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Since the discovery of Iran's covert nuclear weapons program, the international community has used diplomatic means to try and convince Iran to end its project. A variety of incentives have been offered to the Iranians and all of the negotiations have recognized Iran's inherent right to pursue nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The hope was that a diplomatic agreement would stop Iran from developing a bomb and thus forestall the need to impose sanctions on Iran or raise the military option.
However, while the Iranians have agreed at times to negotiate, not even the threats of sanctions or military actions have persuaded the mullahs to abandon their nuclear program. In fact, the Iranians have openly admitted that they have dragged out talks while accelerating their project. A final nuclear accord was agreed to by P5+1 and Iranian negotiators and endorsed by the UN Security Council in July 2015. To read the full text of this final agreement, please click here.
- First Diplomatic Efforts
- Setback in Negotiations
- Incentivizing Iranian Compliance
- Hint of Compromise?
- Israel's Red Line Worked
- Can IAEA Stop Iranian Breakout?
- Talks Fail Again
- Will Rouhani Change Iran's Policy?
- Let's Make a Deal?
- Interim Deal with Iran
- Renewed Distrust
- A Second Extension
- Framework for a Deal
- Reaching an Agreement
- The Final Deal
The first effort to reach a diplomatic solution was in 2003 when Britain, France and Germany offered Iran incentives to stop their nuclear program. It is an indication of how concerned the international community is as the prospect of a nuclear Iran that it was Europeans countries, not Israel or the United States, which took the first steps to try to stop the Iranians. Those talks resulted in no agreement; in fact, Iranian officials boasted they continued their research while they were going on.
Iran agreed in a meeting in Tehran with French, German, and British ambassadors on November 14, 2004, to immediately suspend its nuclear programs in exchange for European guarantees that it will not face the prospect of UN Security Council sanctions as long as their agreement holds. The Bush administration was dissatisfied and said Tehran needed to convince the world it is not a danger (Washington Post, November 15, 2004).
Shortly after the Iranian-European agreement, the National Council of Resistance said Iran had bought blueprints for a nuclear bomb and obtained weapons-grade uranium on the black market. The group also charged that Iran was still secretly enriching uranium at an undisclosed Defense Ministry site in Tehran (New York Times, November 18, 2004).
Secretary of State Colin Powell also said the United States had intelligence indicating Iran was trying to fit ballistic missiles to carry nuclear weapons, which he intimated would only make sense if Iran was also developing or planning to develop a nuclear capability. "There is no doubt in my mind - and it's fairly straightforward from what we've been saying for years - that they have been interested in a nuclear weapon that has utility, meaning that it is something they would be able to deliver, not just something that sits there," Powell said (Washington Post, November 18, 2004).
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani claimed a "great victory" over the U.S. at the end of November 2004 after the UN said it would not punish Iran's nuclear activities with sanctions. Rohani said Iran would never give up its right to nuclear power and stressed during talks with European countries that Iran's freeze on uranium enrichment was only temporary (BBC News, November 30, 2004). President Bush said on November 30, "The Iranians agreed to suspend but not terminate their nuclear weapons program. Our position is that they ought to terminate their nuclear weapons program" (Reuters, November 30, 2004).
In February 2005, Ali Agha Mohammadi, spokesman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran will never scrap its nuclear program, and talks with the Europeans are aimed at protecting the country's nuclear achievements, not negotiating an end to them. This view was reiterated in March by Rohani, who said, the country would never permanently cease enriching uranium, and warned that if the United States went to the United Nations Security Council to seek sanctions against Iran, "the security and stability of the region would become a problem."
In May 2005, Iran confirmed that it had converted 37 tons of uranium into gas, its first acknowledgment of advances made in the production process for enriched uranium. This meant Tehran could start enriching uranium quickly if negotiations with the Europeans over the future of its nuclear program failed (AP, May 9, 2005). On July 27, Iran's departing president, Mohammad Khatami, said, regardless of Europe's position, "we will definitely resume work in Isfahan," the site of a uranium processing plant. On August 1, Iran said Iranian technicians would break UN seals on the Isfahan nuclear plant, allowing uranium processing to resume. Reprocessing uranium is a step below uranium enrichment, which was to remain suspended (Jerusalem Post, August 1, 2005).
In late August 2005, European powers called off talks with Iran about its nuclear program scheduled for August 31. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said talks on a formal European proposal made earlier this month would not go ahead because Iran had resumed certain nuclear work in breach of a promise to freeze it while talks lasted (Reuters, August 24, 2005).
In early November 2005, Iran rejected a call by European ministers for it to heed a resolution of the IAEA calling for a renewed freeze on all activities related to uranium enrichment (Jerusalem Post, November 6, 2005). Iran began converting a new batch of uranium at the Isfahan facility, a move seen as provocative after rejecting international pleas to suspend such work (Washington Post, November 17, 2005).
The one remaining diplomatic option to avoid pursuing sanctions against Iran failed on March 12, 2006, when Iran rejected an offer from Russia to enrich uranium on its behalf. Negotiations on the proposal were widely viewed as merely a tactical strategy Tehran was using to continue its program while staving off referral to the UN.
Iran's Foreign Minister subsequently rejected the principle of a European package that would require Teheran to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for support to a civilian nuclear program.
In May 2006, the United States said it would join multilateral talks with Iran if Tehran suspended enrichment. The P5+1 – the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, Russia, France, Britain & the United States) and Germany – offered the Iranians a package of incentives, but Iran rejected the offer three months later.
In May 2008, the P5+1 offered Iran yet another package of incentives to stop their nuclear program. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded that Iran would not give up its "rights." despite Western pressure. "Threatening the Iranian nation will not make it retreat," he told a rally (Reuters, May 5, 2008).
A month later, in June 2008, the P5+1 offered Iran technical and commercial incentives to suspend uranium enrichment. A few weeks later, the powers held talks in Geneva, attended for the first time by a senior U.S. official, aimed at reaching an agreement with Iran and forestalling further sanctions. A senior Iranian official, however, ruled out any freeze in uranium enrichment (Reuters, July 20, 2008). Five days later, the head of Iran's nuclear agency, Iranian Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, announced Iran would no longer cooperate with IAEA experts investigating the country's clandestine nuclear weapons program (Washington Post, July 24, 2008). Shortly thereafter, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges operating a year earlier at its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, evidence of the progress Iran had made toward developing a nuclear weapon (Washington Post, July 26, 2008).
In May 2009, Ahmadinejad rejected a Western proposal for it to "freeze" its nuclear program in return for no new sanctions and ruled out any talks with major powers on the issue (Reuters, May 25, 2009). The Obama Administration offered to allow Iran to receive uranium enriched to nearly 20 percent to fuel a medical research reactor if it agreed to send its stockpile of uranium outside the country. Iran rejected the offer.
In 2012, the P5+1 made yet another offer to provide fuel for a research reactor, in addition to agreeing to supply spare parts for civilian aircraft and foregoing additional sanctions. Iran was asked again to give up its stockpile of uranium and to stop its enrichment activities. Iran again refused and continues to steadily advance toward the completion of the nuclear fuel cycle and the capability to build a bomb.
In the final debate of the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama warned that negotiations could not drag on indefinitely:
The clock is ticking. We're not going to allow Iran to perpetually engage in negotiations that lead nowhere. And I've been very clear to them, you know ... we have a sense of when they would get breakout capacity, which means that we would not be able to intervene in time to stop their nuclear program, and that clock is ticking.
At the begining of 2013, negotiations between UN inspectors and Iran - aimed at securing access to the Parchin facility, where it is widely suspected that Iranian scientists conducted work related to nuclear detonations - once again ended without progress. Further talks regarding Parchin are expected to take place later in the year, however no dates were set.
For the first time in eight months negotiations resumed February 26, 2013. Iran held talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with the United States and other world powers to try to end the conflict over Iran's nuclear program. The talks were supposed to last only one day, but because of signs of progress, a second day was added. Afterward, Tehran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said the last proposal from his interlocutors was a possible "turning point."
Jalili's optimism appeared to based on concessions made by the United States and its partners rather than any compromises by Iran. "It was they who tried to get closer to our point of view," Jalili said, while adding that there remained "a long distance to the desirable point."
In fact, in May 2012, the P5+1 insisted that Iran shut down its Fordow nuclear plant and ship its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium out of the country before sanctions would be lifted. In Almaty, however, the demand was reduced to asking Iran to suspend operations at Fordow while allowing Iran to retain some of its 20 percent-enriched uranium in exchange for easing economic sanctions.
Ultimately, the only agreement reached was to hold additional meetings in March and April. The discussions raised hopes that an agreement could be reached to avoid the necessity of a military operation. On the other hand, Iran has given indications in the past that it would negotiate a deal, but then backed off while accelerating the nuclear program.
Iran's recent actions also suggested it is simply using the talks to buy time to build a nuclear bomb or, at least, reach the capability to do so quickly. For example, the week before the meeting in Almaty, the IAEA reported that Iran was installing centrifuges at their main uranium enrichment site at a faster rate than anticipated. The IAEA also revealed that Iran was continuing to work on a heavy-water plant at Arak that could be used to produce plutonium for bombs.
The Washington Post editorialized after the Almaty talks:
If Iran altered its own, unacceptable proposals from previous rounds, there was no indication of it in the accounts of either side. That raises the possibility that the regime will simply pocket the easier terms and return to its stonewalling, with the expectation that another crumbling of the coalition position will ensue. In recent months, Tehran has avoided crossing Israel's red line for military action by keeping its stockpile of -medium-enriched uranium below the quantity needed for a bomb, but it has also begun installing a new generation of centrifuges, which could move it much closer to a breakout capacity. Maybe these zigs and zags, like Mr. Jalili's declarations, are the prelude to a compromise. But history suggests they are the tactics of a regime convinced that it can outlast and outmaneuver the United States and its partners (Washington Post, February 28, 2013).
Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command also expressed skepticism about negotiations. He told a Senate hearing that Iran has a history of denial and deceit and is "enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose." He added that he believed Iran was using negotiations to buy time (Huffington Post, March 5, 2013).
Another fruitless round of talks was held in Almaty on April 5-6, 2013. Western officials reported the two sides remained far apart while Iranian souces claimed victory. Fars News said Iran did not give in to Western pressures and continued to "insist on its national interests." The 5+1 were losers, the agency said, because "the earlier calculations and assumptions regarding the impact of sanctions on Iran to give up its nuclear right have failed" (Fars News, April 8, 2013).
