2 April 2015

The experts on the Iranian framework agreement

Bulletin Staff

Six world powers—the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, or the P5+1—and Iran announced a framework agreement Thursday on limitations to the Iranian nuclear program. Very generally, the framework agreement sets out a series of actions that would limit the scope of the Iranian nuclear program and restrain Iran from producing nuclear weapons; in exchange, international sanctions instituted because of the Iranian nuclear program would be eased. In the wake of the announcement, the Bulletin asked numerous experts on the situation to offer their assessments of the framework agreement. We set no parameters on these expert comments, which are offered here in hopes they will inspire discussion on the prospects for a final agreement by a June 30 deadline.

Invited Expert Commentary

William H. Tobey
,
senior fellow
,
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
6 April 2015

Two surprises pop from the parameters for a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program announced by the State Department on April 2, 2015. To its credit, the document is more detailed and constrictive than was foreshadowed by leaks or feared by critics. Less auspicious, it is not clear that the Islamic Republic agrees to it. 

Rather, Iran agreed to a joint statement by its Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and European Union representative Frederica Mogherini that is far less detailed and constrictive. Apparently, the sides either could not—or did not have enough time to—negotiate an agreed document fixing parameters for the framework, and chose instead to issue unilateral “fact sheets” describing their respective understandings of the deal. The Iranian fact sheet is far less specific than the US effort and differs from it in key aspects—most notably over whether sanctions relief would be immediate or gradual—eliciting angry tweets from Zarif.

The framework agreement also defers the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns about the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program to unspecified “agreed measures.” Such measures have been promised before—notably by a White House fact sheet on the November 2013 agreement—but the IAEA has yet to receive any satisfaction from Iran on the matter.

What then to make of the “framework agreement?” The immediate bickering over the parameters should give rise to concern that there has not been a meeting of the minds. The absence of progress on the “possible military dimensions” should raise red flags about the verifiability of an agreement and Tehran’s commitment to implementing it.  And the incompleteness of the agreement makes unconditional support for it ill advised. The best we can do is wait and see, while expressing concern that key criteria of effectiveness remain unmet.

Graham Allison
,
director
,
Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
3 April 2015

In the final stages of March Madness, when most readers see a sequence of numbers, they think about their betting card. Consider instead the framework accord reached between the US and its partners and Iran. To what questions are the following the answer: 15,000, 12,000, 10, 5, and 0?

The first is the answer to the question: How many pounds of low-enriched uranium will be neutralized? The second, 12,000, responds to the question: How many centrifuges will be decommissioned? The third, fourth, and fifth numbers answer: How many months will Iran’s “breakout” timeline to a bomb will be extended? How many bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium will be neutralized? And how many bombs’ worth of plutonium will Iran able to produce?

If our objective is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, if and when this agreement is finalized and implemented, will Iran be a step closer to a bomb, as the Israeli government spokesman asserted today? Or will Iran take a step back further away from its nuclear goal line? If one analyzes the numbers, the answer is clear.

For more detail, see Iran Matters.

Oliver Meier
,
International Security Division
,
German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin
3 April 2015

The Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of April 2 are a huge step towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Four weeks ahead of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, the Lausanne agreement is potentially also a shot in the arm for the NPT.

The framework agreed by the six countries often called the E3+3 or P5+1 and Iran is much more detailed and comprehensive than many observers and experts had predicted. It provides for significant restrictions on Iran’s proliferation-sensitive activities as well as intensified monitoring. Provided there is agreement on the timing and conditions of sanctions relief, the understandings reached in Lausanne should be a solid basis for a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by June 30.

Somecritics had cautioned that a nuclear deal would fuel, rather than dampen, possible nuclear aspirations of Iran’s regional competitors. The agreements reached in Lausanne should take the wind out of their sails. It is crystal-clear now that any final agreement based on the elements hammered out in Lausanne would greatly reduce the risk of Iran going nuclear, either by overtly breaking out of the NPT or by constructing clandestine facilities for nuclear fuel production. The long duration of a possible accord—10 to 25 years for most measures in the agreement—is sufficient to ensure that international trust is re-established before restrictions are completely lifted.

