The other thread’s too cluttered and too full of speculation about what was and wasn’t actually agreed upon. Here’s the answer from the parties themselves: A “fact sheet” of what the embryonic agreement requires. It’s more detailed than I thought it’d be. And needless to say, this is only the English-language version, prepared for the consumption of western readers eager to see Iran held to account. I’m keen to see an English translation of Iran’s version of the “fact” sheet.
If you’re looking for good news, here you go: Starting at the bottom of page two, not only has Iran agreed to “regular access” by inspectors to all of its nuclear facilities, including the fortified plant inside the mountain at Fordo, but they’ve agreed to the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol,” which authorizes “snap inspections.” That had been a sticking point during the home stretch of the talks; eight days ago, Iran’s chief spokesman called snap inspections “illegal.” Unless there’s a legal wrinkle I’m missing, they ended up caving on that. They also supposedly agreed to let UN inspectors investigate suspected nuclear sites, not just sites that are already known. That’ll be useful when, not if, they eventually try to cheat by building covert enrichment sites under the IAEA’s nose. Iran, meanwhile, gets to sell this as a victory back home insofar as they haven’t agreed to close any site that’s already operating. (They have, however, agreed not to build any new ones, another important point when they inevitably try to cheat.) Even Fordo will keep operating with centrifuges in place, albeit as a monitored “research” facility with no uranium allowed on the premises.
On enrichment, Obama got his one-year “breakout” period (the time it would take Iran to enrich a given amount of uranium to the level of purity needed for an atomic bomb) and Iran got to keep thousands and thousands of centrifuges spinning at Natanz, another point they can sell as a win. Five thousand centrifuges will continue operating, although they’ll be enriching uranium only to 3.67 percent purity — not remotely close to the 90 percent level needed for a bomb — and they’ll all supposedly be IR-1 models. That was another sticking point between the two sides: The IR-1 is the most primitive centrifuge in use today, something that other nuclear powers were using 40 years ago. Iran’s been working on more sophisticated models for years; it was a priority for the U.S. to make sure the advanced models weren’t put online or else the “breakout” period to reach 90 percent enrichment would have shortened from a year to just a few months or even weeks. The compromise here, it appears, is that Iran will stick with the primitive model for now but will be allowed to continue R&D on next-gen models provided that the western powers agree to its “schedule” and “parameters.” In fact, for the next 10 years, Iran supposedly will conduct no R&D that would allow it in theory to shorten the “breakout” period beyond one year. Starting in 2025, though, they get to ramp up under western supervision. Good news for President Hillary, who’ll just be finishing her second term by then.
As for sanctions, they’re not lifted “immediately.” The IAEA first has to verify that Iran has met all of its obligations on centrifuges, Fordo, inspections, and its reactor at Arak before sanctions are lifted. If at any point down the road Iran violates the deal, “snapback sanctions” will go into effect. Which sounds nice until you grasp the politics of what that would mean:
Politically, at the U.S., EU, and UNSC levels, respectively, there would have to be agreement that there is sufficient evidence of Iranian non-compliance to warrant a decision to reinstate the sanctions. There are bound to be significant disputes on the evidence, differing assessments of the seriousness of infractions, fierce debates about the appropriate level of response, and concerns about Iranian retaliation. The snapback is equally challenging to implement given the economic realities that will follow a nuclear deal. International sanctions took years before a critical mass of international companies terminated their business ties with Tehran. Once loosened, with so many international companies positioning to get back into Iran, it will be difficult to persuade these companies to leave again, especially as Western companies, and their lobby groups, will argue that Chinese, Russian, Turkish, and other less cooperative countries are bound to backfill if they do.
Realistically, once sanctions go bye-bye they’re not coming back unless Iran flouts the terms of the agreement in an unusually visible, undeniable way. Which it won’t.
One open question from the fact sheet: What happens to Iran’s current stockpile of low-enriched uranium? Initially the west wanted Iran to ship that out of the country as an extra guarantee that they wouldn’t try to enrich it on the sly. Within the past few weeks, Iran insisted that it won’t do that. How’d that issue get resolved? The “fact sheet” doesn’t say. All it says is that Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of 10,000 kg to 300 kg without saying how. What I think that means is that, rather than require Iran to send the uranium out of the country, the west is going to insist that all but 300 kg of the total stockpile be diluted rather than shipped out. In other words, if 9,700 kg are already at 3.67 percent purity, the purity will be reduced down towards zero by adding material to it so that Iran would have to re-enrich it all over again just to get it back to the level it’s at now. They keep the uranium, though, presumably. If they break out, it’ll be there for them to use.
Updates to come maybe as fallout (no pun intended) continues.
Update: I have no idea what this means.
Kerry says “no sunset. none. The parameters of this agreement will be implemented in phases.”
— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) April 2, 2015
According to the fact sheet itself, many key provisions of the deal are limited to a 10- or 15-year time frame. The enrichment restrictions are limited to 15 years. The only key provision that isn’t time-limited is inspections, which are supposed to continue permanently. That’s arguably the single biggest achievement from all this for the U.S. I wonder if Iran knows/agrees that it’s signed up for IAEA scrutiny in perpetuity.
Update: My apologies. I thought the fact sheet was a joint U.S./Iran production and said so in my original headline for this post. Nope:
The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using "fact sheets" so early on.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 2, 2015
So Iran’s so insistent on not being held to concrete terms that they object to the U.S. even putting out a recitation of the points of agreement, huh? Belated exit question: Which provisions here does Zarif regard as unfair/inaccurate “spin”? Kind of important to know that as the White House starts celebrating peace in our time.