Secretary of State Kerry's response to the failure of the talks was to reiterate the hope for a peaceful end to the standoff, but warned that negotiations were not an "interminable process" (The Guardian, April 7, 2013).
Israel has consistently argued that diplomacy will only succeed if it is accompanied by a credible military threat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was widely mocked when he spoke at the UN in September 2012 and drew a "cartoonish" picture of a bomb with a red line representing the point when Iran accumulated enough 20% enriched uranium to produce a bomb with further processing. A Washington Post editorial said proponents of diplomacy over war with Iran should now thank Netanyahu for setting a "red line" because it "appears to have accomplished what neither negotiations nor sanctions have yielded: concrete Iranian action to limit its enrichment." Specifically, Iran diverted 40% of its 20% uranium for use in a research reactor, to keep its stockpile of highly enriched uranium below the Israeli red line.
The Post added:
Mr. Netanyahu's red line is only a partial and temporary check on the Iranian threat. The ongoing installation of a new generation of faster centrifuges could soon make it obsolete by providing a new means for Iran to quickly produce bomb-grade uranium. But the lesson here is twofold: The credible threat of military action has to be part of any strategy for preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon, and clear red lines can help create the "time and space for diplomacy" that President Obama seeks. Mr. Obama, who last year stiffly resisted pressure from Mr. Netanyahu to spell out U.S. red lines, ought to reconsider (Washington Post, April 9, 2013).
Meanwhile, Iranian officials remain defiant. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, head of Basij of the Oppressed Organization, declared that"Those who recommend that we either compromise or negotiate with the US are undoubtedly either unwise or traitors… We categorically declare that the US is not a friend of ours, and any negotiation with it is an indication of treason or lack of discretion… Certain people recommend that we negotiate, whereas today we need an uprising (against the U.S. power) rather than negotiation and compromise" (Siasatema.com, April, 29, 2013).
Some people argue it is not necessaryt to take precipitous action against Iran because they believe the IAEA can detect when Iran is about to build a bomb and the international community will then have an opportunity to take action. According to Olli Heinoman, a 27-year veteran of IAEA inspection work, Iran may have already passed the point of no return as a result of the IAEA's failure to document the extent of Iran's program earlier. He also argued that Iran's breakout would likely occur before measures could be taken to stop it. Heinoman said that if the IAEA inspectors detected an Iranian breakout, it could take up to two weeks before they could reach Iran's enrichment plant. Often the inspections are carried out after giving 10 days notice while surprise inspections may be carried out with two hours' notice. Once the inspectors discovered Iran's progress, they would have to report back to the IAEA board, which would subsequently alert the UN Security Council. Heinoman said the whole process would probably take a month, during which time Iran could enrich enough uranium for a bomb. He believes Iran already has the capability to build a weapon, it just needs to make the decision to move forward (Wall Street Journal, March 2-3, 2013).
The IAEA held the latest of 10 rounds of talks with Iran in the last 1.5 years in Istanbul on May 15, 2013. It was also the first meeting in six weeks, since the last ones held in Almaty where Iran's response to P5+1 proposals were described as "very disappointing" and "would place little or no constraint on its current nuclear activities, while demanding that major sanctions be removed immediately." In Turkey, Iran offered no concessions and continued to insist on its right to enrich uranium (IBN News, May 17; Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 2013).
A report by The Project on U.S. Middle East Nonproliferation Strategy outlined the terms the United States should demand before lifting any sanctions:
- Suspension by Iran of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and all work on heavy water-related projects.
- Allowing IAEA inspectors to verify all Iranian actions and to resolve all outstanding issues.
- A complete accounting of Iran's past and current nuclear weapons related activities.
- Closure of the Fordow facility and any other underground enrichment facilities.
- Permitting IAEA to conduct intrusive and comprehensive inspections that will allow it to ensure that Iran remains in compliance with its agreement to halt all nuclear weapons-related work (U.S. Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East, January 2013).
Other analysts argue that sanctions should be intensified and include doing more to prevent the illicit import of centrifuge equipment because upgrading the type and increasing the number of centrifuges. They warn that if Tehran accumulates enough uranium enriched to 20 percent, it can produce enough weapons-grade uranium in a week or two. Once Iran reaches this “breakout capacity,” it will be too late to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons (Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2013).
The June 2013 election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's new president has been trumpeted by the media as a shift toward moderation in Iran and raised hopes that negotiations can finally resolve the stalemate over Iran's nuclear program. The election of Rouhani, however, changes nothing in Iran's strategic vision for its nuclear program. As Iran's chief nuclear negotiator in the early 2000's, Rouhani never agreed to any real compromise with the West and later admitted that the temporary suspension of certain elements of the program in 2003 was a ploy to enable Iran to build up its nuclear infrastructure. In 2004, he spoke of using a “calculated strategy” in negotiations with the EU3 – France, UK, and Germany – to buy time and then finding "the most suitable time to do away with the suspension” (Reuters, June 19, 2013). In his first press conference as president-elect, he announced that “the era of suspension is gone” (Rouhani.Ir, June 18, 2013). Rouhani also posted a photo on his facebook page showing him surrounded by people carrying placards reading “Death to Israel”, “Death to America” [President Rouhani's web site] - The Facebook page was apparently taken down].
Rouhani may present a more reasonable facade, but he has always been a staunch supporter of the Islamic Revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini. He subsequently became a close political ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and served as his personal assistant to the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). Rouhani also served as national security advisor to past presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani who oversaw the advancement of Iran's nuclear program (Iran Affairs, February 5, 2010).
Rouhani's comparative restraint, however, is irrelevant to the nuclear question since Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard control Iran's nuclear policy (The Tower, June 16, 2013). Rouhani has no mandate to modify Iran's position toward its right to enrich uranium and has given no indication that he has any desire to do so anyways. Following his electoral victory, Rouhani pledged to continue to safeguard Iran's “inalienable rights” to nuclear power (JTA, June 18, 2013). In addition, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of the Islamic Republic's Atomic Energy Organization, said production of nuclear fuel would “continue in line with our declared goals. The enrichment linked to fuel production will also not change” (Haaretz, July 3, 2013).
The constraints on Rouhani were reinforced by Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, member of the Assembly of Experts, who said: “We will support the President Elect (Rouhani) as long as he remains on the path of Velayat (the Supreme Leader)… If we notice that some radical or far-left people, who led the 1988 sedition (referring to the post-June 2009 presidential election protest – reformists and Green Movement leaders), are aligning themselves with this government, the President Elect should be and no doubt will be criticized… Velayat-e faqih is the nation’s compass in the Islamic Republic’s system and nobody, not even the President Elect, has a right to take positions against it” (Tasnim; ISNA, July 3, 2013).
Western nations want to give the new president a chance to negotiate a solution, but talks aren't expected for at least several weeks and this is just additional time for Iran to make further advancements in its nuclear program. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei threw cold water on those expecting a change in Iran's position. “I am not optimistic about negotiations with the Americans...the Americans are unreliable and illogical and they are not frank in their interactions… The stands adopted by US officials during the recent few months, too, once again confirmed the necessity of being pessimistic about them” (Office of the Supreme Leader, July 22, 2013).
Meanwhile, President Obama is being pressured by members of Congress to give negotiations with Rouhani a chance. A letter signed by 131 members says that given the stakes involved for the United States, Israel, and the international community, it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a genuine opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” The letter, circulated by Representatives David Price (D-North Carolina) and Charles Dent (R-Pennsylvania), sends a clear message to Israel regarding any preemptive measures against Iran: “We must also be careful not to foreclose the possibility of such progress by taking provocative actions that could weaken the newly elected president’s standing relative to Iran’s hardliners” (The Back Channel, July 18, 2013). Iran welcomed the letter but a spokesman said that the United States would have to take dozens of other steps to resume relations with Tehran (IRNA, July 22, 2013).
Even as some members of Congress push for negotiations, others are planning to pass legislation that would place even stricter sanctions on Iran. The proposed legislation would blacklist Iran’s mining and construction sectors, which are linked to the Revolutionary Guard corps. Supporters also want to stop all Iranian oil sales worldwide by 2015. The legislation is likely to pass, despite the objections of the administration, but not until the fall (Times of Israel, July 23, 2013). In addition, 76 senators from both parties urged President Obama to keep the pressure on Iran and keep a military option on the table. “Until we see a significant slowdown of Iran’s nuclear activities, we believe our nation must toughen sanctions and reinforce the credibility of our option to use military force at the same time as we fully explore a diplomatic solution to our dispute with Iran,” the senators wrote (Telegraph, August 3, 2013).
Since his inauguration Rouhani has begun to speak out about Iran's nuclear interests and does not sound conmpromising. “Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is a national and cross-party issue,” he said. “The relevant principles will be safeguarded. It means that the government stresses that Iran’s nuclear rights are based on international regulations, and we will not give up people’s rights…” (Parsine.com, August 7, 2013; Fars News Agency, August 8, 2013). An editorial in Etemaad (reformist) extols Rouhani’s past nuclear achievements as “a successful record,” arguing that “as the chief nuclear negotiator and with his prudence and unique planning, he was able to protect Iran’s nuclear technology and nuclear installations (reference to the UCF in Isfahan) from any harm or invasion (Magiran.com, August 8, 2013).
Others in the Iranian hierarchy have continued their belligerent statements directed at Israel. Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior military advisor to the Supreme Leader and former IRGC Commander said, “Iran’s national might in political, security and economic fields has increased, and today we have turned into the region’s super power.” During Quds Day rallies, “referred to “the huge problems the Zionist regime is facing” its imminent downfall. “The (only) strategy to liberate Palestine,” Safavi added, “is the continuation of armed jihad and Islamic resistance until the fall of the Zionists, and this is the only strategy to liberate honorable Quds and return the Palestinians their land and rights” (SepahNews, August 7, 2013).
In September 2013, expectations over a breakthrough in talks with Iran were heightened when both President Rouhani and U.S. President Obama made conciliatory statements that seemed to hint at the prospect of a meeting between the leaders at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Meanwhile, however, Rouhani said the West must recognize Iran's nuclear and enrichment rights as part of international law and he made no plans to stop centrifuges from spinning in their nuclear facilities. (Mehrnews, September 23, 2013)
While Obama and Rouhani did not meet at the UN, they did hold an arranged telephone conversation regarding the future of Iran's nuclear program. The conversation - the first between U.S. and Iranian leaders since the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis - was aimed at defusing the dispute over Iran's nuclear program and afterward both leaders expressed optimism at the prospect of a rapprochement that would transform the Middle East. (New York Times, September 27, 2013)
"Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect," President Obama said. Rouhani noted on his Twitter account that "in regards to [the] nuclear issue, with political will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter."
