Inching Toward an Iran-Nuke Deal

Brushing aside political obstacles and applying creative diplomacy, Iran and six world powers appear to be closing in on a historic agreement constraining Iran’s nuclear program and lifting economic sanctions, writes Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

As the U.S. and Iranian negotiators move toward completion of a historic deal in Vienna, the lifting of sanctions against Iran – which is the most difficult outstanding issue in the talks – is on its way to being resolved, Western and Iranian sources close to the nuclear negotiations told the Middle East Eye.

With talks being extended until July 10 and Iranian sources suggesting that a deal could be penned as early as the evening of July 9, it appears that the United States and Iran have agreed on most of the provisions in the agreement governing the lifting of unilateral and UN Security Council sanctions.

Secretary of State John Kerry and other negotiators from the P5+1 at a meeting in Vienna, Austria, on July 6, 2015, on the Iran nuclear talks. (State Department photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry and other negotiators from the P5+1 at a meeting in Austria, on July 6, 2015, regarding the Iran nuclear talks. (State Department photo)

The one sanctions issue that has remained as a stumbling block in the past few days involves the text of the UN Security Council resolution that both sides have agreed will replace a series of resolutions passed between 2006 and 2010.

Until now, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) have insisted that the text of the new resolution include a continuation of the conventional arms embargo that was imposed by a 2007 Security Council resolution. But Iran has been objecting strenuously.

An Iranian official, who could not be identified under the rules of his briefing to the press on Monday, revealed the Iranian negotiation position on the issue. The arms embargo should not be part of the comprehensive plan, the official said. There is no evidence that the arms embargo had any relation to the nuclear issue.

However, the Iranian position appears to have been strengthened by deep divisions over the issue among the six powers. The P5+1 minus Germany – which is not a permanent member of the Security Council – met on Monday night to review their negotiating position on the arms embargo, according to a senior European diplomat who asked not to be identified, because of the extreme sensitivity of the discussions.

At the talks, the Russians and Chinese were firmly opposed to its inclusion, and France was wavering, the European diplomat added. The absence of a consensus for the position taken by the six powers up to now suggests that the last major issue relating to sanctions removal will now be resolved.

Eliminating the ‘PMD’ Obstacle

Another potential stumbling block to an agreement was eliminated during the early days of the Vienna round of talks. That diplomatic leap forward was suggested by the surprise announcement by International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Yukiya Amano on Saturday that the experts, with Iranian cooperation, will be able to complete his report on the ËœPossible Military Dimensions” (PMD) issue by December.

The P5+1 has taken the position in past negotiating rounds that UN Security Council sanctions would be lifted only after Iran cooperated fully with the IAEA on resolving the PMD issue. Western diplomats had even suggested to news media that the P5+1 would delay the resolution of the PMD issue in order to maintain leverage on Iran for years to come.

The Iranians, meanwhile, objected to any attempt by the six powers to stretch out the process of resolving the PMD issue, calling it an endless game that would allow the United States and its allies to hold on to some sanctions.

Despite their objections, the Lausanne framework included the PMD issue as one of the conditions that Iran was required to meet in order to lift the UN sanctions and it remained unclear how Iran would avoid a crisis in the implementation over that issue.

But the Obama administration was determined to eliminate the chances of such a crisis. Less than two weeks before they started, Secretary of State John Kerry signaled in a press briefing that the PMD issue would not be allowed to interfere with an agreement. Then in the first days of the Vienna talks, Amano had a meeting with Kerry and two meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. That was followed by a quick Amano trip to Tehran to meet with President Hassan Rouhani and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani.

The result of the meetings with Amano, according to two Iranian officials who insisted on anonymity to discuss these sensitive negotiations, was an agreement between Amano and Iran that his final report would reflect two narratives on the issue of whether Iran had sought nuclear weapons.

One of the Iranian officials told Middle East Eye that Amano had assured the Iranians that the Iranian case against the intelligence that the IAEA has touted in the past would be reflected in his report along with his anticipated repetition of the line taken by the IAEA in past reports.

The sequence of events clearly indicates that Kerry made it clear to Amano that the United States wants him to issue a report that will contribute to the implementation of the agreement rather than becoming a stumbling block to it.

