July 16, 2015

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Iran Won the Vienna Accords By Agreeing to Stop What It Never Was Doing

New America Media       Jul 14, 2015

William O. Beeman

Iran has won the diplomatic struggle over its nuclear program in Vienna. Its success was not due to United States negotiators’ fecklessness as Republican critics and Prime Minister Netanyahu have been quick to assert. Iran was able to win because it was very easy for it to bluff, by giving up activities in which it had never engaged and never intended to engage.

On the other side of the negotiating table, the United States had already abandoned its Bush-era goal of effecting regime change in Iran, making its negotiating position considerably weaker. Moreover, the talks were tightly constrained by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which guaranteed Iran and all other 190 signatories to the treaty the “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear development, providing this development is carried out for peaceful purposes.

Many lies have been told about the Iranian nuclear program that have made the negotiations difficult:


  1. Iran’s nuclear program was carried out in secret. In fact, the program is more than 40 years old and was instigated by the United States. The United States provided Iran with its first research reactor.

    2. Iran had or has or will have a nuclear weapons program. There is no evidence anywhere that such a program exists or ever existed as verified by the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran’s leaders have regularly denounced nuclear weapons as un-Islamic.

    3. Enrichment of uranium was tantamount to a nuclear weapons program. In fact, there are nineteen other non-nuclear weapons’ signatories to the NPT enrich uranium just as Iran is doing. Several of these uranium enriching nations had or have stated that they might have a nuclear weapons program in the future. None of them have ever been targeted by the United States or other nuclear weapons’ states, cementing Iran’s contention that they were being specially targeted not for their nuclear activities, but just because they were “Iran.” Given the Bush-era declaration that the United States wanted regime change in Iran and was using the nuclear weapons issue to garner American public support, this was highly plausible.

    4. Iran might plan some kind of clandestine program to “race” to a bomb. This fantasy never seems to die. The fact is that Iran has no infrastructure to weaponized fissile material, produce a bomb or develop a delivery system for such a bomb. It has taken Iran years to produce enough low-enriched uranium (less than 5%) to produce even one bomb. That uranium would have to be enriched to a 95% level and even if Iran could somehow construct a bomb in short order, it would have to be tested, and then there would be no bomb. Additionally, any such activity would be immediately detected by IAEA inspectors.

The talks were further inhibited by people who insisted on attaching all kinds of extraneous issues that fell outside of the purview of the talks. Chief among these was an embargo on conventional arms sales to Iran, which had nothing to do with the nuclear question. Other issues included some kind of guarantee of release of political prisoners, recognition of Israel and withdrawal of support for the Assad regime in Syria—all utterly irrelevant to the talks themselves. No matter what Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Lindsay Graham or Prime Minister Netanyahu said, these issues were off the table completely.

Iran thus had an enormous space in which to negotiate. It was already guaranteed to have its nuclear program preserved by virtue of the NPT. The idea of dismantling its nuclear capacity completely would have impacted all the other NPT signatories and created havoc in the world of arms control.

It was also easy for Iran to give up a nuclear weapons program that never existed, and that it never intended to implement. As a bargaining position this is unassailable as your counterpart at the table insists and insists on something that has no value, it is possible to use giving way on such an empty demand to extract other concessions. Such a move is in effect a bluff, and the United States, saddled by the Bush-era assertion that Iran was building a bomb, could never backtrack on this without extreme embarrassment.

On the Iranian side, the Tehran leadership has benefitted considerably over the years from enmity with the United States. Every failure in economic and social policy has been blamed in the United States, and official hostility toward the United States has shored up those in power for decades. Giving up this domestic political advantage was going to be very difficult, but it could be done if the population could be brought to see the accords as a sacrifice. This was another bluff, but a bluff directed at the Iranian public. Jubilation in the streets in Iran shows that this was a very good move. By giving up their advantage in attacking the United States, Iran’s leader actually increased their popularity.

The sanctions actually helped Iran in many ways. Far from being “crippling,” they forced Iran to become self-reliant in nearly every conventional industrial and commercial activity as well as agriculture. To be sure, Iran could not have lived under the sanctions indefinitely. The lack of access to the international banking system was debilitating, but there is no question that Iran’s internal economy was strong enough to continue for many years under these restrictions. Iran’s GDP growth as measured by the IMF and the World Bank was 3% last year, and its poverty rate was lower than the United States.

I recently returned on June 21 from a three-week trip throughout Iran and the incredible development of industrial infrastructure there as well as the plentiful agricultural supplies were evident everywhere.’