President Obama also instructed Secretary of State John Kerry - in close coordination with the European Union, Russia and China - to pursue diplomacy with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Obama stressed that America prefers to resolve the issue diplomatically but that the use of force is not off the table. (White House, September 24, 2013)
On November 23, 2013, the P5+1 and Iran reached a set of initial understandings that halts the progress of Iran's nuclear program and rolls it back in key respects. The agreement is hailed as only an interim deal, set for six months, that will give world powers extended time to work with the Islamic Republic on a permanent solution to the nuclear crisis.
The details of the deal stipulate that Iran committs to halt enrichment above 5%, neutralize its stockpile of near-20% uranium, halt progress on its enrichment capacity, halt progress on activities at the Arak reactor and provide daily access by IAEA inspectors at the Natanz and Fordow sites. In return for these steps, the international community will not impose new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran for at least six months and will suspend certain sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran's auto sector, and Iran's petrochemical exports. (White House, November 23, 2013)
U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration led the international effort for a deal with Iran, called the agreement "an important first step toward a comprehensive solution" of the Iranian nuclear dilemma and credited his administration's push for diplomacy and its adoption of stern economic sanctions for "a new path toward a world that is more secure."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pitched the deal to Congress saying: "We make sure that these sanctions don't get lifted in a way that reduces the pressure on Iran. The Iranian nuclear program is actually set backward and is actually locked into place in critical places." (Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2013)
Despite the Obama administration's optimistic outlook, there were many around the world who raised concerns about the West's overtures to Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "What was achieved in Geneva is not an historic agreement; it is an historic mistake ... This is a bad agreement. It gives Iran exactly what it wants: both substantial easing of sanctions and preservation of the most substantial parts of its nuclear program." (Prime Minister's Office, November 23, 2013)
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird noted he was "deeply skeptical" of the interim deal and said that "Iran has not earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt." (Globe & Mail, November 24, 2013)
Conversely, Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah hailed the deal as a "major victory" for Iran and a "defeat for the enemies" of the Islamic Republic. (Chicago Tribune, November 25, 2013)
The last details of this temporary agreement, known as the Joint Plan of Action (or JPOA) were finalized by the P5+1 on January 12, 2014, and pursuant to the agreement much of Iran's nuclear capabilities were supposed to be temporarily frozen after January 20. Although this plan was originally rolled out in November of 2013, it was not ready to take effect or finalized until January 2014. Iran agreed to this temporary halt in uranium production in exchange for foreign aid from the West in the form of sanctions relief totalling $6-$7 billion. (New York Times, January 12, 2014)
On July 2 after this temporary agreement was reached, a new round of negotiations took place and a date of July 20 was set for a possible permanent solution to be reached with all parties involved. However, on July 18 the P5+1 and Iran agreed to a four month extension of the talks as they did not believe that an agreement could be met. The talks were extended until November 24 and this extension was been met with much criticism, but the White House released a statement that after the extension there is a "credible prospect for a comprehensive deal". Although there is hope in this extension, officials doubt whether coming to an agreement is at all feasable. (The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2014)
The IAEA's monthly report for July indicated that Iran had in fact cooperated with all aspects of scaling down it's nuclear capabilities agreed to in the Joint Plan of Action. To read the full monthly report click here.
In attempts to bridge the gaps between the wants of the Iranians and the security needs of the other players involved, negotiations again resumed on Thursday August 7. US diplomats met Iranian leaders in Geneva in the first meeting since July 18 when it was decided that the current negotiations were fruitless and the agreement date was extended until November 24. The first days of the talks were "constructive" according to White House officials, and after the weekend Iranian President Hassan Rouhani referred to Iranians who are opposed to striking a nuclear deal with the West as "political cowards". Rouhani is in favor of an agreement because he sees the benefit that the lifting of heavy sanctions imposed on Iran would have. At the same time however Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei downplayed and dismissed the value of direct negotiations with the P5+1 (specifically the United States). In a conference with Foreign Ministry officials on August 13 Khamenei stated ""Some pretend that if we sit down with Americans at the negotiating table, many of the problems will be resolved. We knew that won't be the case but developments in the past year proved this reality once again".
In light of these statements the director of the IAEA Yukiya Amano arrived in Tehran on August 17 for meetings with Iranian leaders and senior officials. The IAEA has recently been given increased access to Iran's nuclear facilities pursuant to the interim agreement struck in November, and they are trying to determine the past, present, or future military capacity of the Iranian nuclear program. During these meetings, Hassan Rouhani repeatedly emphasized that missiles were not on Iran's nuclear agenda and that Iran was willing to cooperate with the IAEA. The meetings saw the two go over the previously agreed to joint cooperation plan, along with IAEA regulations. After returning, Mr Amano said that the meeting with Rouhani was "useful" and he recieved a firm commitment from the Iranian officials that they will cooperate with the IAEA's inquiry. This meeting came before the August 25 deadline for Iran to implement transparency measures and provide relevant information to the IAEA on the military dimensions of it's nuclear program, and these meetings are seperate and unrelated to Iran's relations and meetings with the P5+1. (Bloomberg, August 17 2014)
On August 16 Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated that the chances that an agreement will be met by November 24 "are low", adding that even if they came close to an agreement there would definitely be more time needed to get the fine details together. The Iranians were not willing to comply with the extremely limited uranium enrichment capabilities or the reduction in centrifuges that the P5+1 were trying to impose on them during the July negotiations, and there has been minimal progress made since then. (Tehran Times, August 16 2014)
Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif stated on August 21 that Iran would be willing to help the US and other nations fight and defeat ISIS in Iraq, but in return for their help they are asking that all sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program be completely lifted. This offer is a response for the French Minister's call for all countries in the region, including Iran, to help stop the brutal ISIS menace. Iran is negotiating with several European governments to work out a way to possibly form joint action or sanctions against ISIS. There is little chance that the United States will agree to the lifting of sanctions in order to gain Iran's help with ISIS. (Business Insider, August 21 2014)
The IAEA deadline with Iran for them to implement transparency measures and fully disclose the possibe militarization of their nuclear capabilities came and went without a final word from Iran. By the August 25 deadline, set in November, Iran had to accomplish a number of things in order to calm international concerns of their possible weaponization and militarization of their nuclear program. This list of 5 demands from the IAEA has not been fully publicly disclosed, but it includes full disclosure of explosive experimentation, and statistical measurements of their nuclear facilities. Statements from Iranian officials point to the fact that some of these demands have been met and others have not. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that "They have 5 demands and questions... some are completed, and some are in the process of being completed," providing no elaboration on this statement.
Iran opened a new uranium conversion plant on Saturday August 23, in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. The purpose of this plant is to facilitate the conversion of enriched uranium into a material that cannot be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. The plant will convert the nuclear material uranium hexaflouride into uranium dioxide which can only be used in nuclear reactors as a power source.
Although Iran has seemed cooperative with the P5+1 and the IAEA thus far in pursuing a nuclear deal, August 2014 saw Iran begin to resist efforts to provide transparency to the international mechanisms tasked with determining the weaponization and militarization capabilities of it's nuclear program. Iran has missed the major deadline of August 25 to comply with the list of 5 demands from the IAEA, and has told the UN that they cannot go back in to Iran's Parchin nuclear site and has made their nuclear scientists unnavailable for comment. Additionally, and most alarmingly, a senior Iranian official confirmed on Wednesday August 27 that Iran has been conducting "mechanical" tests on a new, advanced centrifuge machine designed to refine uranium. (New York Times, August 29 2014)
As the August 25 transparency deadline came and passed with no final word from Iran, world leaders realized that they will once again have to play hard-ball with the Iranian leadership. Iran failed to submit reports to the IAEA detailing it's experiments with explosives that could be used for an atomic device, and studies relating to nuclear program yields. The IAEA report for August 2014 included that Iran has effectively stopped cooperation with the IAEA and the international community. Iran so far has carried out the minor components of the 5 transparency measures but still has to submit the most important portions including details of it's explosive expirementation and studies relating to nuclear program yields. These are by far the most critical components of the transparency measures because they evaluate the potential military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program. The international community cannot be sure of what the intentions of the Iranian nuclear program are until they disclose these aspects, and by refusing to cooperate in this way Iran has completely shut off the international negotiations. Especially because of the renewed activity at the Parchin nuclear base, the IAEA is extremely concerned about concealed Iranian nuclear activity that they have not reported as part of the transparency measures. To read the complete IAEA report for August 2014, click here.
Nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 resumed in New York City on September 17 2014, with the November 24 deadline looming on the horizon. According to experts this is a "make-or-break" moment for the negotiations and if a deal is not reached by November 24, it is unlikely that negotiations will be extended once more. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani travelled to New York on Tuesday September 16 in order to prepare for the relaunch of negotiations. The negotiations stalled over the next few days, and on Friday the negotiations were called off due to "lack of progress".
On October 2 John Kerry recieved a letter from 354 members of the United States House of Representatives expressing their collective concern that the United States needs to be harder on Iran during these negotiations. The letter expressed the concern of the representatives regarding Iran's noncompliance thus far with the IAEA's transparency demands.
A huge explosion tore through Iran's Parchin nuclear facility on October 6, 2014 leaving two workers dead. The blast was so powerful that it shattered the windows in buildings up to 9 miles from the facility. Allegedly the blast was an accident that occured when weapons materials were being transported. The Iranian government has refused the IAEA access to the Parchin nuclear facility since 2005.
With the November 24 deadline coming quickly, the United States increased their concessions to Iran even more in order to attempt to gaurantee a nuclear deal. On October 21 the Iranian Mehr News Agency reported that the Obama administration may change it's stance during the negotiations and allow Iran to have 4,000 operational centrifuges instead of the 1,500 that they had been pushing for in the negotiations so far. The P5+1 met with Iranian officials multiple times in Vienna during October, but large gaps between the groups still remained. On November 5 it was reported that during negotiations the United States had agreed to let Iran have 6,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium instead of the 4,000 previously agreed to. The United States negotiating team has repeatedly given ground on the centrifuge issue, starting earlier this year with an acceptable number of 500, then 1,500, then 4,000.
