sources say Tehran is completely against the idea of the automatic re-imposition of sanctions and that’s why it’s discussing a complex mechanism under the joint commission that would entail a high political price for any side that wrongfully claims there has been a breach.

As talks enter their final stages, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the other side should choose between agreement or coercion.

“The P5+1 knew about Iran’s redlines from the beginning,” says political commentator Pepe Escobar. So reaffirming those redlines doesn’t mean Tehran is blowing up the deal as some media outlets in the West would want to claim, he says.

“The Obama administration doesn’t want to let this go. They badly want a deal since it will be their only foreign policy victory,” says Escobar. “If there is no deal, Zarif already said it will not be the end of the world because Iran has adapted under sanctions for decades,” he concludes.

The question now, Iranian diplomatic sources say, is whether the P5+1 can work its way through its differences and come to a conclusion on the need to fracture the culture of sanctions.

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