April 3, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: A Framework Deal Reached

• The framework nuclear agreement announced between the P5+1 and Iran on April 2 contains specificity to a degree that may quiet some critics of the negotiations who feared the P5+1 were making excessive concessions just to get a deal

• Proliferation experts assess that the tentative deal, if finalized with all technical annexes by June 30 and if fully implemented, would block Iran from obtaining a working nuclear weapon for about one year, should Iran attempt to do so

• The ambiguities in the framework agreement—such as the point at which Iran would qualify for sanctions relief and requirements to answer questions about its past nuclear research—could still prevent finalization of an accord

• The United States will make separate efforts to address allied concerns over regional issues, in which the U.S. and Iran have some mutual goals, such as the defeat of the Islamic State, but at odds on others, such as the Assad regime in Syria and the advance of Houthi rebels in Yemen.


Apparently to pre-empt criticism from those who assert that the Obama Administration is trying too hard to obtain a nuclear deal with Iran, the framework nuclear accord announced on April 2, 2015 reveals that Iran has made substantial concessions. A number of framework provisions were more precisely spelled out than some experts anticipated—such as the requirement that Iran will reduce by 95% the size of its stockpile of 3.6% enriched uranium (low-enriched, and far below the 90% needed for weapons grade uranium). The framework also details that Iran will reduce the number of operating centrifuges from the current 10,000 to 6,100—in line with expectations. All are to be older-model centrifuges, and Iran cannot upgrade to newer models for at least ten years. Iran also agreed to the removal of the core of a heavy water reactor at Arak, which virtually ensures that it cannot pursue a plutonium route to a nuclear weapon. Additionally, Iran agreed to substantial monitoring of its nuclear supply chain and centrifuge production facilities for far longer than the 15 years that the core limitations on Iran’s enrichment of uranium will remain in place.

Even though the announced framework accord contained more specifics than some anticipated, there are a number of formulations that are sufficiently vague to unravel the negotiations on a final agreement, to be completed with all technical details by June 30. One major issue is that the framework does not specify criteria by which Iran will be judged to have complied with demands to clear up all questions about its past research on a nuclear explosive device. Moreover, the framework does not spell out the sequencing for the lifting of U.S. sanctions on foreign companies that do business with Iran’s energy, banking, and other sectors. And, critics are likely to point out that, while Iran appears to have agreed to significant inspections and verification measures, it apparently has not agreed to allow unfettered access to suspect sites on military bases, which are not declared nuclear facilities and which Iran has declared “off-limits.” Critics are likely to oppose the provision of the framework that does not require Iran to dismantle all its centrifuges at the hardened site at Fordow, even though Iran has agreed to turn Fordow into a nuclear physics and technology center.

In some quarters, one of the most glaring shortfalls of the framework is that it did not address any changes in Iran’s regional behavior. The P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany) have always asserted that the nuclear negotiations are about Iran’s nuclear program only, and are not intended to halt its support for regional armed factions that are arrayed against Israel or other pro-U.S. governments. And, the provision of the framework accord that commits the P5+1 to lift all U.N. sanctions will result in an easing of the U.N. embargo on sales to Iran of conventional arms and of Iran’s arms shipments outside its borders. The removal of those sanctions will, if anything, increase Iran’s ability to exert influence in the region, even though the sanctions on Iranian arms shipments have clearly not been extensively enforced. Despite that restriction, Iran has made large arms deliveries to AssadLebanese Hizballah, and, to an unknown extent, the Houthi movement in Yemen.

In apparent recognition that the accord will not satisfy U.S. regional allies, President Obama announced that he had invited the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) to Camp David later this spring to discuss the conflicts roiling the region, some of which are stoked by Iran. At that meeting, the United States will try to reassure the Gulf states that the nuclear deal will not produce a U.S. “realignment” toward Iran, and that the United States is committed to working with Gulf allies to halt further expansion of Iranian influence.

The President’s announcement also stated that he would be contacting the foremost critic of the emerging deal—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In recent days, Netanyahu has repeated many of the criticisms articulated in his March 3 speech to Congress: that the deal will leave Iran a “threshold nuclear state” and give the country, rather than take away from it, a pathway to a nuclear weapon. However, the specificity of the preliminary accord is likely to reduce the resonance of Netanyahu’s criticisms.

President Obama directed much of his announcement towards the U.S. Congress, urging it not to pass new sanctions legislation that could cause Iran to shy away from finalizing the deal. The concessions Iran has made in the preliminary accord are likely to forestall such congressional moves until the June 30 deadline for finalizing the agreement. Should the effort to convert the framework into a permanent agreement fail, the passage of additional U.S. sanctions legislation is a virtual certainty.


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