The Obama administration, desperate for a deal, continued to bend to Iran's will on October 22 when it was announced that the administration is considering bypassing congress and lifting the majority of sanctions against Iran as part of the negotiation process. Reports from US officials detailed that the President may use his executive powers to lift sanctions on Iran in an attempt to spur a deal. Members of Congress were visibly upset about the idea of the President circumventing them on this issue and have publicly condemned the idea. This plan would only be a temporary lifting of sanctions, and administration officials have clarified that Congress will have the final say in any lifting of sanctions that is more permanent. Non-proliferation groups such as the Arms Control Association have come out in favor of the President using unilateral executive authority to push a deal with Iran, and claim that it may be the only way to reach a deal.
As of November 2014, Iran had still not carried out the IAEA's transparency measures that they were supposed to have implemented by August 25. Director General of the IAEA Yukiya Amano said on October 20 that "In order to resolve all outstanding issues, it is very important that Iran implements, in a timely manner, all practical measures agreed under the Framework for Cooperation".
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the United States chief nuclear negotiator with Iran, gave a speech on October 23 in which she stated that "we have made impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable". However, she clarified that although progress has been made, "this is a puzzle with many interlocking pieces," and the negotiations will take time and increased effort on all fronts for a deal to come to fruition. A senior administration official stressed that the negotiations would take "every single minute of the time through November 24" (The Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2014).
Throughout the negotiations process Iran continued to prevent IAEA nuclear investigators and officials from gaining access to Iranian nuclear sites or scientists. This refusal to cooperate effectively crippled the negotiations and peace process, and made it exceedingly complicated to reach agreements between the P5+1 and Iranian leaders. With the November 24, 2014, deal deadline approaching, at the end of October Iranian officials once again denied IAEA inspectors access to their nuclear sites including Parchin, where a suspicious explosion had occured recently. Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano stated on October 31 2014 that "almost no progress" had been made over the course of 2014 involving the allegations of Iranian nuclear weapons development.
In an agreement reached through negotiations in Vienna, on November 4 Iran tentatively agreed to ship a significant portion of it's uranium stockpile to Russia, where it will be processed into specialized fuel rods that can only be used for nuclear power purposes and not for a weapon. This agreement has not been made official, and the day after the announcement Iranian Foreign Ministry officials dismissed news of this tentative agreement as "all speculations and rumors by some foreign media". Diplomats and officials involved in the negotiations however have faith that this may be a major breakthrough in regards to reigning in Iran's nuclear capabilities. As November 24 moves closer, the P5+1 are still hopeful for a deal that will not leave Iran on the cusp of a nuclear weapon.
It was revealed in early November 2014 that during the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 President Obama wrote a secret letter to Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei expressing their mutual interest in defeating the Islamic State. Cooperation between the United States and Iran is extremely rare, and the nuclear negotiations during 2014 represent the most sustained period of diplomacy between the two countries since 1979's Islamic Revolution. This is the fourth letter that Obama has written to Khamenei, and these suggest that the United States is genuinely interested in pursuing a mutually beneficial relationship with Iran with further cooperation if the nuclear issue is sorted out.
In an IAEA report released on November 7 2014, which can be found here , the agency reported that Iran "has not provided any explanations that enable the Agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures, nor has it proposed any new practical measures in the next step of the Framework for Cooperation". According to the report Iran has failed to answer almost every critical question about the potential military dimensions of it's nuclear program, and has continued to thwart further investigations into the program. The report also detailed that Iran's low-enriched uranium stockpile had grown 8% since the previous report, now totalling 8.4 tons. The report states that no progress has been made into the investigation since the last report was published. .
Seperate from the P5+1 negotiations, on November 11 Russia forged their own nuclear deal with Iran, prompting anxiety and questions from the West. Russias state nuclear power agency, Rosatom struck a deal with Iranian officials to build multiple new nuclear reactor units in Iran. The deal calls for the immediate construction of two nuclear reactors at the Russian built Bushehr power plant and the construction of two more at a later date, and four more in unspecified locations around Iran. The construction of these new facilities opens the way for Iranian domestic production of power for their own nuclear reactors. As a part of the agreement Russia indicated that it would discuss with the Iranian leadership "the feasibility of fabricating fuel rods in Iran, which will be used at these power units". Domestically producing these fuel rods would likely allow Iran to build up a nuclear infrastructure and creep them closer to developing a nuclear bomb, something that the international community has obviously attempted to avoid at all costs. In order to curb Western anxieties about this nuclear material being used for weaponry purposes, Russian officials have assured the international community that these reactors would be constructed and operated under the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency. Russia will provide the nuclear material for these new reactors, as it does currently. (LA Times, November 11 2014).
November saw negotiations continue between the P5+1 and Iran in Oman and Vienna with little progress made. Every day a different spokesperson from the negotiations claimed to news outlets that negotiations were going well, but there were still wide gaps between the nuclear ambitions of Iran and the safety concerns of the Western world. In the weeks leading up to the November 24 deadline, both parties hinted that more time may be required to come to an agreement in negotiations that had already been extended for 4 months in July.
All parties involved returned to negotiations in Vienna on November 17, a mere week before the proposed deadline for a deal. According to experts and individuals close to the negotiations, chances of finding mutual ground and coming to a more permanent agreement remained extremely low.
The United States officially came out with their stated goal for the negotiations on November 20. Secretary of State John Kerry clarified that the reached agreement should degrade the weaponization capability of the Iranian nuclear program so that it will take at least one year for them to develop a nuclear weapon. The P5+1 are pushing for this minimum "breakout time" of at least one year because it will allow the international community sufficient time to respond, should it be revealed that Iran is begining to develop a nuclear weapon.
It was revealed late in the afternoon on the deadline of November 24 that the two parties still had significant differences to work out and that no comprehensive nuclear deal had been reached. After months of intense negotiations between Iran and world superpowers from the P5+1, the two groups could not come to an agreement by the deadline agreed to in July. The nuclear discussions were once again extended, this time for seven months. The negotiating teams hope to have a draft agreement by March 1 2015, with a finalized agreement on the table ready to be accepted by all parties in July. Until a more comprehensive deal is reached, the conditions and stipulations of the current temporary deal will remain in effect. As a part of this extension, Iranian officials are expected to allow United Nations inspectors increased access to workshops where Iranian centrifuges and rotors are built, in an effort to increase the transparency of their nuclear program and facilities. Negotiators are optimistic about prospects for an agreement in the coming months. John Kerry stated that new ideas had been brought to the table during the last days of negotiations and that the P5+1 "would be fools to walk away" now. After the announcement of the extension, Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif smiled and stated during a press conference that "we don't need seven months." The Iranian government came out of these negotiations victorious, ensuring the continuation of the sanctions relief that has brought in $700 million per month since the deal was reached, and ensuring that they can still continue their covert nuclear operations without having to open their doors and give in to increased international scrutiny of their nuclear facilities (New York Times, November 25 2014).
After harping for months that no deal is better than a bad deal, Israeli officials were happy with the outcome, favoring an extension of the talks over a bad deal that would leave Iran free to pursue their nuclear ambitions. According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this extension of the negotiations gives the world " the opportunity to continue the economic pressures that have proven to be the only thing that have brought Iran to the table." Israeli officials expect a fresh round of crippling sanctions against Iran to come from the United States in response to a deal not being reached. Netanyahu stated that economic sanctions "are the route that needs to be taken" when dealing with Iran, and word of a nuclear extension brought a sense of relief to senior Israeli officials (Washington Post, November 24).
Delivering his first remarks on the extension, on November 25 Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that the Western nations had "failed to bring [Iran] to it's knees." According to Khamenei's personal website, during a meeting with many of Iran's top Muslim clerics he stated that "In the nuclear issue, America and colonial European countries got together and did their best to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees, but they could not do so — and they will not be able to do so." (New York Times, November 25 2014)
Following the announcement of an extension of the negotiations, South Korea made a $500 million payment to Iran for crude oil imports. Under the interim agreement Iran is allowed to access $700 million per month in sanctions relief in the form of oil payments from their frozen international bank accounts. According to official documents, Iran sold over $1.3 billion in oil to South Korea during 2014. A senior South Korean official told the International Business Times that "we had to play our role, as the international community agreed to unblock some of Iran's assets." (International Business Times, November 26 2014)
In allegations that had been previously unreported, in December 2014 US officials accused Iran of breaching the nuclear sanctions placed on them by the United Nations by secretely seeking to acquire parts for a heavy water reactor that could be used in the production of nuclear weapons grade materials. US and international monitors observed "no recent downturn in [Iranian] procurement" activities according to a November 7 report made public in early December. The extension of the negotiations was good news for countries looking to do business with Iran, and they took advantage of the favorable diplomatic climate. These accusations were taken with a grain of salt by the international community, as news like this usually takes a very long time to be released so the accusations may predate the interim agreement, meaning that Iran did not violate the agreement at least in this way. (Foreign Policy, December 8 2014)
Negotiations between Iranian officials and the P5+1 resumed on December 17 in Geneva. After the first day of negotiations, Iranian officials claimed that the talks were proceeding in a "good atmosphere." On December 17 officials from Iran and various countries involved in the P5+1 efforts spent over six hours in the negotiating room, speaking on all topics but mostly covering sanctions.
US Secetary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reconvened with their respective negotiating teams in early January 2015 in Geneva, holding extensive and beneficial meetings. On Wednesday January 14 Kerry and Zarif had "substantive meetings for approximately five hours" and discussed "a broad range of issues with a small group of staff from each side" as reported by official sources. Following this meeting, after postponing his flight to Bulgaria, Kerry returned to the hotel where negotiations were taking place and held a personal, unscheduled meeting with Zarif. This round of negotiations seemed to be going well, with Kerry and Zarif taking a break to stroll around Downtown Geneva. Before the negotiations began Secretary Kerry declared that "We are at a juncture where most of the issues are now getting fleshed out and understood." (Reuters, January 14 2015)
While the negotiating teams were hard at work on January 14th, the Iranian government made a troubling announcement. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced during a visit to the Bushehr nuclear power facility that the facility is to be expanded and that two new nuclear power facilities are to be built in the vicinity. The goal of these power plants is to increase nuclear power output according to the Iranian government. Rouhani firmly stated that "construction of two new power plants will increase the capacity of Bushehr province's power generation to 2,000 megawatts." (Fars News, January 14 2015)
The P5+1 and Iran were slated to continue nuclear negotiations in February 2015, after making limited progress during January. The negotiator from France, Nicolas de la Riviere told reporters that "The mood was very good, but I don't think we made a lot of progress." (Reuters, January 18 2015)
Democrats in Congress gave Obama and the negotiating teams substantial breathing room on January 27, when they announced that they would hold off on voting or moving any legislation forward that might tighten any penalties or sanctions against Iran until after March 24. Congressmen and government officials hope that this two month timeframe will be enough for the negotiating teams to come to a comprehensive and complete framework for ensuring Iran's nuclear program has only peaceful applications. Obama has stated that he will veto any sanctions bill that arrives on his desk while the negotiators are still attempting to reach a deal.
