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Vail Daily column: Progress seen in Iran talks

Matthew Kennedy
Valley Voices
Matthew Kennedy

A deadline came and passed in Switzerland at midnight March 31 — a deadline surrounding discussions over Iran’s nuclear program. Diplomats from the P5-plus-1 consortium (the U.S., United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany) and Iran sensed enough progress transpired to warrant an extended effort at resolving their differences. The result? The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program. The accord may be the last agreement before a final treaty is signed over the issue — or heightened tensions might ensue in the Middle East if a comprehensive accord doesn’t materialize.

The plan addresses various issues, yet fails to resolve several key concerns.

• Iran agrees to vital concessions surrounding its uranium enrichment program.

• The P5-plus-1 members lift various economic sanctions with stipulations.

• Tehran allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct intrusive inspections of different nuclear sites.

• The accord doesn’t specifically address the Potential Military Dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

The various P5-plus-1 parties — Iran and the U.S. most notably — made several notable concessions as different analysts noted. Washington accepts Tehran’s possession of a nuclear program; Iran consents to intrusive IAEA inspections, while accepting sanctions will be reinstated if Tehran violates the Joint Comprehensive Plan.

Iran accepts operational limitations of its nuclear program. Tehran agrees not to conduct uranium enrichment beyond 3.67 percent for 15 years (3.67 percent enriched uranium is needed for the fuel required for nuclear power plants, while 90 percent enriched uranium is mandatory for nuclear weapons). Iran will reduce its inventory of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges from 19,000 to slightly more than 6100. Tehran also agreed to operate 5,000 of its first generation centrifuges, instead of Iran’s advanced models. A principle concern of various P5-plus-1 negotiators surrounds the status of Iran’s Fordow and Natanz facilities. Iran will discontinue enriching uranium at the Fordow site; the facility will focus on nuclear physics and technology research instead. Tehran will limit the Natanz site to uranium enrichment; The facility will cease operation of advanced model centrifuges. The Natanz site will also curtail any additional enrichment research and development activities.

Tehran agreed to comprehensive, intrusive IAEA inspections. Iran will permit personnel from the Vienna, Austria-based organization to examine Iran’s key nuclear sites, including the Fordow and Natanz facilities. IAEA inspectors will be granted access to the various component of Iran’s nuclear program including its uranium mining and milling facilities. The UN-governed entity will control Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges. Tehran will allow the IAEA to oversee Iran’s nuclear procurement, supply, sale and transfer programs; it will also supervise any transactions relating to dual-use materials and technology. The Joint Comprehensive Plan finally permits the IAEA access to research and/or production sites capable of providing materials for nuclear weapons production.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan provides relieves Iran from different EU, U.S. and UN sanctions under specific conditions. Brussels and Washington will lift nuclear related prohibitions once the IAEA confirms Tehran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan’s tenets; the same sanctions will be reactivated, if Iran fails to observe the accord’s elements. The UN’s related sanctions will be lifted once the IAEA confirms Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan.

The agreement raises several questions and issues.

First, the Joint Comprehensive Plan states, “The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities”; what kind of “regular access” will the UN organization have? Will it entail spontaneous inspections — or will the IAEA need to notify Iranian authorities and/or obtain permission before visiting a site? An agreement allowing IAEA inspectors’ spontaneous inspections will decrease the likelihood of Tehran clandestinely developing prohibited Joint Comprehensive Plan activities; Iran might manipulate the accord, if a prior notification/permission is required. Second, the agreement notes, “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions of its program”; what precise “measures” did Iran agree to? Do those include inspections? Access to classified documentation surrounding potential Potential Military Dimensions sites, events, and/or activities? Or does it entail admittance and/or inspection of the Parachin site? The facility is suspected of conducting different activities necessary for nuclear weapons. Unimpeded access to the Parachin site could allow the IAEA to precisely determine the exact nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Both terms “regular access” and “measures” are probably intentionally vague. The ambiguity furnishes both sides with a necessary flexibility to address unforeseen issues.

In conclusion, significant progress is occurring toward resolving the crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear activities. It started with the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action and is continuing under the Joint Comprehensive Plan. The P5-plus-1 and Iran are giving negotiations until June 30 to finalize an accord. A high probability exists diplomats will meet the deadline, especially considering the determination, fortitude and flexibility illustrated in the discussions leading to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to intl.affairs@yahoo.com.


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