Creative Diplomacy

An even more important diplomatic success on the problem is a detailed plan on the timing of sanction removal that was hammered out by technical experts last week and is to be submitted to political directors of the P5+1 and Iran for approval. A second Iranian official who also insisted that he not be identified outlined the plan to Middle East Eye last week.

According to the official, the plan, which had not yet been approved by political directors of the six powers negotiating with Iran, reconciles U.S. and Iranian positions on the issue that had seemed earlier this year to be so sharply contradictory as to rule out any diplomatic compromise.

U.S. officials had said repeatedly that sanctions on Iran could only be lifted after the IAEA had verified Iran’s implementation of its nuclear commitments and then would be lifted only in a phased manner. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, however, had demanded that the sanctions were to be lifted immediately on the agreement going into effect.

The solution to that apparently intractable problem was first presented by the U.S. delegation to the Iranians, according to an Iranian official involved in the negotiations who spoke on condition that he not be identified. It was based on two crucial ideas in which each side agreed to reinterpret central elements in the plan.

The United States accepted for the first time that, realistically, lifting the sanctions would be far more complex and time consuming than simply signing a legal document. It acknowledged that lifting sanctions would require a whole series of actions that would make the commitment by the P5+1 to end sanctions truly effective.

Iran, for its part, agreed to interpret its demand for the sanctions relief from the very first day of implementation to mean that the United States would guarantee the sanctions relief on the first day of implementation and complete the work necessary during the same time period in which Iran was carrying out its part of the deal.

Those mutual concessions are the basis for what would be called the “operationalisation phase”of the agreement. In that phase, the actions of the two sides to carry out their obligations would be “simultaneous and parallel.” That crucial phrase would allow Iran to selling sell the deal within Iran as consistent with Khamenei’s demand that the lifting of sanctions would take place on the first day of implementation.

Iran’s commitments to reduce its nuclear program were already agreed in detail in the Lausanne framework agreement reached on April 2. What the final agreement will do is spell out in a technical annex exactly what the United States and the European allies – who imposed sanctions on Iran in 2012 – will do to make the lifting of those sanctions truly effective and how the timing of implementation will be synchronized.

The first step in the process detailed in the annex – to be taken immediately at the beginning – is what the Iranians view as the “guarantee” that the United States and its European allies will carry out the sanctions removal. The “guarantee” would take the form of a pledge to take specific legal steps necessary to suspend U.S. sanctions and terminate the EU sanctions upon IAEA verification of the Iranian implementation measures, according to the Iranian official.

Equally important to assure Iran that the sanctions will actually be lifted effectively is a series of steps the Western allies would be required to take in the months that followed the initial commitment to educate the global business and financial community about the implications of the agreement to end sanctions.

“They need to do preparatory work to change the culture of sanctions,” the Iranian official explained. That will entail informing major financial institutions and business associations that they will no longer be subject to the extraterritorial sanctions against companies that do business with Iranian banks once the operationalization phase is completed.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This story originally appeared at Middle East Eye.]

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10 comments for “Inching Toward an Iran-Nuke Deal

  1. Joe Tedesky
    July 7, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    Wow, all of this for a country who isn’t building a nuclear bomb. Imagine, what could be done to a country who has built a secret nuclear weapon arsenal. Now, who would that be? Just forget it. Okay now move along, nothing to see here.

    • Joe Tedesky
      July 8, 2015 at 9:27 am

      This message board is strange. When I first posted my comment my comment was held up by a spam filter claiming something about ‘bad language. So I used the wording ‘holy cow’ instead of ‘wow’. So here it is the ‘wow’ version. I would like to suggest that someone turn down the censorship of the spam filter. The software censorship of this comment board must have been written by a religious fundamentalist is all I can say. Other than that, I love this site!

      • momus
        July 8, 2015 at 2:36 pm

        I had a problem posting there too, for a minute. Had to enable Javascript. I think it’s working now.

    • momus
      July 8, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      LOL

  2. Joe Tedesky
    July 7, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    Holy cow, all of this for a country who isn’t building a nuclear bomb. Imagine, what could be done to a country who has built a secret nuclear weapon arsenal. Now, who would that be? Just forget it. Okay now move along, nothing to see here.