The US Senate Banking Committee approved the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 on January 29, 2015, by an 18-4 vote. The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and although it did not impose any new sanctions on Iran, it increased the pressure on the Iranian regime. The act set in stone that if there is no agreement reached by the June 30 deadline all of the sanctions that were waived with the acceptance of the interim agreement would be put back in place. In addition, the act imposes monthly escalating sanctions begining in August should the negotiating teams fail to reach an agreement. The bill provides for President Obama to be able to shoot down any sanctions activity, should he feel that it would interfere with reaching a comprehensive deal. The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 will be passed on to the Senate for a vote, and if approved may still be vetoed by President Obama. (Govtrack.us)
Still wary of the prospect of a bad deal between the P5+1 and Iran, unnamed Israeli officials blasted the US negotiating team on February 1, 2015, claiming that they have given the Iranians 80% of what they want during the negotiations, in return for very little. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to deliver a speech to Congress on March 3, where he will warn them of the dangers of a bad nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu sees a nuclear capable Iran as the greatest threat to Israel, and is prepared to do everything in his power to ensure that Iran does not acquire weapons-grade nuclear materials. During a visit to soldiers wounded in an attack by Hezbollah on January 28, 2015, Netanyahu declared that "We are in a continuous struggle with Iran which is opening new fronts against us, which is engaged in terrorism in the Middle East and throughout the world. This is the same Iran that the world powers are now working toward an agreement that would leave in its hands the ability to develop a nuclear bomb. That is an agreement we are opposed to." (Jerusalem Post, January 30, 2015)
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, officials close to the negotiations in early February in Vienna detailed to the Associated Press that US and Iranian negotiating teams may be moving closer to a compromise on Iran's nuclear program. The compromise focuses on neutralizing much of Iran's capacity to make nuclear weapons by reducing the amount of nuclear material that their centrifuges can produce, while keeping a good amount of their centrifuges running. The compromise would also include stipulations such as: Iran would only be allowed to store a certain amount of uranium gas which would be monitored by UN agencies, and Iran would commit to exporting most of it's enriched uranium. (The Washington Post, February 4, 2015)
Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif made it clear in early February that he was not in favor of another extension to the negotiations, and that this may be the last chance for diplomatic negotiations to work. Zarif claimed that “I do not believe another extension is in the interests of anybody, as I did not believe this extension was either necessary or useful,” and said that the negotiators needed to “seize this opportunity,” emphasizing that “it may not be repeated.” In a seperate interview on February 8, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that it would be “impossible” for another extension to the negotiations to be put in place if no solution is reached this time around.(The New York Times, February 9, 2015)
Argentina's Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman penned a letter in February 2015 to his counterpart, US Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he requested that during the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the United States envoy speak to them about the bombing of the AMIA. Timmerman wrote “I am asking you again that the AMIA issue be included in the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” indicating that he had asked Kerry to include the topic in the past. (Reuters, February 17, 2015)
Negotiations resumed between Kerry, Zarif, and their entourages on February 22, 2015 in Geneva. The round of negotiations, convening just one month before the deal deadline, will cover “virtually every topic” according to State Department officials. For the first time, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Motiz and Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi were included in the negotiations. (Reuters, February 23, 2015)
Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the people concerned about a bad deal and it's impact on February 23, 2015, when he stated that “Anybody running around right now, jumping in to say, ‘Well, we don’t like the deal,’ or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is... There is no deal yet. And I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce.” (New York Times, February 23, 2015)
Legislation titled the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015” was introduced into the Senate on February 27, 2015, by Senators Corker, Menendez, Graham, and Kaine. To read the text of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, click here. The bill would require the text of any agreement reached between the US and Iran to be submitted for Congressional review, and would prohibit the lifting of Iranian sanctions during the given 60 day congressional review period. President Obama threatened to veto the legislation. To read Senator Corker's response to Obama's threat of a veto, click here. A letter penned by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce was circulated among his colleagues following the introduction of this legislation, stressing the need for congressional involvement in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran. In the letter, Royce states that his peers are “prepared to evaluate any agreement to determine its long-term impact on the United States and our allies.” To read the full letter, click here. (The Hill, March 2, 2015)
The IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano stated on March 2, 2015, that Iran had recently slowed their pace of cooperation with the IAEA and P5+1, raising concerns that a deal may not be reached by the end of March. According to the IAEA Iran had still not implemented two sets of transparency measures that they were required to have implemented by August 2014. (Reuters, March 2, 2015)
Information was leaked in early March that during negotiations the U.S. was only pushing for Iranian nuclear activity to be halted for the next ten years. The emerging agreement was lambasted by critics, claiming that after the ten year period we would be back in the same situation, in a similar political climate, without any significant changes. Two days after this information was leaked, Iranian negotiator Mohammed Javad Zarif stated that this ten year freeze on nuclear operations was “unacceptable,” but stated that the negotiations would continue.
Netanyahu's speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3, 2015 was met with a mixed reaction. The Prime Minister of Israel delivered an impassioned address in which he made his case against an agreement with Iran that would leave them with a breakout time of only one year, and thousands of operational centrifuges in order to make nuclear materials. The deal taking shape through negotiations was very dangerous for Israel according to Netanyahu, who stated that the deal being considered at the time “Doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb. It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” The Prime Minister was heavily critical of the unfolding deal between the P5+1 and Iran, but according to President Barack Obama, Netanyahu did not provide any alternative solutions to come to a nuclear agreement. Many people were unhappy with Netanyahu coming to address Congress because they viewed the speech as a political stunt, taking place so close to Israeli elections. While speaking to Congress Netanyahu addressed these concerns, stating that “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sad that she was “near tears” during the speech, because she was “saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States,” and “the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran.” (The New York Times, March 4, 2015)\
While the Israeli Prime Minister was attempting to convince Congress not to approve a bad deal that would leave a nuclear capable Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif met in Switzerland to continue negotiations to reach a final agreement. When asked if an agreement was close, Zarif stated on March 3 that “We'll try, that's why we are here. The only way to move forward is through negotiations.” Speaking about the negotiations, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier confidently said that “In ten years of negotiations, we never achieved as much progress as we have made this year.” (Reuters, March 3, 2015)
Approaching the last weeks until the deal deadline, on March 3, the United States negotiating team laid out their “bottom lines,” or areas where the United States was not willing to budge (Yahoo News, March 4, 2015). These bottom lines include that:
The second to last round of negotiations wrapped up in Gevena, Switzerland on March 4, 2015. China's envoy to the P5+1 negotiations with Iran stated later that day that the negotiations could be “moving into the final stage.” John Kerry traveled to Saudi Arabia the next day for a brief visit to reassure the Arab allies of the United States that the U.S. will work with them to counter Iranian influence in the region whether or not a nuclear accord is reached by the March 17 deadline. While in Saudi Arabia, Kerry facilitated talks between the Foreign Ministers of members of the Gulf Cooperation Council at Riyadh Air Base. The final round of talks began on March 15, 2015. (The Washington Post, March 5, 2015)
A group of fourty-seven Republicans gave the Iranian leadership a lesson in balance of power principles on March 5, 2015, informing them in a letter that any agreement struck without Congressional approval is simply an executive agreement which could be easily overturned by the next U.S. President. 2016 Republican Presidential candidate hopefuls Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul all signed on to the letter. Not only was the letter meant to discourage the Iranian regime from signing the current deal, it was also meant to encourage President Barack Obama to consider Congressional advice if a deal is to be reached. Experts and Washington insiders said that this letter sent by Senate Republicans to Iran in an attempt to thwart a nuclear agreement was unprecedented, with the only somewhat similar examples coming 40 years prior during the Nixon and Carter administrations. To read the full text of the letter, click here. (Politico, March 9, 2015)
Vice President Joe Biden delivered scathing criticism to the authors of the letter in response, stating that the act severely undercut presidential authority and was “beneath the dignity” of the Senate. Biden said that “In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary—that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.” President Obama claimed that the signatories to the letter were effectively aligning themselves with the Iranian hard-line conservatives who are vehemently opposed to a nuclear deal. (Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2015)
According to a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released in March 2015, Americans were very skeptical as to whether the negotiations will actually limit Iran's ability to produce nuclear materials. The poll found that 24% of Americans think that the negotiations will make a difference in preventing Iran from eventually obtaining nuclear weapons material, and 74% think they will not make a difference. (Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2015)
On March 12, 2015, President Barack Obama sent Congress a letter stating that he was extending the March 1995 declaration of a national emergency with respect to Iran. In the letter the President expressed hopefulness, stating that, "This marks the first time in a decade that Iran has agreed to take [...] specific actions that stop the advance and roll back key elements of its nuclear program." Despite this, he also addressed his concerns that "the crisis between the United States and Iran resulting from certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran has not been resolved," and that "certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States." Citing these reasons, President Obama sent notice to the Federal Register in March 2015 to extended the declaration of a national emergency with respect to Iran for another year. To read the full text of the letter, Click here. (The White House, March 12, 2015)
Kerry and Zarif held five hours of negotiations on Monday, March 16 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Following the meeting, Zarif and the Iranian delegation went to Brussels to meet with European Foreign Ministers, and an anonymous American source unsurprisingly stated that it was not clear whether a deal would be reached by the upcoming deadline. During the talks Zarif addressed the letter written during the previous week by 47 Republican US Senators to Iran's leadership, calling it “ill-timed and ill-advised.”(Reuters, March 16, 2015)
Coming into the final countdown before the deal deadline at the end of March 2015, there were still quite a few issues and differences between the Iranians and the P5+1. Obstacles still troubling negotiators in the weeks leading up to the deadline included: when U.N. sanctions would be lifted, how inspections would be conducted, and how many centrifuges Iran would be allowed to keep operational. Multiple new issues also surfaced during the final weeks of the negotiations. Iranian officials went back on their earlier words that the Fordo facility would be converted into one solely for scientific research, and demanded that it remain operational with centrifuges capable of producing uranium. Iran insisted that they be able to retain the Arak heavy water reactor during the final weeks of negotiations as well, which could provide them an alternate route to a nuclear weapon.
