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Nuclear Framework Agreement between Iran and P-5+1: A Cursory Exploration and The Fourfold Task before Peace Movements

by Sukla Sen, 7 April 2015

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sacw.net - 7 April 2015

What does this “agreement” stand for?

As the caption - Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program, of the framework accord, in English, hosted on the US government official website (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/04/240170.htm) tells us, this subject agreement purportedly lays down the broad outlines and parameters for the final, and real, “agreement” as regards the dispute on the table to be worked out by coming June 30th.

So, while it is a significant step forward, more so given the marathon wrangling between the two camps, over the last eighteen months or so in particular, and acrimonious lobbying by the opponents of any, whatever, rapprochement between the two contending parties, the main work still lies ahead.

The Background

Iran became a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) back in 1968 and ratified the treaty by March 5 1970 (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parties_to_the_Treaty_on_the_Non-Proliferation_of_Nuclear_Weapons). (The US also ratified it on March 5 1970, so did Russia. The UK had done it by Nov. 29 1968. China acceded by March 17 1992 and France by August 3 1992.) So Iran was amongst the very first.

Iran had embarked on its nuclear programme back “in the 1950s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace programme. Under Shah Reza Pahlavi Iran established the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in 1974 and announced plans to generate about 23,000 megawatts of energy over 20 years, including the construction of 23 nuclear power plants and the development of a full nuclear fuel cycle. The participation of the United States and Western European governments in Iran’s nuclear program continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_program_of_Iran#Iran.27s_nuclear_program_and_the_NPT, also see: http://www.iranaffairs.com/iran_affairs/2006/05/blasts_from_the.html and http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheet/Timeline-of-Nuclear-Diplomacy-With-Iran.)

Following the 1979 Islamist Revolution and the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran resulting in a severing of U.S.-Iranian ties, most of the international nuclear cooperation with Iran was consequently cut off. In 1987 Iran acquired technical schematics for building a P-1 centrifuge, reportedly, from Abdul Qadeer Khan’s black-market network. Iran’s first nuclear power plant, Bushehr I reactor was, however, completed with major assistance from the Russian government agency Rosatom and officially opened on 12 September 2011. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_program_of_Iran#Post-revolution.2C_1979.E2.80.931989http://sputniknews.com/world/20110912/166785925.html and http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheet/Timeline-of-Nuclear-Diplomacy-With-Iran.)

It is on 14 August 2002, an Iranian dissident group publicly revealed the existence of two nuclear sites under construction: a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz (part of which is underground), and a heavy water facility in Arak. On September 12 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling for Iran to suspend all enrichment, and reprocessing-related activities. The resolution required Iran to declare all material relevant to its uranium-enrichment programme and allow IAEA inspectors to conduct environmental sampling at any location. And, that is understandably the trigger point for the conflict, which grew more and more acrimonious with time, continuing till date. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed its first resolution demanding suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme on July 31 2006. Till date there are in all 9 resolutions passed, the last one on June 5 2013. The second resolution (on Dec. 23 2006) onward the UNSC started imposing sanctions on Iran’s failure to comply with its demands.

More Recent Developments

It is on April 14 2012, Iran, for the first time, met with the P-5+1 (i.e. the five Permanent Members of the UNSC — US, Russia, UK, France and China plus Germany) in Istanbul, in Turkey, for talks and agreed upon a framework of continuing negotiations with a step-by-step process and reciprocal actions. It is followed up by a number of rounds of discussions without much tangible progress.

On August 6 2013, three days after taking office, Iran’s newly elected President Hasan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator himself and presumably a “moderate” committed to end Iran’s global isolation, called for the resumption of serious negotiations with the P-5+1 on Iran’s nuclear programme. And, things apparently started moving. On September 26 2013, the P-5+1 foreign ministers met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines on the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. On September 27 2013, the US President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, marking the highest level contact between the U.S. and Iran since 1979. 

On Nov. 24 2013, as the culmination of several rounds of talks, Iran and P-5+1 signed an agreement called the Joint Plan of Action. It laid out specific steps for each side in a six-month, first-phase agreement, and the broad framework to guide negotiations for a comprehensive solution. On January 20 2014 implementation of the Joint Plan of Action began. And, the IAEA issued a report confirming Iran’s compliance with the deal.

Thereafter negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on the comprehensive agreement began in Vienna during Feb. 17-20 2014 and several rounds of talks followed.

Latest Round of Talks

The latest round of (highly intensive) talks was held from this March 26 to April 2 in Lausanne, Switzeland, between foreign ministers of the concerned countries, extending the originally set deadline by two days, in two instalments, and eventually producing the Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program i.e. the framework accord.

It is being considered as a major step ahead in the direction of the final, and real, agreement.

Two major developments in the run up bear mentioning.