Thousands of foreign investors were ubiquitous even in provincial towns salivating at the opportunities that would emerge at a successful conclusion of the accords. One German industrialist said: “I had no idea how rich and developed Iran was. We will not have to build anything here. We just want to expand the industrial activities that already exist and increase marketing efforts. We will all make a great deal of money.”

Not well known is the fact that Iran has now become nearly self-sufficient in conventional arms manufacture. In fact, Iran is an arms exporter. In the final Vienna accords, a bargain was struck to maintain an embargo on conventional arms trade. This was another bluff. Iran doesn’t really need to import much in the way of arms, but by putting up a big show of resistance, the negotiators created a bargaining chip that really didn’t exist.

The United States would have done better had it actually known something about Iran, or had become realistic about its hyped-up rhetoric about the danger of Iran’s nuclear program before heading into these negotiations. The Bush-era sanctions against Iran created a false crisis and an utterly unnecessary sanctions regime. The resolution of this situation will certainly be good for the world, but Americans should be clear that this was a crisis of our own making, and most of the energy our negotiating team expended in the last 18 months was directed at saving face and backtracking from the mistakes of the Bush-era hyped-up crisis that never really existed.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has lived and conducted research in Iran for over 40 years and speaks fluent Persian. His 2008 book, The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, shows how the current nuclear crisis arose. He traveled throughout Iran for three weeks in June

Elements of the Iran Nuclear Deal

By Gary Samore Executive Director for Research Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Harvard Kennedy School July 15, 2015

The July 14, 2015 comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) consists of the agreement itself and five technical annexes: Annex I – Nuclear-related measures; Annex 2 – Sanctions-related commitments; Annex III- Civil Nuclear Cooperation; Annex IV – Joint Commission; and Annex V – Implementation Plan. The version issued by the EU is used here because pages and paragraphs are numbered in proper order.

This article describes the main elements of the JCPOA. In coming days, the Belfer Center plans to publish a more detailed description and assessment of the agreement.

Fissile Material Production

The central nuclear limits of the agreement concern Iran’s ability to produce the two types of fissile materials commonly used to produce nuclear weapons: separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Plutonium production

Iran’s primary option to produce plutonium is the 40 MW Arak heavy water research reactor, construction of which is currently frozen under the November 2013 interim agreement. Under the comprehensive agreement, Iran is required to convert Arak to a lower power 20 MW heavy water research reactor and use low-enriched fuel instead of natural uranium in order to reduce the amount of plutonium produced in the spent fuel and prevent production of “weapons-grade” plutonium (defined as plutonium with a high concentration of the Pu-239 isotope) during normal operation. The original core for the Arak reactor would be rendered unusable, and the P5+1 would support an international partnership to help Iran fabricate fuel for the redesigned reactor. The technical details of the plans for redesigning the Arak reactor in Annex I will allow experts to calculate maximum possible annual plutonium production and assess the technical feasibility of converting the reactor back to its original design.

In addition to modifying Arak, the comprehensive agreement calls for all spent fuel from Arak to be shipped out of Iran for the lifetime of the reactor. Iran also commits not to build any additional heavy water research reactors for 15 years and to ship out any surplus heavy water that

is not used in Arak for the same period. Finally, Iran commits to not conduct research and development on reprocessing and to not build a reprocessing facility (necessary to separate plutonium from spent fuel) for 15 years. After that, Iran states that it does not “intend” to build a reprocessing plant.

Enrichment program

Iran’s current enrichment program consists of nearly 18,500 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges (about 15,500 installed at Natanz and about 3,000 installed at Fordow) and about 1,000 more advanced IR-2 centrifuges, for a total of about 19,500 centrifuges. Of these, approximately 9,200 IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz and about 700 IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow are actually enriching. Iran’s current stockpile of enriched uranium includes about 7.6 tons of low enriched uranium (up to 3.67 percent Uranium-235) in the form of UF6, about 2.4 tons of low-enriched uranium in form of oxide (or being converted to oxide) and about 100 kilograms of nearly 20% enriched uranium (some of which is in the process of conversion to oxide and some of which has been used to fabricate fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor).

The JCPOA includes a complex and detailed set of physical limits on numbers and types of centrifuges, centrifuge research and development, centrifuge manufacturing, locations and levels of enrichment and stocks of enriched uranium. The physical limits are staggered over 10-15 years.