On the heels of the embarassing letter written by 47 Republican U.S. Senators, U.S. and European lawmakers began circulating a letter on March 17, asserting that a “bad deal” with Iran would surely result in more sanctions placed on the Islamic Republic. The letter was first presented to the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, after being signed by Parliamentarians from France, Britain, and Germany. The letter stresses that “A nuclear Iran is an imminent threat not only to the U.S. but also to Europe, the Middle East and to the world at large. Bearing in mind Iran’s history, we remain skeptical of the Iranian regime’s sincerity and commitment to reach an agreement. We believe Iran must realize that any failure to negotiate an acceptable deal, one that prevents a nuclear armed Iran, will result without fail in tougher sanctions than ever.” To read the full text of the letter, click here.
Senators Bob Corker and Robert Menendez drafted a bill coming into the final phase of the negotiations that would give congress the overall authority to accept or reject any nuclear deal with Iran. As the bill circulated in mid-March, senior Obama Administration officials including President Obama himself took to the Senate offices to lobby against the bill, advising Democrat and Republican Senators alike not to sign the bill, and telling Democrats to notify the White House if they are planning to sign. The President wanted to cut off any Democratic support for the bill before it picked up steam in order to prevent a veto-proof majority from forming in support of the bill. The administration officials attempted to persuade Senators to let the negotiations finish and not to act too soon and destroy what the negotiators had worked so hard for. In addition to these in person meetings, White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough sternly warned lawmakers in a letter not to interfere with ongoing negotiations.
A letter from a veto-proof, bipartisan majority of 367 U.S. lawmakers was presented to President Obama on March 19, 2015, advising him against bypassing Congress in the event of an Iran deal and stipulating the need for Congressional approval of any agreement. Speaking about the letter, Representative Eliot Engel from New York stated at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting that “There really cannot be any marginalization of Congress. Congress really needs to play a very active and vital role in this whole process, and any attempts to sidestep Congress will be resisted.” The authors and signatories of the letter asserted that “Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from Congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation.” A senior Obama administration official stated that "We’re open to talking to Congress about what they might do, how they might be heard on the Iran deal and how they might play an oversight role." .(Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2015)
Former lawmakers Saxby Chambliss, Evan Bayh, and Norm Coleman created a new 501(c)(4) called the American Security Initiative in March 2015 in an attempt to thwart a bad deal with Iran. The group produced a video urging citizens to call their representatives in Washington and advise them not to allow an Iran deal to go through without Congressional approval. Critics called the ad "war-mongering" and every major news network besides Fox News refused to air the video. (PressTV, March 19, 2015)
President Obama used the pretense of a video wishing Iranian citizens a happy Nowruz (Iranian New Year) to make his case to Iranian youth that their leaders should accept the nuclear deal on the table with the P5+1. After mentioning the Nowruz celebration held at the White House, Obama wasted no time attempting to convince young Iranians that it is in their best interests for their government to sign the nuclear accord. Obama juxtaposed Iran's current path of isolation and hardship with the path of cultural exchanges, travel, economic opportunity, and inclusion that they could have if their government committed to abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons. The video message from the President was disseminated via YouTube with a Persian title and subtitles. (New York Times, March 20, 2015)
Israeli officials worried about a bad deal with Iran took their message to France on March 23, 2015, where they spoke to French National Security Advisor Jacques Audibert and the French nuclear negotiating team about the potential implications of a deal that leaves Iran on the path to a nuclear weapon. Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz stated during an interview in France that the Israelis "think it’s going to be a bad, insufficient deal." The Israelis then took their message to London, where they met with the British negotiating team before the negotiations restarted on Thursday, March 26. (New York Times, March 23, 2015)
After intercepting communications between Israeli officials containing information that could have only come from access to the confidential nuclear talks, the United States announced in March 2015 that it believed Israeli officials had spied on the negotiations. In order to build a case against the emerging Iran deal, Netanyahu's government allegedly penetrated the negotiations and passed information on to US lawmakers, hoping to drain support from the deal. Israeli officials denied the spying accusations and maintained that they received the confidential information through other means such as close surveilance of Iranian and European leaders outside of the negotiations. This incident further strained the US-Israel relationship, but according to an official close to the negotiations the US should not be surprised, as they helped the Israelis build an advanced system to listen in on high-level Iranian communications. This revelation was met with resounding apathy from Washington: Senator Claire McCaskill stated that she "wouldn't say it was the most shocking development of the day", and Senator Lindsay Graham abruptly said that "no one from Israel has told me anything I haven't already known." (Foreign Policy, March 24, 2015)
With the deadline for a nuclear agreement less than one week away, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano stated in an interview on March 24 that out of a dozen inquiries into the potential military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program, the Iranian government had officially provided the answers to only one of them.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi reached out to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif via phone call on March 24, urging him to sign a nuclear deal with the P5+1 that would curb Iran's nuclear program. "The Iran nuclear talks have reached the final sprint in the marathon," Wang Yi told Zarif, stating that a nuclear agreement is "the trend of the times and the will of the people." (Reuters, March 24, 2015)
Reports coming out during the final week of negotiations revealed that the United States was willing to be flexible as far as the format for an agreement goes. Working to get a written framework for cooperation done by the end of March and a full agreement done by the end of June, officials involved claimed that they "do not know what form this [deal] will take." The Iranian negotiating team hinted that they would be open to a "loose" deal in the form of a statement or political declaration if a more permanent written solution could not be produced. The United States government expressed skepticism at this, prefering a firm, written agreement that Iran could not misrepresent. As March 30 approached, U.S. and French negotiators confirmed that the deadline for a full comprehensive deal was June 30, and there was no reason to rush into an incomplete deal by the end of March. John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif continued negotiations on Thursday, March 26, in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Reports in the week leading up to the March deadline indicated that under the emerging deal, the United States was considering letting the Iranians have hundreds of centrifuges at the Fordow site operational, in exchange for limits on centrifuge and research work at other nuclear sites. These centrifuges would not be fed uranium under the deal, but would instead be fueled with zinc, xenon, and germanium, for scientific, medical, and industry uses. Officials claimed that if this were to become part of a final deal, the number of centrifuges at the facility would not be enough for the Iranians to produce a nuclear weapon within the one year breakout time.
In a unanimous vote on March 26, 2015, the U.S. Senate approved a non-binding measure that would make it easier to re-impose sanctions on Iran if they were to violate an agreed-to nuclear deal. The amendment was attached to a budget bill and sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk. The amendment establishes a fund to cover the cost of imposing sanctions on Tehran in the event that they violate either the current interim agreement or the potential future more permanent agreement.
Signaling that the negotiations were indeed getting very serious during the final week, on March 27 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sent a letter to President Obama as well as the heads of state of the five other countries involved in the negotiations. Additionally, he made personal phone calls to all leaders of the P5+1 besides President Obama. The letter contained clarification of the Iranians positions on issues discussed during the negotiations, and the phone call was for final clarification. In a phone call to British Prime Minister David Cameron's office, Rouhani agreed that it was possible to reach a deal with the P5+1 by the end of March.
On March 29, 2015, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told reporters that "The export of stocks of enriched uranium is not in our program, and we do not intend sending them abroad," contradicting earlier reports that Iran would be willing to ship part of it's uranium stockpile to Russia. In November 2014 the Iranian negotiatiors tentatively agreed to ship part of their stockpile of uranium to Russia, where it would be processed and converted into specialized fuel rods that cannot be weaponized. This announcement caused another point of contention between Iran and the P5+1 during the final week of negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told his cabinet ministers on March 29 that the emerging nuclear deal with Iran "Bears out all of our fears, and even more than that."
In the final days of the negotiations it became clear that the Iranians had the advantage, as the United States negotiators did not want to return home to Congress at the end of March without a framework for a deal. No such internal pressure existed within Iran, and the United States did not have time on their side. The president of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, stated on the final day of negotiations that "part of the reason the Iranians are playing such hardball right now is they know the U.S. can't go back without anything. But if the Iranians walk away, it's less of a problem for them, because the interim deal is still in place for another three months."(Foreign Policy, March 30, 2015)
The negotiators failed to complete a plan by the self imposed deadline of the end of March, but they announced on April 2 that they had agreed on "key parameters" for resolving the nuclear Iran issue. European Union Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini confirmed that under the supposed agreement Iran would not have the ability to produce weapons-grade nuclear materials, and Iran would allow wider international access to their nuclear facilities for inspections. International sanctions are to be lifted as a part of the agreement, but a timetable was not revealed. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif proclaimed that the agreement represents "a major step forward." Twitter was abuzz with news of the negotiations, with John Kerry tweeting "Big day: #EU, P5+1, and #Iran now have parameters to resolve major issues on nuclear program. Back to work soon on a final deal," and Zarif posting hopeful statements like "Found solutions. Ready to start drafting immediately." (USA Today, April 2, 2015) Under the agreement:
Many U.S. states have passed their own sanctions against Iran, and even in the context of a final nuclear agreement these sanctions may stay in place. States such as California, Oregon, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York have their own state policies in place that divest public funds from businesses conducting business with Iran.
The Iranians released their own “fact-sheet” pertaining to the framework agreement, which stood in stark opposition to the one released by the White House. On the Iranian fact sheet, it claimed that the agreement was limited to only five years, and during the agreement period 10,000 centrifuges would continue to operate at the Fordow facility. The Iranian text also specifies that the rest of their non-operational centrifuges would be kept in the facilities themselves instead of a UN monitored storage facility, and that all sanctions are to be immediately lifted once the agreement takes effect. A “reversability” measure was also included in the fact sheet, stating that “In case of the two sides' non-commitment to their undertakings, there will be a possibility for reversing all measures” (Fars News, April 15, 2015)
The day following the announcement of the framework agreement, Benjamin Netanyahu sternly asserted that any permenent Iran deal must include “Unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel's right to exist.” U.S. President Barack Obama fired back during an interview with NPR the next day, stating that “The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment. We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing.” (Politico, April 4, 2015)
Unsatisfied with the assurances present in the framework agreement, Israel's Minister of Intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, published on April 5 a list of specific requirements that in his opinion should be part of any final agreement with Iran. Some of the requirements on this list were ones that the United States had unsuccessfully tried to implement in the basic framework agreed to earlier in the month. Wary of unraveling an already delicate deal, the United States government showed little inclination that they were willing to consider any of these ideas.