From a broader non-proliferation perspective, the agreement could provide an urgently needed boost for the NPT. A peaceful resolution of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program would mark the first time that an NPT member that has committed significant safeguards violations returns to compliance, without regime change. Such a success would prove that regimes such as the NPT can deal effectively with even the toughest non-compliance cases, provided there is sufficient support from great powers and enough patience to give diplomacy a chance.

A practical solution of the nuclear conflict is to be achieved through some proven and many innovative instruments. Some of these approaches—such as restrictions on enrichment capacities—will probably remain unique to Iran. Others, such as novel verification approaches, could inspire reforms in the way the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does business. Increased international cooperation on certain proliferation-sensitive research and development activities could serve as a model for multilateral approaches to reduce the risk of the military misuse of peaceful nuclear activities elsewhere.

The E3+3 and Iran have also, in principle, agreed to create a conflict-resolution mechanism to help resolve problems that are certain to arise during the long implementation period. Such a mechanism could be a first step towards a permanent body to help address other NPT compliance concerns. Even though it is the oldest of all weapons of mass destruction accords, the NPT is the only non-proliferation regime that does not have any permanent institutional support structure.

To be sure, the Lausanne accord has shortcomings. These include Iran’s reluctance to commit to a ratification of the Additional Protocol and the fuzzy language on how to achieve greater clarity on a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. Overall, however, the hard-won compromise demonstrates that the NPT is and remains an indispensable framework for addressing violations of the treaty’s norms, rules and procedures.

Representatives of NPT member states meeting from April 27 to May 22 in New York should take courage from these achievements. Diplomats at the review conference should urge the E3+3 and Iran to finalize an agreement by June 30, note specific elements such as strengthened safeguards contained in the Lausanne agreement, and use the momentum of the nuclear talks to reach an agreement on strengthened non-proliferation procedures, worldwide.

Clearly, many states will continue to oppose stricter non-proliferation rules as long as more credible commitments by the nuclear weapon states on nuclear disarmament are lacking. NPT members should therefore also encourage the E3+3 and Iran to strengthen the connections between the NPT’s disarmament agenda and any agreement reached with Iran. A final agreement should, for example, highlight the importance of entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Three of the seven states meeting in Lausanne have not yet ratified the CTBT. A pledge by China, Iran, and the United States to accelerate CTBT ratification would strengthen the nuclear order by making clear that any resolution of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program is inherently connected to the global non-proliferation regime.

Sharon Squassoni
,
senior fellow and director, Proliferation Prevention Program
,
Center for Strategic and International Studies
3 April 2015

Iran's negotiators have agreed to some real limits on their nuclear program, in exchange for some real relief from financial and economic sanctions.  The only question is: Can Iranian leaders resist snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

The understanding reached in Lausanne this week appears fragile, seemingly crafted by the sheer will and determination of the parties to make some progress.  The Mogherini-Zarif statement, carefully worded, made little to no mention of the four issues that resisted resolution all week—the duration of the agreement, the disposition of low-enriched uranium stockpiles, research and development on advanced centrifuges, and the phasing out of sanctions.  This lack of specifics may not be too serious, however, in the context of an agreement characterized by President Obama as "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." 

This means that the next 12 weeks will provide little respite for the parties. Limits on the scope of centrifuge research and development are important, particularly if concerns remain over the duration of the agreement. The sequencing of sanctions relief is clearly important to Iran, which hopes to recover some of the economic losses of the last few years, but also important to Western negotiators because of the leverage that sanctions provide. The good news is that some progress on significant issues is evident: For example, the Arak heavy water reactor will be redesigned, so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium; its spent fuel will be shipped out of the country, and Iran committed not to reprocess or build other heavy water reactors in the next 15 years. This pretty much cuts off the plutonium route to the bomb. On the highly enriched uranium (HEU) side, the statement also clearly defined Natanz as the only uranium enrichment facility allowed, and the Fordow facility will be converted to research (at least for the duration of the agreement). On the other hand, there are likely limits still to be worked out for research and development on laser enrichment.