On March 3, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a speech to a joint session of the US Congress being invited by the Republicans as a part of his desperate attempts to scuttle the ongoing negotiation process and the prospect for an eventual agreement by scaring the American public and their elected representatives and, in the process, openly decrying the US President. The speech was in breach of a time honoured diplomatic protocol. (See, for example: http://www.timesofisrael.com/white-house-invite-to-netanyahu-a-breach-of-protocol/, also: “The speech was a major breach of protocol for both Israel and the Republican party. It was a breach of diplomatic protocol for Israel’s leadership to work directly with an opposition party in that way. And it was a breach of political protocol for the Republicans to go behind the president’s back to work directly with a foreign leader, because the president is supposed to be the US’s sole organ in foreign affairs.” at http://www.vox.com/2015/3/3/8141157/netanyahu-congress-speech-whitehouse .)

On March 9, Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other Republican senators signed and issued an open letter to the Parliament of Iran. The letter warned that any deal reached without legislative approval could be revised by the next president “with the stroke of a pen.” The US senators writing to a foreign nation against the conduct of their own President as the executive head of the nation (in matters of foreign policy), it goes without saying, is pretty much extraordinary (see, for example: https://twitter.com/NYDailyNews/status/575160770704601088 and http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/47-gop-senators-broke-law-iran-letter/story?id=29528727). The Iranian Foreign Minister of course publicly rebuffed (see, for example: http://www.vox.com/2015/3/9/8180933/zarif-cotton-letter).

The Framework Agreement

According to the framework agreement announced on April 2 last, Iran has finally agreed to limit enrichment levels of nuclear fuels for 15 years to 3.67% (as would normally suffice as feed for a nuclear reactor meant to produce power while nuclear warheads require uranium enriched to the level of 90% or above) and to cut its stockpile of that kind of low-enriched uranium from 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms for 15 years.

Iran has also agreed to reduce the number of centrifuges (the contraption which “enriches” uranium by separating out and extracting U-235, normally comprising around 0.7% of naturally occurring uranium ore, from other uranium isotopes — almost exclusively U-238) installed by about two-thirds, from 19,000 to 6,104, and to convert its giant underground enrichment site at Fordow into a center for nuclear physics and technology research. 5,060 centrifuges would remain spinning to enrich uranium at the main nuclear site at Natanz, about half the number currently running. (See: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/04/240170.htm, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/03/31/world/middleeast/simple-guide-nuclear-talks-iran-us.html?_r=0 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power.)

Iran has additionally agreed to redesign and rebuild the Arak reactor based on a design that that will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. The original core of the reactor, which would enable the production of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country. Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors for 15 years.

Iran has, moreover, agreed to providing the International Atomic Energy Agency greater access and information regarding its nuclear programme, and to allow the agency to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of covert facilities related to uranium enrichment anywhere in the country. Inspectors will also have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear programme, including uranium mines and mills, and to continuous surveillance of centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities.

In exchange, Iran would get sanctions relief from the U.S. and the European Union, once the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, verifies that Iran has abided by key commitments, to be fully fleshed out by the coming June 30.

Two Very Divergent Positions

It is necessary to point out here that the whole controversy has two very divergent narratives.

While by far the dominant narrative, as dished out by P-5+1 and also so many others, is that the whole purpose of the elaborate exercise — the marathon “talks”, is to make it significantly more difficult, though not impossible, for Iran to go in for developments of deliverable nuclear warheads under the cover of “peaceful” nuclear power programme, while evading an armed confrontation with possible disastrous consequences.

Iran’s position is, however, that it has no whatever intention to develop nuclear weapons. It steadfastly claims that its purpose is entirely “peaceful” and in complete conformity with its commitments under the NPT.

So, while the Western nations cite the assumption that the agreed deal would extend the “breakout time” — the time required for actually developing nuclear warheads, from mere two months or so to some twelve months as a great victory (see: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/04/03/397322748/energy-secretary-iran-deal-blocks-all-paths-toward-nuclear-bomb), Iran, on the other hand, is citing the prospect of (some major) economic sanctions against it being lifted while being allowed to go ahead with its “peaceful” nuclear power programme, though very substantially scaled down, as a “win-win” situation (see: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/whats-in-the-iran-nuclear-framework-agreement/). That explains why Iranian public openly celebrated the conclusion of the framework agreement on the streets (see, for example: www.usatoday.com/videos/news/world/2015/04/03/25229385/).

While the fact that Iran is a major exporter of hydrocarbon and also that it did understandably engage in certain cloak-and-dagger activities as regards its nuclear programme after being ostracized by the West, the US in particular, raise legitimate doubts about its real intentions, the fact remains that Iran had launched its nuclear programme as far back as in the fifties, and that too with open Western cooperation.

Three Crucial Responses

Israel’s newly elected leader, Prime Minister Netanyahu, immediately went public against the preliminary agreement, all guns blazing.

In a phone conversation with the [US] president, [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a final deal based on this agreement “would threaten the survival of Israel.”

He said the deal would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and increase Iranian “aggression and terror.”

Netanyahu urged the world to increase pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved.

(Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/apr/02/iran-talks-framework-deal-announcement-eu-live.)

