What to make of the Iran deal

April 6, 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.