While we would like to think that another Iran won't happen, Saudi hints that they will acquire the same capabilities as Iran suggest otherwise. Saudi Arabia would not have to violate its safeguards agreement to do that. In fact, Saudi Arabia could produce HEU under safeguards quite legally, even if it had no civilian use for the material. And, thanks to previous gaps in the nonproliferation regime, supplier restraints would not prohibit Pakistan, which is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, from supplying Saudi Arabia with the dual use equipment it would need to produce HEU. 

It is time to face up to the fact that we need limits on sensitive capabilities like enrichment and reprocessing—limits that don't just apply to the "newcomer" states, but to all countries. Only a principled, non-discriminatory approach holds the prospect for success.

Siegfried S. Hecker
,
Center for International Security and Cooperation
,
Stanford University
3 April 2015

The political theater in Washington has been contentious and terribly partisan leading up to the announced framework for the nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran. The political fog has obscured the legitimate technical and political disagreements over an Iran deal, which exist because of the complexity of the issues and the potential consequences of such a deal in the politically volatile Middle East.

Much of the focus of negotiations has been on “breakout” time—particularly how many centrifuges would Iran be allowed to keep spinning, how much low-enriched uranium can it keep, and what plutonium production limits the Arak research reactor will be allowed.

Whatever the final resolution, I believe that Iran has already put in place all the requisite technical capabilities to build the bomb, but it has not yet decided to exercise the option to build one. What complicates the problem of reaching a lasting deal is the reality of physics: It takes rather small quantities of bomb fuel—highly enriched uranium or plutonium—to build a bomb, whereas commercial nuclear power production requires huge amounts of uranium and large enrichment capacities. In other words, even a small production capacity is useful for bombs, whereas large capacities are required for electricity. Hence, it is all but impossible to allow Iran a significant uranium enrichment program for commercial nuclear power but prevent it from reconstituting the capabilities to build the bomb, should it decide to break the agreement.

The key will be to convince Iran not to exercise the bomb option. The breakout times negotiated in the framework agreement will give the international community time to respond if Iran does cheat on the accord, but at least as important as time is whether that community can muster the will and consensus to respond quickly and effectively, should Iran decide to develop the bomb. The international community did not respond when North Korea broke out to build the bomb in 2003. Now it not only has the bomb, but a rapidly growing arsenal.

Based on my discussions with Iranian officials, Iran’s insistence that it not be required to close any of its current nuclear facilities is a matter of national pride. However, this resistance also preserves a hedge, allowing Iran the ability to resume its bomb program should the negotiating partners, particularly Washington, not keep their end of the bargain.

The objective for the next few years, should the deal go through, is to convince Iran that it has more to gain from keeping its end of the bargain than it would lose by exercising its hedge. In due time, Iran will find on its own that a vibrant and economically viable nuclear energy program does not require enrichment or reprocessing. Iran should emulate the nuclear path chosen by South Korea, which chose electricity and created an economic miracle, rather than North Korea, which chose the bomb at the expense of its economy and the welfare of its people.  

Moreover, if Iran converts the deeply buried Fordow centrifuge facility into an underground scientific laboratory as suggested by US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and develops its Arak reactor as an international user facility, as I suggested previously, Iran will become integrated into the international research community rather than remain in isolation. If civilian nuclear power expands and Iran becomes internationally more integrated, it will have more to lose by exercising the bomb option.

That said, the process of integrating Iran into the community of responsible nuclear powers will take time. Iran will keep its nuclear hedge, and the international community should insist on having intrusive inspection rights and also focus on how to respond, should Iran break the deal.