Under the agreement, Iran is required to remove about two-thirds of its installed centrifuge machines, leaving it with about 5,000 IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz and about 1,000 IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz. The centrifuge machines and related enrichment infrastructure removed from Natanz and Fordow are to be stored at Natanz under IAEA monitoring. For ten years, enrichment capacity at Natanz is capped at about 5,000 IR-1 machines in their current cascade configuration, which will continue to produce low-enriched uranium. At Fordow, one-third of the remaining 1,000 IR-1 centrifuges will be converted to produce stable isotopes (i.e. not uranium) and the remaining two-thirds will be kept on standby status. No uranium enrichment or fissile material is permitted at Fordow for 15 years.

The agreement also defines the range of centrifuge research and development permitted at Natanz over ten years, specifying the type and number of advanced machines that can be tested and the type of tests that can be conducted. For example, Iran must dismantle the 164-machine test cascades of IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges during the initial implementation of the JCPOA, but is permitted to scale up to 30-machine test cascades of IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges at year 8.5 of the agreement. None of the test activities during this ten-year period are allowed to accumulate enriched uranium. Iran also commits to not pursue any research and development on enrichment technologies other than gas centrifuge technology for 10 years.

The JCPOA also limits Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium. For 15 years, Iran will maintain a total stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms of low enriched uranium in the form of uranium hexafluoride or other chemical forms. Excess enriched uranium – nearly 12 tons of LEU in

various chemical forms at present – will be down-blended to natural uranium or sold on the international market in exchange for natural uranium. The 300-kilogram limit does not include enriched uranium that has been fabricated into fuel elements for Iran’s reactors, including the nearly 20% enriched uranium produced by Iran for fabrication of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Iran will not build or operate a facility to convert fuel back to UF6 for 15 years.

Between year 11 and year 15 of the JCPOA Iran is allowed to begin replacing the 5,000 IR-1 centrifuges with more advanced machines, according to an “enrichment and enrichment R&D plan” that Iran will submit to the IAEA during the initial implementation of the JCPOA. The enrichment plan is not public and is not included in the JCPOA, but it is known to US officials and will be provided to Congress. Reportedly, the plan calls for Iran to replace its entire inventory of operating IR-1 centrifuges with a comparable number of IR-2m or IR-4 centrifuges by year 13 of the agreement such that overall enrichment capacity will remain comparable. During this period, enrichment levels will continue to be limited to low enriched uranium (up to 3.67 percent) and enrichment will be limited to the Natanz facility.

After 15 years, all physical restraints on enrichment are removed, including numbers and types of centrifuge machines, enrichment levels, locations for enrichment facilities, and stocks of enriched uranium.

The details provided by the JCPOA are sufficient to assess the U.S. administration’s claim that breakout time is extended from the current estimate of 2-3 months to one year during the initial ten years of the agreement. Breakout time is defined as the time required to produce a single “significant quantity” of weapons grade uranium (defined by the IAEA as 25 kilograms of 90% enriched uranium) using all declared centrifuges and stocks of enriched uranium. Estimating breakout time between years 11 and 15 of the agreement is not possible until the details of the enrichment plan become public.

Possible Military Dimensions and Weaponization-related Activities

Coordinated with the announcement of the JCPOA, Iran and the IAEA signed a “Roadmap” agreement on July 14, 2015. The Roadmap lays out a timetable to resolve, by the end of 2015, all outstanding issues in the IAEA’s investigation of Iran’s past and possible present nuclear weaponization activities (so called Possible Military Dimensions or PMD). The Roadmap does not specify the actual steps that Iran has agreed to take (which are contained in separate, confidential documents). The process would culminate in a final report by the IAEA Director General to the IAEA Board of Governors by December 15, 2015.

The JCPOA is silent on specific measures Iran must take to satisfy the IAEA’s PMD investigation, but specifies that all steps in the Roadmap (except for the final IAEA report) must be taken before the JCPOA is implemented (i.e. before major sanctions relief).

The JCPOA also contains restrictions on certain Iranian activities related to weaponization. For 15 years, Iran commits to not produce or acquire uranium or plutonium metals or conduct

research on uranium or plutonium metallurgy or work with such metals, and the Joint Commission (described below) must approve research on uranium-metal based fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor between years 10 and 15 of the agreement. Unless approved by the Joint Commission for non-nuclear purposes and subject to monitoring, the JCPOA also bans permanently a range of activities that could contribute to nuclear weapons development, such as computer modeling of nuclear devices, research on explosive detonation systems suitable for nuclear weapons and research on neutron initiation systems for nuclear weapons. The JCPOA does not specify how these prohibitions will be verified or permitted activities monitored, but other sections of the JCPOA suggests that the IAEA will be responsible.