In the wake of the announcement of the framework agreement, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak urged the United States to give Iran an ultimatum: get rid of your nuclear program, or else. Speaking of ways to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, Barak explained that “The Pentagon and the forces of America under the backing and probably directive of the [U.S.] president [could] create an extremely effective means to destroy the Iranian nuclear military program over a fraction of one night.” The former Prime Minister said that in his opinion "there is no deal, basically," but went on to state that he is confident that the United States will protect Israel's domestic and international security interests. (CNBC, April 8, 2015)
Speaking in public about the deal for the first time, on April 8, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called the framework agreement "“non-binding,” and stated that nothing had been officially finalized. Khamenei claimed that the document outlining the framework agreement, published by the White House the day following the conclusion of negotiations, contained false information. He expressed his skepticism about the deal, confirming that he neither supports nor opposes the framework nuclear accord. Earlier in the day, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asserted that the Iranian team would not sign any final agreement unless it completely lifts all economic sanctions levied against Iran on the first day of implementation. Rouhani proudly commented that Iran had “not surrendered to a policy of pressure, sanctions, and bullying. This is out victory.” The White House responded to this demand of an immediate lifting of sanctions as soon as the deal takes effect, stating that "“It's very clear and understood that sanctions relief will be phased.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov explained that “We adhere to our view that the lifting of Iran sanctions stipulated by the UN Security Council resolution should run parallel to signing of the [nuclear] agreement. But it does not mean that all sanctions will be removed altogether. What sanction are to be removed or suspended and in what sequence continues to be a matter of debate." (Haaretz, April 8, 2015) (The Iran Project, April 10, 2015)
According to a statement issued by the Iranian Defense Ministry on April 9, “visiting military centers are among the red lines and no visit to these centers will be allowed.” Iranian Defense Minister, Brigadier General Hossein Deghan, confirmed the validity of these statements later in the day. Deghan stated during a press conference that reports that the deal would allow IAEA access to Iran's nuclear sites for inspections were not based on factual information. (Times of Israel, April 9, 2015)
The spokesperson for the EU Foreign Policy Chief informed the media at a press conference on April 10 that negotiations aimed at finalizing the framework agreement would be begining within the following week.
Israeli political leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni called for a deep strategic discussion between US and Israeli lawmakers concerning the nuclear talks between the P5+1 and Iran in an official statement released April 12, 2015. The goal of this proposed discussion would be to give preliminary approval for Israeli use of force against Iran and the Iranian nuclear facilities, should Iran violate the terms of the agreement. The paper provides suggestions on how to "close the loopholes" to come to a comprehensive and airtight final deal, chastises the Israeli government for criticising the deal but not providing any viable alternatives, calls for enhanced oversight of the Iranian facilities by the IAEA, and asserts that the removal of sanctions will be done gradually.
During the week following the announcement of a framework agreement aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear capabilities, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree lifting a ban on the delivery of S-300 anti-missile systems to Iran. According to Russian officials the arms embargo was no longer needed due to progress made during the nuclear negotiations. The Russian government cancelled the original delivery of these missile systems in 2010 due to international pressure eminating from sanctions imposed on Iran. In addition to the missiles, Russia and Iran signed a oil-for-goods agreement, by which Russia will sell Iran grain, construction materials, and other supplies in exchange for oil. Russian and Iranian officials had been discussing such a deal for approximately one year prior to this announcement. American officials including Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concerns over the Russian decision. (Haaretz, April 13, 2015) On June 2, 2015, Russian officials released a statement revealing that the missile system would not be delivered to Iran until after a final deal aimed at limiting the Iranian nuclear program is reached.
Following the announcement that a framework nuclear agreement had been reached, international actors were skeptical as to whether Iran would stick to it's obligations under the deal. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on April 13, 2015, that the Pentagon has a bunker-busting bomb capable of destroying Iran's secretive underground nuclear facilities in order to ensure that Iran does not cheat the agreement and begin to develop a nuclear weapon. The weapon, called the Massive Ordinance Penetrator, is being “continually improved and upgraded” and provides the United States with the capability to “shut down, set back, and destroy” Iran's nuclear program. (The Hill, April 10, 2015)
Late on April 14, 2015, President Obama caved in to Congressional pressure and the White House announced that the President would sign a compromise bill that would allow Congress to review the hypothetical nuclear accord with Iran, if one were to be agreed to by the June 30 deadline. Essentially the bill allows Congress to vote on whether they approve of the text of the deal, which is to be sent to Congress along with all necessary classified information as soon as a deal is reached. The agreement also halts any lifting of sanctions after the agreement pending a 30 day Congressional review period, as opposed to the original proposed 60 day review period. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest stated during a press conference that the President wasn't very satisfied with the legislation, but it was at least acceptable. In response to this news, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated during a press conference that “we (Iran) are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress” (The Washington Post, April 15, 2015).
“Constructive” talks were held between Iranian leaders and the IAEA on April 15, with their investigation of the potential military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program running parallel to the negotiations for an agreement aimed at limiting the program. The IAEA officials held “technical talks” with the Iranian leadership, in which they addressed issues relating to the Iranian nuclear program that Tehran had been avoiding since August. Successive to the meeting, IAEA officials stated that they expected progress within the month on issues including Iranian experimentation on explosives that could be used to develop an atomic bomb. (Reuters, April 16, 2015)
In contrast to Iranian assertions, member of the U.S. negotiating team and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz stated that “we expect to have anywhere, anytime access” to the Iranian nuclear facilities under the framework for a nuclear deal. Moniz said that the inspections would be part of a well-defined process and would not be erratic or frivolous (Bloomberg, April 21, 2015).
Iranian and P5+1 officials reconvened on April 22, 2015, to begin the difficult task of trying to pull together a final deal by June 30 that will satisfy all parties involved. This round of negotiations included EU diplomat Helga Schmid, Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, and technical experts from the P5+1 and Iran. The main issues still to be worked out are the pace and timing of sanctions relief, as well as finalizing the number of allowable centrifuges.
With slightly more than two months to formulate a deal by the self-imposed “final” deadline of June 30, John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif met in the New York residence of the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations on April 28. The was the first time that the two had met since the framework deal was announced on April 2, and this meeting occured simultaneously with the U.N. conference on nuclear non-proliferation. While negotiations were underway in New York, in Washington the Senate began a serious debate over empowering Congress to review and accept or reject the potential nuclear deal.
The United States Senate passed the Corker-Menendez Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act with an overwhelming majority (98-1) on May 7, 2015. This approval brought U.S. lawmakers one step closer to being able to approve or reject any nuclear deal forged between Iran and the P5+1. To view the final text of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, please click here.
Contrary to the claims of the Iranian government, IAEA head Yukiya Amano stated on May 12, 2015, that the framework being considered by the P5+1 and Iran provides for IAEA access to Iranian nuclear sites for inspections.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei referred to the P5+1 requests for interviews with Iranian nuclear scientists as “unreasonable demands,” on May 19, stating that Iran, “will never yield to pressure,” and “will not give access to it's nuclear scientists”(Reuters, May 19, 2015). In a broadcast on Iranian state television Khamenei said that allowing interviews with Iranian nuclear scientists would be a violation of the scientists individual privacy, referring to the interviews as interrogations. The P5+1 and the IAEA have continually asserted that under any nuclear deal they must be provided access to Iranian nuclear scientists.
Russian officials voiced their opposition to the automatic reimposition of international sanctions if Iran is caught cheating in regards to elements of the proposed nuclear deal. Russias Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, bluntly stated that “there can be no automaticity, none whatsoever”(Bloomberg, May 13, 2015).
Negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran continued into May 2015 with Iran requesting a 24 day warning period as part of a final deal, meaning that if they are caught violating the deal by engaging in any number of nuclear enrichment activities, they would have 24 days before international inspectors would be allowed access to the nuclear site in question. Expressing the general feelings of skepticism surrounding this demand, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated on May 20 that “a lot of things can disappear,” in 24 days (Miami Herald, May 20, 2015).
As the June 30 deadline approached, it began to look increasingly likely that the negotiators were going to have to settle for another extension instead of a final deal. French Ambassador and representative to the P5+1 group Gerard Araud voiced his pessimistic opinion on May 26, 2015, stating at a meeting of the Atlantic Council think tank that “it's very likely that we won't have an agreement before the end of June or even (right) after.” Even if a final deal is reached by June 30, according to Araud there will be weeks of continuing negotiations working out the technical details of the agreement (Yahoo News Canada, May 26, 2015). Iranian state media reported on May 27, 2015, that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi referred to the nuclear negotiations as “not bound by time.” Araqchi commented that “we are committed to this issue that a good agreement with details that are favorable to us is hammered out, even if it may take a long time” (Voice of America, May 27, 2015).
Throwing a wrench in the wheel of negotiations, on May 29, 2015, it was revealed via the IAEA's report for May 2015 that the Iranian stockpile of nuclear fuel had experienced a 20% increase during the previous 18 months. Although the IAEA inspectors noted the increase in nuclear material, they also stated in the report that there was no evidence that Iran was racing towards a bomb, and that Iranian nuclear facilities that may give them the capability to develop a bomb are non-operational. The report also clarified that certain aspects of the Iranian nuclear program have been frozen or rolled back. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf held a press conference on July 2, in which she clarified the findings of the report. When asked if the increase in the Iranian nuclear stockpile would complicate negotiations, Harf quickly responded that it would have no such effect, and said that officials at the State Department were in fact “perplexed” by the findings of the report. She explained that officials in Washington were not worried about the number, because the Iranians just had to be below a certain number when the deal is officially put in place, and until then it was fine for their stockpile numbers to fluctuate. To read the full IAEA report released on May 29, 2015, click here.
A “snapback” of UN sanctions was agreed to by the P5+1 on May 31, 2015, answering the question of what would occur if Iran were to be caught cheating a final deal and clearing a major obstacle to reaching a nuclear accord. The nations agreed that if Iran were to be caught engaging in any activities that could be considered “cheating,” while the deal is in place, it would mean the reimposition of lifted UN sanctions against the country. If Iran were to be caught cheating, under the agreement the situation would be evaluated by a panel including representatives from the P5+1 and Iran. If in any case Iran is found incompliant with the deal by the IAEA, the P5+1 agreed that UN sanctions would be automatically reimposed. (Reuters, May 31, 2015).
During the negotiations Iran continued to work on technology that could be applied to nuclear weaponry, according to a secret report produced by the Pentagon in January 2015 but not released until June. The Pentagon report reached the conclusion that, “covert [Iranian nuclear] activities appear to be continuing unabated, particularly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen” (Bloomberg, June 3, 2015).
Confirming that Iran had little intention of honoring a nuclear agreement from the begining, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) issued a report in June 2015 showing that Iran had produced four tons of enriched uranium since the interim deal came into effect in January 2014. Under the interim deal this uranium was to be converted into an oxidized form that is not easily weaponizable, and according to the ISIS report only 5% of this newly produced uranium had been converted into uranium oxide. The report revealed that between November 2014 and June 2015 Iran had not bothered to convert any uranium into uranium oxide, thwarting their responsibilities per the interim agreement.