Zia Mian
,
Program on Science and Global Security
,
Princeton University
3 April 2015

The agreement on the terms for a final settlement with Iran to provide assurance that its nuclear energy and related research and development programs cannot quickly and easily be used to make nuclear weapons is a major diplomatic and political achievement. The alternative was more of what we have seen in the past two decades: An expanding and opaque Iranian nuclear program, ever more capable of producing nuclear weapons if such a decision were made, confronted by international sanctions organized by the United States that increasingly stifle the Iranian economy and hurt the well-being of its people. And, in the background, covert actions and increasingly harsh threats of the use of force against Iran—a violation of the United Nations charter that Israel and its supporters and some Arab states have long pressed for and may still seek.

The diplomatic process and the technical details already agreed in the settlement with Iran offer useful lessons for the global effort to limit the risk that nuclear energy capabilities can be used to make nuclear weapons materials. The first lesson is that this can be done cooperatively, but success requires years of multinational, high-level, continuous, technically informed negotiations based on mutual respect and a willingness to take political and policy risks.

A second lesson: At the heart of the problem are the national capabilities to produce and separate plutonium and to produce enriched uranium, since either plutonium or highly enriched uranium can serve as the key ingredient in a nuclear weapon. Once a state has even a nominal plutonium-production or uranium-enrichment capacity, restraints can serve only to stretch the time it would require to make nuclear weapons material if it decided to do so. Inspections can serve only to give warning that such activity is taking place.

In the joint press statement announcing the deal, the terms agreed with Iran were described as the basis for a “comprehensive solution that will ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.” The terms make clear that production of kilogram quantities of plutonium in a research reactor and its separation from spent nuclear fuel, and even research and development on reprocessing spent fuel, are unacceptable risks. Similarly, the uranium supply chain, centrifuge research and production, and an operating enrichment capacity that is negligible by any commercial standard are accepted to be enduring proliferation risks requiring long-term inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency that go beyond the scrutiny of such programs in any other country. The agreed and seemingly severe restrictions on enrichment capacity and stockpiling of low-enriched uranium only stretch to the order of a year the time it would take for Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a first nuclear weapon.

Important questions for the international community to ask going forward are: a) What do the agreed terms mean for how we assess the proliferation risks from existing and emerging nuclear energy programs, and from the large civilian plutonium-separation and uranium-enrichment programs, stockpiling, and use of these materials as reactor fuels around the world; and b) What do the agreed terms mean for how we are to understand and deal with the risks from nuclear energy programs as part of the effort to achieve a secure and stable world free of nuclear weapons.

From the perspective of international peace and security, the most important lesson from the struggle over containing the risks from Iran’s nuclear program may be that nuclear energy is more trouble than it is worth.

Emily B. Landau
,
senior research fellow and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program
,
Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv
3 April 2015

In assessing the announcement of a framework agreement with Iran—which is not really an agreement but a joint statement, with an accompanying White House parameters fact sheet that the Iranians do not accept—it is important to keep in mind the overall context within which these negotiations are being carried out. Namely, there is still no indication that Iran has backed away from its military aspirations in the nuclear realm.

There are elements of the US document that look positive (reduction of stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and not enabling Iran to extract any plutonium from the Arak reactor), while other parts look quite negative (it does not deal with the PMD, or possible military dimensions, issue, and the EU-Iran statement says application of the International Atomic Energy Agency Additional Protocol will be “provisional”). In far too many cases, the language is vague and ambiguous, and we are left wondering about the precise meaning. Going into a discussion of all the elements creates a risk of getting bogged down in the details of an agreement (that is not even an agreement) in a manner that causes one to lose sight of the wider context of Iran’s motivations and intentions: namely, its military nuclear aspirations.

