Report: U.S., Iran agree on "outlines of an understanding that would open the path to a final phase" of nuclear talks; Update: Obama to speak

If I’m reading this correctly, we’ve reached a shared consensus on broad parameters to guide future conversations. Or we’ve agreed upon an outline setting forth common principles pointing us to a next step in the dialogue. Either way, it’s clear that we’ve achieved mutual awareness of fundamental precepts that should inform both sides’ expectations about the potential for ongoing interactions.


Oh, also: The terms of this agreement to agree on the possibility of future agreeing are … secret. At least for the moment.

Iran and and six world powers have agreed on the outlines of an understanding that would open the path to a final phase of nuclear negotiations but are in a dispute over how much to make public, officials told The Associated Press Thursday…

Pressured by congressional critics in the U.S. who threaten to impose new sanctions on Iran over what they say is a bad emerging deal, the Obama administration is demanding significant public disclosure of agreements and understandings reached at the current round. But the officials say Iran wants a minimum made public.

Iranian leaders are opposed to two agreements, saying previous two-stage negotiations were detrimental to their interests. They results reached in the Swiss city of Lausanne as less than a deal and more of an informal understanding.

[A]s the talks dragged on, one Western official said at one point early Thursday that they were “at a tough moment and the path forward is really unclear,” adding that the idea of breaking them off over Passover and Easter and resuming them next week had been informally raised. That was confirmed by another official.

The “path forward” was “really unclear” as of a few hours ago, to the point where the two sides were ready to go home, but now suddenly there’s deal (in embryonic form)? I don’t like the sound of that. I also don’t like the fact that State hasn’t announced anything as of 1 p.m. ET, when I’m writing this, and meanwhile Iran’s biggest players suddenly can’t shut up about all the progress that’s been made:


An easy prediction from Popehat: “The Iran deal (not a treaty) will be so vague and opaque as to make a lawyer who drafts health insurance policies blush.” Indeed. If Iran is celebrating, it must mean they won the tug of war over whether the draft agreement should broad to the point of meaninglessness or specific in order to bind them to something meaningful. It makes sense that the U.S. would cave at this stage since Obama’s tactical goal above all others is to keep Iran at the bargaining table. Agreeing to a vague statement of understanding ensures that the talks will continue for three more months and spares him the drip-drip-drip humiliation of having Kerry stuck in Switzerland day after day, refusing to walk away no matter how obstinate Iran’s being. In other words, insofar as most details probably still need to be ironed out before June 30th, this is likely a punt, just as Obama’s willingness to grant Iran a 10-year sunset on enrichment restrictions under the deal is a de facto punt to the next president on this entire issue. We’ll know soon, as Kerry’s set to speak within the next few hours.


Update: The first details are just starting to trickle out on the wires. No surprise here:

We’ve known that was the target number for two weeks. Does that 6,000 include any centrifuges at Iran’s heavily fortified underground Fordo facility? What kind of UN inspections will be allowed? That’s the important stuff, still to come.

Update: Insert your own fart noise here:

Leaving centrifuges operating at Fordo is an especially bad idea since it’d be hard to stop them with an attack. The facility’s inside a mountain; you’re not going to reach it from the air, at least with conventional bombing. Even if the equipment there is repurposed for “medical” usage, it can always be re-repurposed for military enrichment. Presumably this means Iran at least agreed to allow “snap inspections” of the facility by the UN. If not, I don’t know how the U.S. could have agreed to it.

Update: An immediate lifting of all sanctions? This can’t be right.


Waiting for western media to confirm this. Grain of salt for now.

Update: Kerry rejoices:

Update: The joint presser is happening in Switzerland now. Another detail on Fordo:

If the other report above is correct, that means, I guess, that the centrifuges will be inactive but will remain in place, ready if/when Iran decides to “break out” and make a run for a bomb by ramping up enrichment.

Update: Amazing. No wonder Rouhani and Zarif couldn’t contain their excitement.

Update: Peace in our time, 25 minutes from now.

Update: Haven’t heard anything yet about whether Iran will be allowed to continue its research on high-end centrifuges, which was a major sticking point as recently as yesterday. Nothing either on whether they’ll be allowed to keep any part of their uranium stockpiles inside the country rather than shipping it out, which was one of their last-minute demands as the deadline for negotiations approached. Obviously, retaining possession of their stockpile means they’ll have material onhand and ready to go if/when they decide to break out and highly enrich uranium.


Update: Per the Times, Fordo is being converted to an, ahem, nuclear “research” facility. I’ll bet.

Update: Reports of “immediate sanctions relief” aren’t true, according to Iran’s lead negotiator. The sanctions will be lifted once Iran complies with the initial terms of the deal, which are, er, still vague even as the press conference rolls on:

Update: Maybe this explains the confusion over how “immediate” the lifting of sanctions will be. It could be that the two sides … haven’t worked that out yet.

More from the NYT: “[I]t was unclear how and whether Iran would be compelled to answer the International Atomic Energy Agency’s outstanding quesitons about ‘possible military dimensions’ of Iran’s program in the past.” That’s another key western demand — UN inspectors won’t know if Iran is conducting new research into a military enrichment program if they don’t know how much research has already been conducted. It sounds to me increasingly like all that was really agreed to here was the number of centrifuges, no enrichment at Fordo, and the promise of sanctions being lifted very soon, assuming Iran complies with what’s asked of it initially.


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