He has, subsequently, further charged that the framework agreement “keeps a vast nuclear infrastructure in place. Not a single centrifuge is destroyed. Not a single nuclear facility is shut down, including the underground facilities that they built illicitly. Thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning enriching uranium. That’s a bad deal." (See: http://www.news24.com/World/News/Netanyahu-blasts-Iran-nuclear-deal-20150406 .)

He has additionally charged that Iran will use the resultant dividend coming out of the easing of economic sanctions “to pump up their terror machine worldwide and their military machine that is busy conquering the Middle East now." (See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/05/iran-netanyahu-nuclear_n_7006854.html?ir=India .)

Hence, "Netanyahu proposed that the international community should therefore hold out for "a better deal," in which the Iranians put a stop to "their terrorism worldwide" before world powers agreed to lift sanctions." (See: ibid.)

In stark contrast:

The [US] President [Obama] emphasized that, while nothing is agreed until everything is, the framework represents significant progress towards a lasting, comprehensive solution that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward. He underscored that progress on the nuclear issue in no way diminishes our concerns with respect to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and threats towards Israel and emphasized that the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel. The [US] President told the [Israeli] Prime Minister that he has directed his national security team to increase consultations with the new Israeli government about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and remain vigilant in countering Iran’s threats.”

Earlier in the day, Obama acknowledged in public remarks that he and the Israeli prime minister disagree on the US efforts to secure a nuclear deal with Iran. Tension between the two world leaders has escalated in recent weeks amid the negotiations, but Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel when addressing the tentative framework.

(Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/apr/02/iran-talks-framework-deal-announcement-eu-live.)

Even subsequently, he quite emphatically reiterated: “This is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/06/world/middleeast/obama-strongly-defends-iran-nuclear-deal.html?_r=1 .)

Despite the hardliners and their skepticism, Iran was pretty visibly the most jubilant of all the concerned parties at the conclusion of the preliminary accord. (See, for example: ‘Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator receives hero’s welcome in Tehran’ at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/03/iran-nuclear-mohammad-javad-zarif and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvW49kMBobQ.)

Hurdles Ahead

As regards the parties engaged in the “talks” there are still important gaps to be bridged. The modus operandi of lifting of economic sanctions is understandably a prime grey area. (Here it needs be mentioned that only the sanctions related to the nuclear issue are now on the table. There are sanctions related to other issues as well.)

If the preceding history, and the trajectory of the last round of talks in particular, is any guide, then the negotiations in the coming days are no doubt going to be tough. The role played by France, given its earlier track record, would merit special attention.

But the maximum threat to the process of arriving at a final, and real, deal is, at the moment, posed (mainly) by the Republicans members of the US Senate, where they now enjoy a majority given the fact that they, egged on by the Zionist regime, are doggedly insistent on playing the spoilsport. (See, for example: http://www.vox.com/2015/4/4/8344115/iran-deal-congress and http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/4/6/senator-congress-must-scour-final-iran-nuke-deal.html.) By all appearances, the US Congress poses a significantly greater threat than the hardliners of the Iranian regime.

Israel acting as a rogue state and carrying out air strikes, just on its own, against Iran could also be a deal-breaker. The chances of that happening, as of now, are rather remote though.

Tasks before the Peace Movements

The primary task of the global and national peace movements is of course to facilitate conclusion of a final, and real, “deal”; for the alternative could be too horrifying. So towards that end they must do whatever they can to build up popular opinions in favour of a “deal” and obviating any armed confrontations.

The resolution of the nuclear issue also opens up a possibility of broader peace in the Middle-East. (For an optimistic estimate: http://fpif.org/iran-deal-a-game-changer-for-the-middle-east/.)

Beyond that, the peace movements must also do their utmost to bring the issue of a Middle-East free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as mandated by the 1995 NPT Review Conference and further reiterated by the 2010 Conference (see, for example: http://www.armscontrol.org/2011_09/The_Long_Journey_Toward_A_WMD-Free_Middle_East) to the table. Evidently, a treaty ensuring a WMD-free Middle-East would have had made life much easier and safer and would have had made the current imbroglio totally avoidable. This worthy cause needs a vigorous push, and the current crisis provides an opening.

Thirdly, the ongoing crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme graphically brings out the fundamental fallacy of a “peaceful” nuclear programme — “Atoms for Peace” (!). It simply lays bare the pretty much close and indissoluble links between a “peaceful” nuclear programme and a nuclear weapons programme, even if the former does not inevitably lead to the latter.

Peace movements have the onus of forcefully drawing global attention to this vital linkage.

Finally, as the current controversy is very much premised upon the horrific dangers that the nuclear weapons pose to the humanity, the peace movements must seize this “opportunity” to renew and reinvigorate the calls for global nuclear disarmament.

The peace movements must put all their efforts to ensure that the 2015 NPT Review Conference, scheduled from April 27 — May 22 in New York (see: http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2015/ ), takes up the issue with all seriousness and lays out a time-bound and workable programme towards that end.

07 04 2015

The author is an anti-nuke peace activist and a founder member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), India.