This wider context explains why Iran’s goal since the latest round of negotiations began in October 2013 has consistently been to achieve maximum sanctions relief from the international community, in return for minimal nuclear concessions that will enable it to maintain its breakout capability. It is why Iran was so adamant about ensuring research and development into more advanced generations of centrifuges in the context of the preliminary Joint Plan of Action, in order to offset its discontinuation of uranium enrichment to the 20 percent level. In this regard, Iran was clearly focused on the long-term implications for its breakout capability. It also explains why Iran is likely to be much more willing to mothball elements of its nuclear program, even in IAEA-monitored storage, in the context of a comprehensive deal, rather than close down and dismantle significant parts of its vast and growing nuclear infrastructure.

In looking to the most recent development in this long and drawn out negotiation with Iran—which has been proceeding in different formats since 2003—as well as what will continue to unfold over the coming months, we must assess whether Iran has not been more successful in achieving its goal of holding on to its breakout capability than the international negotiators have been in achieving their goal of ensuring that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons. The P5+1 countries continue to base their policy on the hope of robust verification measures that will detect a violation and enable a swift and effective response. But they are not willing to predicate this on exposure and examination of how Iran has violated its NPT commitments in the past by its work on a nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s past behavior in the nuclear realm, coupled with its continued military nuclear aspirations and bullying behavior in the Middle East, do not warrant any celebration of an historic deal.

Mark Hibbs
,
senior associate
,
Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program
3 April 2015

The six powers and Iran invested too much capital into this negotiation to permit either side to simply walk away absent a hard and fast deal on March 31. The result on April 3 was therefore a very promising announcement but no document containing fine print that all parties are committed to implement. Western negotiators hope that what they made public on April 3 will build political momentum toward a final agreement that includes iron-clad and specific obligations, deadlines, schedules, enforcement provisions, timetables, and legal authorities. They also probably hope that if they don’t get there in three months, the momentum they generated through the end of last week will carry them a little further beyond the June 30 deadline. How much further will depend on diplomacy’s critics in Iran and the United States when the time comes.

On April 3, more substance was made known by negotiators than most observers had anticipated. Most of the details, however, were voiced by Western negotiators and leaders, or expressed in a US “fact sheet” that may or may not precisely represent Iranian understandings. If Iran is on board with all of the US State Department’s bullet points, then a final agreement based on these may indeed go far to limit the threat posed by Iran’s latent nuclear-capable status for a decade or more: Most of Iran’s enriched uranium would be withdrawn from Iran; Iran’s route to significant amounts of weapon-grade plutonium would be effectively blocked; the powers would have their thumbs over Iran’s procurement activities; and the IAEA would have explicit authority to reach deep into Iran’s nuclear program.

Shortly after Iran and the powers concluded the Joint Plan of Action in November 2013, Iran challenged the US “fact sheet” on that preliminary accord as having misrepresented Iran’s understandings, so caution should prevail about whether Iran’s April 3 positions match those of Western powers. The US statement from April 3 says, for example, that Iran will do “limited research and development” with advanced centrifuges. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on April 3 that Iran would continue with the development of its advanced centrifuge models but he did not qualify that statement.

A number of US assertions require precise clarification that must be spelled out at the latest in a final comprehensive agreement. These include Secretary Kerry’s remark that the final deal with Iran will not sunset. Was he referring only to Iranian commitments (already made in the Joint Plan of Action) to implement modified Code 3.1 in its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards subsidiary arrangements and its Additional Protocol? If so, these provisions have long been understood by all states agreeing to them as permanent obligations. Or did Kerry mean instead that Iran had agreed, in perpetuity, to IAEA comprehensive safeguards and to a commitment never to engage in specific nuclear weapons-related activities, including activities that the IAEA suspects Iran carried out over two decades? The above-cited Iranian version of events suggests that Iran will implement the Additional Protocol “temporarily and voluntarily” until some unspecified future time when Iran would ratify it. The US statement says that Iran will be “required” to grant the IAEA access to “suspicious sites.” But which ones? Will the IAEA have access to facilities or locations operated by Iran’s military? These are details, but in the final agreement the details will matter considerably.