It was reported on June 4, 2015, that Israel and Saudi Arabia, despite never having a history of formal diplomatic relations, held five secret meetings between 2014 and 2015 in which they discussed the Iranian threat to the region. Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the two have minimal ties otherwise. Israeli and Saudi officials held a press conference at the Council on Foreign Relations in early June 2015 in which they asserted that Iran is trying to take control over the Middle East, and their hegemonic ambitions must be curbed.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the parties involved in negotiations to not make any new demands and respect each other's wishes on June 4, 2015. Yi was quoted as saying that the P5+1 and Iran should, “meet each other half way and not drift further apart” (Sydney Morning Herald, June 4, 2015).
Coming in to the last week before the “final” deadline to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei appeared on Iranian state television and clarified his demands and “red lines” when dealing with the P5+1 negotiators. These demands included, as before, that all sanctions against Iran be lifted as soon as a nuclear accord is signed, and that international inspectors receive no inspection access to Iranian nuclear facilities. During the speech Khamenei also stated that “freezing Iran’s [nuclear] research and development for a long time, like 10 or 12 years, is not acceptable” (Foreign Policy, June 23, 2015).
With no great breakthrough in the final hours, the nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran were once again extended, this time only for one week. The negotiators announced the last-minute extension late on the deadline of June 30th, and President Obama stated that the United States was willing to “walk away” from the negotiating table if a deal could not be reached within the extended time frame. Official representatives of the negotiating teams announced that they would know with certainy within days whether a deal could possibly be reached.
On July 5 John Kerry stated during a press conference that, “at this point negotiations could go either way. If hard choices get made in the next couple of days and made quickly, we could get an agreement this week. But if they are not made, we will not.” According to official sources, sanctions relating to the Iranian ballistic missile program were one of the main issues holding up the negotiations during the final week. (CNN, July 5, 2015).
When a deal was not reached within the one week extension, the parties once again extended the JPOA and negotiations, this time for only three days. With the new deadline of June 10th in place, U.S. officials clarified that they were more worried about the content and quality of the deal rather than the timeline. The extension was met with opposition in Washington and Tehran, with some U.S. government officials advising that Washington abandon diplomacy, repeating the sentiment that no deal is better than a bad deal. This deadline was also not met, with John Kerry stating that the negotiators needed at least the weekend to continue discussions. Because the July 10th deadline was not met, under the Corker-Menendez Iran Agreement Review Act lawmakers in the United States now had 60 days to review and lobby for or against any deal that is reached, instead of 30.
Negotiators from the P5+1 and Iran announced on July 14, 2015, after 20 months of negotiations, that a comprehensive agreement aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear capabilities had been reached, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The agreement required Iran to reduce their stockpile of low enriched uranium by 98%, presumably by shipping the excess to Russia, and also required the Iranians to shut down 2/3 of their centrifuges spinning at the Natanz facility. The negotiators from the P5+1 concluded that these measures combined would extend Iran's potential breakout time from a few months to over a full year. American officials clarified that although this marked a historic day, the deal would have to be revisited in a decade to continue to prevent Iran from weaponizing it's nuclear materials. Chief negotiator John Kerry stated during a press conference following the conclusion of negotiations that, “Iran will not produce or acquire highly enriched uranium or plutonium for at least 15 years,” under the agreement. (NY Times, July 14, 2015) Missile restrictions against Iran will remain in place for 8 years under the deal, and the UN Arms Embargo ban on the Iranian purchase and sale of conventional weapons will remain in place for 5 years. Both of these restrictions have been in place since 2006. The Iranians also agreed to a ban on designing warheads and conducting tests on detonators and triggers that could be weaponized. The Iranians signed a seperate “road map” agreement with the IAEA regarding the potential military dimensions of their nuclear program, which provides for meetings between nuclear experts and Iranian nuclear scientists, and further technical discussions regarding the program. If this “road map” agreement is followed, according to IAEA experts all questions left regarding Iran's nuclear program will be answered by the end of 2015.
Under the agreement Iran has to provide international inspectors access to suspicious sites within 24 days of their request. If Iran refuses these inspectors access within the 24 day period, international sanctions against Iran can be “snapped back” in place. This “snap-back” of sanctions would not be able to be vetod by members of the Security Council. IAEA experts reassured the international community in the days following the deal that 24 days is not enough time for Iran to whitewash unauthorized nuclear activities. A true “anywhere, anytime” inspections regime would only be possible if Iran were to be militarily conquered by another country, diplomats close to the negotiations stated.
In return for limiting their nuclear program for at least a decade, the Iranians over the course of the following months will receive relief from both international sanctions against their economy, and the oil industry. The deal freed up an estimated $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets around the world. A snap-back mechanism for sanctions was decided in the negotiating room as well, as a cautionary measure should it be found that Iran is violating the terms of the deal. The deal is expected to pass Congress with a slight majority within 60 days and be signed by President Obama, who has committed to vetoing any measure to block the deal from passing. To read the full text of the final nuclear accord agreed to by the P5+1 and Iran, please click here.
In response to the deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that the Iranian people's “prayers have come true.” (NY Times, July 14, 2015) According to U.S. President Barack Obama, “Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off, and the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place. Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb. Today's announcement marks one more chapter in our pursuit of a safer, more helpful and more hopeful world.” (Roll Call, July 14, 2015) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to the deal as a, “bad mistake of historic proportions,” and stated that, “Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons.” (Washington Post, July 14, 2015) During the days following the announcement of the deal, Netanyahu appeared on multiple American television programs to voice his opinions. Netanyahu told Lester Holt of NBC News that, “We think this is not only a threat to [Israel]... We think this is a threat to [the United States] as well. Iran has killed more Americans than anyone other than al Qaeda. They're going to get hundreds of billions of dollars to fuel their terror and military machine.”(NBC News, July 16, 2015) Leaders of opposition parties in the Knesset, including Isaac Herzog, Yair Lapid, and Ehud Barak, joined Netanyahu in voicing their opposition to the nuclear deal.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, circulated a draft legally binding resolution to the Security Council in the days following the announcement of the deal. This resolution, if adopted, would give the deal the council's seal of approval, making it significantly harder for Congressional opponents in the United States to push back against the agreement. The United Nations Security Council voted on and approved this resolution on July 20, 2015. All fifteen members of the Security Council co-signed the resolution. Under the agreed-upon resolution, when Iran completes a specific series of steps to curb their nuclear program and the IAEA concludes that all nuclear activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes, seven Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran are to be lifted. The Security Council resolution also includes a snap-back provision, to quickly re-impose sanctions on Iran if it is discovered that they are not abiding by the rules of the deal. The deal was also voted on and approved by the European Union on the same day.
President Obama presented the nuclear accord to Congress to allow them to begin their 60-day review period on July 19, 2015, and some members of Congress were upset by the fact that the Obama administration presented the agreement to the Security Council before they had the chance to review it. In response to the displeasure expressed by some members of Congress, John Kerry stated on the ABC television show “This Week,” that, “It’s presumptuous of some people to suspect that France, Russia, China, Germany, Britain ought to do what the Congress tells them to do. They have a right to have a vote.” (New York Times, July 20, 2015)
Several experts with past experience monitoring nuclear facilities came forward with questions and concerns following the conclusion of negotiations. A former high-ranking official at the IAEA who spoke under the condition of anonymity, stated that the 24 day period to grant access to inspectors following the discovery of a potential breach of the deal may be too long and the Iranians may be able to effectively hide traces of their nuclear ambitions and avoid detection. Former weapons inspector in Iraq and current president of the Institute for Science and International Security, David Albright, stated that in his opinion this three week period may be ample time for the Iranians to dispose of any evidence of prohibited nuclear practices. Albright went on to say that the Iranian leaders are “practiced at cheating,” and the United States “can't count on them to make a mistake.” Ribert Einhorn, who served as part of the American delegation to the Iran talks from 2009-2013, explained that, “‘No notice’ inspections were clearly not achievable, but a limit shorter than 24 days would have been desirable. While evidence of some illicit activity - construction of a covert enrichment facility or work with nuclear materials - would be difficult or impossible to hide or remove in 24 days, incriminating evidence of lesser activities probably could be removed.” (New York Times, July 23, 2015)
Senior Iranian official and top negotiator Abbas Araghchi vowed on July 22, 2015, that despite the nuclear deal Iran would continue to “buy weapons from wherever possible... and provide weapons to whomever and whenever it considers appropriate.” He insisted that “if you want to have an agreement in which sanctions imposed on us for weapons and missiles will continue, then we will not agree,” even though those restrictions are explicitly laid out in the agreement that the Iranians signed. (Free Beacon, July 22, 2015) Iran's ability to import and export arms and missiles was a major sticking point during the negotiations. Araghchi also claimed that the Iranian negotiators fully acheived their goal of refusing to allow any inspections of nuclear facilities.
The Obama administration began the uphill battle of selling the Iran nuclear deal to U.S. lawmakers during the last week of July. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State and Chief Negotiator John Kerry met with their colleagues in late July, hoping to explain the benefits of approving this particular agreement with Iran. Many Congressmen and Senators expressed disappointment with the deal, and wondered whether the IAEA would be able to adequately monitor Iranian nuclear activity. A poll by CNN released on July 27, 2015, demonstrated the American public's opinion: 52% of people surveyed said that they think Congress should reject the deal, while 44% said that Congress should approve the deal, and 5% did not offer their opinions. To read the results of the poll, click here.
Iran announced in late July 2015 that they would soon be engaging in “high-level” talks with the European Union concerning energy, the environment, human rights, and extremism. No concrete date was given for these meetings, but Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated that the talks would take place “in the near future.” These talks are completely and totally seperate from the nuclear negotiations.
Officials from Britain, Russia, and China met with a group of 30 Senate Democrats in an attempt to sell the deal during the first week of August 2015. The Democrats were told by British officials that the chances of negotiating a better deal were “far-fetched,” and that the international sanctions against Iran would more than likely fall apart even if the U.S. rejects the deal. A spokesperson from the British Embassy stated under the condition of anonymity that, “If Congress rejects this good deal, and the U.S. is forced to walk away, Iran will be left with an unconstrained nuclear program with far weaker monitoring arrangements, the current international consensus on sanctions would unravel, and international unity and pressure on Iran would be seriously undermined.”(Foreign Policy, August 6, 2015)