  3. Peter Loeb
    July 8, 2015 at 5:27 am

    PARTIAL “ANSWERS” TO THE COMING NON-ACT

    As usual, Gareth Porter provides us with a peek into
    the differences among the powers.I had requested this
    ionformation previously and here it is (more or less).

    In my gut, I do not see the US and other members
    signing a “deal” unless Iranian demands for the
    lifting of sanctions are met.

    I do not not possess the insight or competence to
    comment on the specificss. The will does not exist
    in the US.

    As I have also previously made clear in this space,
    Iran should not be asked to sign a deal of any kind
    until and unless Israel agrees to the same
    conditions. And this is hardly possible given
    the fury, hate and oppression in Israel backed
    up by the US which has only just allocated 1.9
    BILLION dollars to Israel (See earlier story by Rania
    Khalek in “EI” and her own blog.

    I could be wrong but from this distance and swith
    some years of an experience of political processes
    by osmosis, I strongly doubt that this will happen.

    PS Every party and interest will of course blame
    the other for whatever it can find. See also Paul Pillar’s
    recent article on negotiation processes and the
    piece on Iranian dignity both in doncortium.

    —–Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    a

  4. alexander
    July 8, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Dear Mr Porter,

    Having a deal inked and done is probably the greatest success the United States could achieve after Thirteen years of fraud, aggression,war and obscene debt creation.

    Showing the world,( and even ourselves,) the ability to resolve an issue (any issue)without resorting to armed conflict goes a long way to restoring our good name and reputation amongst the other nations that inhabit it.

    Very few perceive how important a pact of this nature, successfully completed, shores up not only our standing, but our currency and credit worthiness, on the worlds stage.

    Starting ANOTHER feckless multi-trillion dollar war in the middle east, that is avoidable, would do so much MORE damage ( aside from the unconscionable damage to millions of innocents involved) to our already beleaguered balance sheet, that the other nations of the world, who have thus far been willing to underwrite our “enterprise” through the purchase of our treasury bonds, might just say GOODBYE , and start selling them.

    FAST!

    Disposing ourselves, at this juncture in time, toward a resolution that is just ,balanced and concrete, exhibits our capacity to transcend the “Fraud toward War” that has engulfed and delimited us for far, far too long.

    Lets get it done !

  5. dave
    July 9, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    alexander
    you dont understand americas true real position.
    the jews/israelis are constantly lurking behind the scenes in the background manipulating “our” negotiating without it ever being publicly acknowledged.
    the US is not really negotiating but ZOSA, the zionist occupied states of america, litterally meaning israel is negotiating and the US “negotiators’ are really nothing more than a deceptive facade.
    jews/israel did the same exact thing at the fake oslo peace negotiations. go check it out. the poor enstrangulated US negotiators complained that they were virtually totally unable to get any real true US positions presented there because jews, both israeli and these disgusting traitorous dual citizenswere forever pressuring and manipulating them to do what was best for israel, not for the US.
    the US(ZOSA) is a weak pathetic israeli puppet state. and whatever you think of obama at least he refused to be pressured to go into iran. the next puppet, dem or rep, will be totally bought and payed for and in the total control of their paymaster jews and israel!

    • alexander
      July 12, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      Dave,
      I guess I don’t really care about the ZOSA thing,
      But i do care about the redirection of our nation toward a highly intelligent policy, one than allows us to engage the world in a much more constructive and creative way.

      if, as you suggest ,there is a hidden host of “behind the scenes” policy manipulators,who are responsible for the “catastrophic” ethical, constitutional and fiscal crises that we face today, then my suggestion is to put them in Guantanamo Bay, as fast as possible….and make room for those who have the ability to rebuild our nation into the extraordinary thing it has the potential to become….

      We need a stewardship of our nation….that really works !,
      Whether it comes from some hidden ” policy elite” or something else, I don’t really care……Only that the smartest decisions are made ,and that they are made the highest percentage of the time !
      Does that make sense to you ,Dave ?

      • dave
        July 18, 2015 at 2:34 am

        youre either extremely naive and idealistic or delusional
        “put them in guantanamo bay?”
        they run things!
        are you so crazy to think theyre going to volunteer themselves to be locked up?
        did they even so much as just arrest the jewish wall st banksters?

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