Creative efforts by both sides to finesse the issue of the term of a final agreement—with some obligations running out in 10 years, others in a decade or 15 years later—underscore the tacit assumption or aspiration of Western negotiators that successful implementation of a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, including sanctions-lifting, will over time encourage Iran’s leadership to indefinitely extend most or all the commitments Iran would make to restrain its nuclear behavior. This—and not what’s in the final deal’s footnotes—is the most portentous question mark looming over the entire negotiation.

Thomas R. Pickering
,
former US ambassador to the United Nations
,
India, and Russia
3 April 2015

Overall a good agreement and better than many expected. Early review of the State Department list of the central points of the agreement shows a variety of positive limitations on enrichment levels and quantity, low-enriched uranium stocks, the Arak reactor, and reprocessing, as well as broad International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) authorities for access to Iranian nuclear facilities, including any suspected covert facilities. Sanctions relief is timed to Iranian compliance, limited to actions involving the Iran nuclear program, and subject to a snap-back for UN sanctions in the event of unresolved disputes concerning Iranian compliance. 

On balance the duration limits assure the one-year breakout standard applies for 10 years, some limitations for 15, and some inspections for a longer period, and even permanently. 

Devils are in the details, and further careful study will be required. But on the face of it, the arrangements look like a good exchange of sensible limitations on Iran's nuclear efforts and sanctions relief that is quite extensive, but designed to kick in as the IAEA certifies compliance by Tehran. 

Kingston Reif
,
Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy
,
Arms Control Association
3 April 2015

The P5+1 and Iran framework deal setting out the parameters of a long-term, comprehensive agreement to verifiably curb Iran's sensitive nuclear activities is a much-needed nonproliferation breakthrough. It promises to enhance US and international security by blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, including the covert path, and reducing Iran’s incentive to pursue nuclear weapons in the future. .

After months of intensive negotiations, particularly in recent days, the framework deal is more thorough and detailed than many if not most observers had expected. The provisions limiting Iran’s enrichment program would extend the time it would take Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon to at least one year, by the US administration’s calculations. These limits would remain in place for 10 years. Iran’s current breakout timeline is currently assessed to be two to three months.

Iran also agreed to substantially modify the design of its heavy water research reactor at Arak, which, in combination with other measures, will ensure the reactor cannot be used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Most important, the framework agreement outlines a remarkably strong and effective set of verification and monitoring provisions to ensure compliance with the agreed upon limits and greatly enhance the international community’s ability to detect and deter possible Iranian covert development of a nuclear weapon.

The framework agreement builds on the enhanced monitoring provisions already contained in the November 2013 joint plan of action agreed to by the Western powers and Iran, allowing for international access to and continuous monitoring of Iran’s uranium mines for 25 years and of centrifuge production and storage facilities for 20 years. Inspectors will also have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program, and a dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s nuclear program will be established to monitor and approve Iran’s transactions in certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology.

What’s more, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol, providing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities. Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol will be permanent.

The framework also provides a path forward to ensure the resolution of the IAEA’s outstanding questions about the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

Successful implementation of a comprehensive deal would ultimately lead to the removal of nuclear-related international sanctions against Iran. However, the lessening of sanctions won’t happen all at once and will be conditioned on Iran’s compliance with a deal’s terms. Sanctions will snap back into place if Iran fails to meet its commitments.

Skeptics in the US Congress have already started to criticize the framework agreement on the grounds that it leaves Iran with too much nuclear capacity. They argue that the administration could have negotiated a better deal, and that more pressure could make Iran make additional concessions.

But these arguments are unconvincing. Insisting, for example, that Iran permanently halt all uranium enrichment is a non-starter. There is no viable strategy to secure a “better deal,” and if implemented, the framework concluded and announced April 2 is strong and effective enough barrier to a nuclear-armed Iran.