Monitoring and Verification

As in any arms control agreement, the JCPOA includes provisions for monitoring and verifying the nuclear restrictions outlined in the agreement. The basic monitoring provisions are provided by IAEA inspections under Iran’s full scope safeguards agreement and the Additional Protocol, which Iran will apply on a provisional basis until ratified by the Majlis (Parliament). Overall, the monitoring system has two overall objectives. First, it is intended to verify that specified limits are being observed at declared nuclear facilities, such as Natanz, Fordow, Arak, and Esfahan. Second, the measures are designed to aid in the detection of clandestine or undeclared nuclear activities. The JCPOA includes a number of time-bound specific verification measures to supplement the general provisions of Iran’s safeguards agreement and the Additional Protocol.

Specific measures include:

For 25 years, the IAEA will monitor natural uranium ore produced in Iran or acquired from any other source and verify that all such ore is transferred to declared conversion facilities. The precise measures to monitor ore production and transfer are not specified in the JCPOA.

For 15 years “or longer,” the IAEA will be allowed to use “modern technologies” to monitor activities at declared nuclear facilities, such as on-line enrichment measure and electronic seals that provide continuous measurements directly to the IAEA.

For 15 years, the IAEA will implement continuous monitoring to verify that stored centrifuges and infrastructure at Natanz remain in storage and are used only to replace failed or damaged centrifuges.

For 15 years, the IAEA will be permitted daily access as requested to all relevant buildings at the Natanz enrichment facility.

For 20 years, the IAEA will implement continuous monitoring of all locations and specialized equipment, such as flow-forming machines and filament winding machines, used for production of centrifuge rotors and bellows. This provision does not include monitoring of such specialized equipment that is being used for non-nuclear purposes, such as ballistic missile production.

For 10 years, the JCPOA establishes a mechanism for authorizing IAEA challenge inspections to any facility in Iran if the IAEA has concerns regarding undeclared nuclear materials or activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA. The challenge inspection provision includes any facility in Iran, including military facilities, with the caveat that the inspections are designed to verify compliance with nuclear obligations and not “aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities.” The mechanism provides for a specific timetable and dispute resolution mechanism. Upon the IAEA’s request for access to a suspect facility, Iran and the IAEA have 14 days to make arrangements for access to the facility or to establish alternative means to resolve the IAEA’s concerns. If this procedure fails, the issue is referred to the Joint Commission, which has 7 days to decide on appropriate action either by consensus or by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members. Iran then has 3 days to implement the Joint Commission’s decision. Failure to comply would trigger re-imposition of international sanctions under the dispute resolution mechanism (see below).

Although some details are lacking, the monitoring and verification provisions in the JCPOA are sufficient to assess the degree of confidence that the IAEA can verify limits and detect cheating at declared nuclear facilities. Provisions to detect undeclared nuclear activities are inherently more difficult to assess, but there is sufficient information to identify strengthens and weaknesses of the verification measures that are designed to increase the likelihood of detecting clandestine nuclear activities.

Procurement channel

The JCPOA establishes a Procurement Working Group under the auspices of the Joint Commission with responsibility for reviewing and approving proposed sales of certain nuclear- specific and nuclear-related dual use items, equipment, materials, and technology (specified on Nuclear Supplier Group control lists) from any state to Iran. The Working Group decides by consensus (meaning any state could block a sale) and remains in operation for 10 years. The agreement sets out procedures and a time table for reviewing requests and provisions for verifying end-use of approved transfers. The procurement channel is intended to track Iranian acquisition of nuclear-related items for use in undeclared activities, but the procurement channel has several limitations that could weaken its effectiveness and lead to disputes. For example, Iranian purchases of nuclear-related dual use items for its ballistic missile and conventional military programs do not have to be approved by the Procurement Working Group.

Sanctions relief

Once the IAEA verifies that Iran has completed key nuclear-related steps, which are specified in the JCPOA, the United Nations, United States, and European Union will cease their nuclear- related sanctions against Iran. The majority of sanctions will be ceased in this first phase (in various legal ways, given the different national and multilateral processes), while several measures – including embargoes on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles – would be lifted in subsequent years. While not specified in the JCPOA, the parties have agreed to lift the

restrictions on conventional arms after five years and restrictions on ballistic missiles after eight years.

UN Security Council sanctions. Since 2006, the UN Security Council has passed six major resolutions pertaining to Iran’s nuclear program. Under the comprehensive agreement, all six resolutions would be nullified and replaced with a new resolution that endorses the comprehensive agreement and establishes the Joint Commission responsible for executing the agreement. The Security Council is expected to pass the new resolution in coming days, but the resolution will not take effect for 90 days in order for Congress and the Majlis to review the agreement. This new resolution will expire in ten years, after which “the UN Security Council would no longer be seized of the Iran nuclear issue.”