Many key details must be finalized over the next three months before the June 30 deadline to reach a final accord. The long road for an effective, comprehensive nuclear deal is far from completely traveled. But the United States is closer today than it has ever been to a deal that will greatly enhance US security and the security of its allies. Now is not the time for Congress to advance legislation that would undermine this vital diplomatic effort.

R. Scott Kemp
,
assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT
,
former science advisor to the State Department's Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control
2 April 2015

The framework agreement is a remarkable achievement. It has greater specificity on technical parameters, timelines, and sequencing than I imagined would have been possible. The terms spell out a fair and equitable deal for all parties. It will allow Iran's peaceful nuclear program to grow at a natural pace, while at the same time providing a solid 15-year window during which the United States can build a stronger relationship with Iran to reduce Iran's incentives for nuclear weapons. The negotiators are to be congratulated!

There are, however, important outstanding elements that must be resolved in the coming months. A breakout time of three months is technically possible under the current text of the deal. This arises because of a lack of specificity about the non-uranium enrichment capabilities allowed at Fordow. This notionally non-uranium capability, unless specifically designed otherwise, can be rapidly repurposed for enriching uranium under a breakout scenario. Between now and June, negotiators will have the difficult task of finding a technical way to ensure that centrifuges installed at Fordow for non-uranium purposes are also physically incapable of uranium enrichment.

Update (April 4): I have learned on good authority that the first bullet point of the framework deal listed under the heading "Enrichment" is intended as a blanket provision that applies to all centrifuges at all sites, whether used for uranium enrichment or stable-isotope separation. It states, "Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran's first-generation centrifuge."

Under this broader interpretation, Fordow would be restricted to IR-1 centrifuges for stable-isotope separation, and even if subsequently repurposed for uranium enrichment, a breakout of about one year would be maintained. The concern previously raised is thus resolved provided Iran is in agreement with this interpretation.

Other oustanding questions do not enter the breakout calculation, but are nonetheless important and will take considerable effort. For example, the extent of research allowed could be more carefully sepecified: will research on laser enrichment or other isotope separation and isotope breeding techniques be allowed at sites other than Fordow? Also, the mechanism by which Iran will maintain its low-enriched uranium inventory below 300 kilograms needs to be specified. The parameters for the redesign of the Arak reactor are already well in hand, but arrangements for exporting spent fuel will be difficult to negotiate. Principles for the long-term enrichment plan beyond 15 years need to be resolved.

Many of these outanding areas are also issues for other emerging nuclear-power countries. The excellent work of the negotiating teams lays the groundwork not only for a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear issue, but can also help address the connection between nuclear power and nuclear proliferation more generally. If it takes up the charge, Iran can become a leader in securing a world free of nuclear weapons, helping to find ways for others to share in the fruits of nuclear energy.

Lawrence Korb and Katherine Blakeley
,
Center for American Progress
2 April 2015

As President Kennedy once said, “The United States should never negotiate out of fear, but should never fear to negotiate.” In laying the groundwork for a historic deal that will not only limit Iran's ability to become the world's ninth nuclear power, but prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, President Obama and his team have followed that sound advice. 

While the deal announced today is a pathway to a final agreement, and significant hurdles remain, it is a major accomplishment and thorough framework to build a final deal on.

This preliminary deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is more restrictive than any of the arms control agreements negotiated with the former Soviet Union, but it follows the same tenets of “trust, but verify” that President Reagan used.

Overall, Iran’s timeline to a nuclear weapon—now just 2 or 3 months—would be lengthened to around a year. As outlined, this deal would close down Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon through both highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran would no longer produce or stockpile highly enriched uranium, a key prerequisite for a nuclear weapon, for at least the next 15 years. Under the terms of the deal, Iran will not enrich its uranium stocks to contain more than 3.67 percent of the fissile isotope uranium 235 (the level used in many commercial nuclear power reactors) and will reduce its current uranium stockpile by 97 percent, so it holds no more than 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent. To prevent Iran from starting to produce highly enriched uranium again, Iran has agreed to cut its number of centrifuges by two-thirds for the next 10 years, and to use exclusively first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1, rather than more efficient, newer models. Iran will also convert its facility at Fordow so that it can no longer be used to enrich uranium for at least 15 years. 

This deal also addresses the problematic heavy-water reactor at Arak, which could potentially be used to make weapons-grade plutonium. Under this framework, the original core of the heavy-water reactor at Arak will be removed and either destroyed or moved out of the country, and the reactor will be re-designed to that it will not be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Spent fuel from the re-designed reactor will also be shipped out of the country, and Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors for 15 years.

An intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring regime—one that, in fact, appears to be unprecedented in its stringency—would ensure Iran’s compliance with the agreement. For the next 25 years, Iran will allow the IAEA to have access not only to its nuclear facilities, but also to its nuclear supply chain, from the uranium mines on up. 

In return for taking these steps, Iran will receive full sanctions relief, but only if it upholds its end of the bargain first. The US and EU sanctions will be suspended only after the IAEA has verified that Iran has implemented the steps discussed above. Most important, the architecture allowing the current sanctions will be maintained. If Iran violates the deal, the current level of sanctions would snap back into place immediately. 

Like any possible agreement, this one does not permanently eliminate the risk that Iran could eventually develop a nuclear weapon, but it is much better than the dismal alternatives. Any military approach, like bombing the Nantanz enrichment site, would only harden Iranian commitment to developing a weapon.The bad behavior of the Soviet Union didn’t stop President Reagan from pursuing comprehensive arms control negotiations with Secretary Gorbachev. Iran’s bad actions in the Middle East should not be an excuse to avoid this opportunity to freeze their nuclear weapons breakout capability. Letting this good deal pass would just leave Iran’s nuclear program unfettered, unmonitored, and unverified.

Frank von Hippel
,
senior research physicist and professor of public and international affairs emeritus
,
Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
2 April 2015

The agreement sketched out in the US summary, “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” and in Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks looks very good. Certainly, it is much better than the “no agreement” option that some US allies in the Middle East and many in Congress called for. A failure to agree would have been a recipe for disaster, a return to the counterpoint of escalating US sanctions and moves by Iran ever closer to a nuclear-weapon capability.

If this deal—including the extra transparency Iran has committed to, and the reciprocal sanctions relief for Iran that the US and its partners have committed to—can be nailed down by the end of June, and both sides live up to their commitments, it could buy us 10 years of relative calm with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, at least.

Some of the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program will phase out after 10 years. It is therefore important that we use those years to create a stronger nonproliferation regime in the Middle East.

One concern is that other countries in the region—notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey—will declare that they too have “inalienable rights” to uranium enrichment programs. They probably believe, as I do, that, even if Iran does not want a nuclear bomb, it does want the option of going for a bomb if the United States ever decides to try to achieve “regime change” in Teheran by force. And other countries in the region may want to position themselves to acquire nuclear weapons quickly if Iran does.

So we need to build in additional constraints on Iran’s nuclear program that will reassure its neighbors in the time frame beyond 10 years, when the constraints on the size of Iran’s enrichment program are relaxed.

I believe that former International Atomic Energy Agency director general Mohammed ElBaradei was right when he proposed that all national enrichment programs be phased out in favor of multinational enrichment programs like that of Urenco, which is supervised by Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. I hope that it will be possible to multinationalize Iran’s enrichment program. Exactly how this can be done is not yet clear, but one of the partners could be Russia, which already has close ties to Iran’s nuclear program. I would hope also that a regional organization could be created— akin to Euratom or the Brazil-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control—that would provide additional transparency into Iran’s program for its neighbors.

The negotiators have crafted the beginning of a win-win solution to the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program. The rest of us need now to mobilize to defend and build on this achievement and strengthen the nonproliferation regime in both the Middle East and worldwide.