United States sanctions. Upon completion of Iran’s key nuclear steps, the US has agreed to “cease the application” of the most damaging economic sanctions against Iran’s financial and energy sectors. The US agreed to cease “efforts to reduce Iran’s crude oil sales,” and Iran will be permitted access to the roughly $100 billion of oil revenue frozen abroad in a special form of escrow. The US will also rescind most banking sanctions, allowing Iranian banks to reconnect to the global financial system. In addition, the US will lift restrictions on Iran’s automotive, shipping and insurance industries, and on trade in gold and precious metals. The US will cancel four Executive Orders (13574, 13590, 13622 and 13645) and part of a fifth (13628) and remove 444 companies or individuals, 76 planes, and 227 ships from its sanctions blacklist. Non-nuclear sanctions, such as those relating to human rights abuses and support for terrorism, will remain in place.

After eight years, or once the IAEA concludes that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities (whichever is earlier), the US will “seek such legislative action as may be appropriate to terminate” most sanctions related directly to nuclear proliferation. At that time, the US will also remove 43 companies or individuals from its sanctions rolls, including Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who led Iran’s nuclear weapons program before 2003.

European Union sanctions. Upon completion of Iran’s key nuclear steps, the European Union has agreed to end its financial and energy sanctions against Iran, including the lifting of the oil embargo imposed in 2012. The EU will also lift sanctions on shipping and shipbuilding and on gold and precious metals. It also agreed to lift asset freezes on Iranian institutions, including on the Central Bank of Iran. The EU’s arms embargo and restrictions on transfer of ballistic missile technology remain in place for eight years after implementation of the deal or until the IAEA concludes that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities (whichever is earlier).

Joint Commission and Dispute Resolution

The JCPOA establishes an eight-member Joint Commission, composed of the P5+1 countries (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China), Iran and the European Union. The commission will comprise of at least two Working Groups: a Procurement Working Group, which monitors and approves Iranian purchases of certain nuclear-related items, and a Working Group on

Implementation of Sanctions Lifting, which reviews the status of sanctions relief. The commission also has the authority to review and approve various nuclear measures, such as the final plans for the redesign of the Arak heavy water research reactor and Iranian requests to obtain certain hot cells or test new types of centrifuges. Commission decisions are made by consensus among the eight members, with the exception of decisions on challenge inspections, which require a simple majority. It will meet quarterly in New York, Geneva, or Vienna.

The most important responsibility of the Joint Commission is dispute resolution, which can be triggered by any member of the Joint Commission who believes that commitments under the JCPOA are not being met. The dispute resolution mechanism includes a 35-day process to resolve any such concerns, including referral to the Foreign Ministers of Iran and the P5+1 and establishment of an Advisory Broad to provide a non-binding opinion to the Joint Commission. If these measures fail to resolve the dispute, any member of the Joint Commission can refer the issue to the UN Security Council. The Security Council, in accordance with its procedures, would then be required to vote on a resolution to continue sanctions relief. Under this procedure, any permanent member could veto the continuation of sanctions relief, as opposed to a procedure requiring consensus of the permanent members to re-impose sanctions. If the UN Security Council fails to pass a resolution within 30 days, all sanctions under the previous UN Security Council resolutions would be reapplied. The provision for automatic re-imposition of UN sanctions expires after 10 years, although US officials say there is a side political agreement among the P5+1 to re-impose UN sanctions in years 11-15 if Iran violates the agreement.

Research assistance by Henry Rome.

Timeline for implementing nuclear deal

July 14, 2015

Finalization Day”: Announcement of nuclear deal with Iran.

Mid-July, 2015

Agreement submitted to UN Security Council and codified in new UN Security Council Resolution, which takes effect in 90 days.

Mid-October, 2015

Adoption Day”: 90 days after UN Security Council Resolution is passed, agreement formally takes effect. Iran required to provide access to IAEA to resolve Possible Military Dimension issue.

Early 2016*

Implementation Day”: *Not tied to particular date. Upon IAEA verification that Iran has completed key nuclear steps, sanctions relief take effect.

Eight years after Adoption Day

Transition Day”: Additional sanctions relieved, including EU arms embargo. US will consider terminating sanctions it previously only suspended.

Ten years after Adoption Day

Termination Day”: UN Security Council Resolution is terminated and Iran file at United Nations is closed.