By Tim Marshall
At time of writing it appears the deal on limiting Iran’s ability to quickly build nuclear weapons may be announced soon. Indications were that it would be Monday – they have clearly got bogged down in some detail. If there is a deal it will be the culmination of two years of negotiations between Iran and the US led negotiating team of the UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany – known as the P5+1. Few details have emerged, and late last night, Vienna time, there were still some sticking points.
However, herewith a rundown of what to look for if and when the announcement comes.
ACCESS – The W&Y believes the most difficult point has been over what was originally a demand for unfettered UN inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including military sites. Iran says this is an issue of sovereignty and will not allow the inspections.
President Obama had promised this was an absolute requirement. This has subsequently been watered down to ‘negotiated access’, and last week the term ‘managed access’ emerged from the talks. Without snap, unfettered inspections, there is the possibility of Iran removing evidence in the event that it was breaking the agreement.
SANCTIONS – The timing of when UN sanctions would be lifted is important. We wait to see if they are lifted immediately a deal is signed, which would be a victory for Iran, or a period of time must pass before this happens. Secondly, originally the demand was that sanctions would ‘snap back’ immediately should Iran violate any agreement, it appears the text might now say this would require a vote at the UN Security Council.
BREAKOUT TIME – This is the time required to spin enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. It is currently estimated that Iran could do this in as little as three months. The deal may push this to 12 months. There is disagreement over whether even 12 months would be enough time in which to prevent Iran from ‘breaking out’ if it carried out the work in secret, and given the time it takes to get the diplomatic approval preceding a use of force.
CENTRIFUGES – The Americans originally insisted that Iran would have to cut its 19,000 centrifuges to 1,500. It then changed this to 4,000, now it’s thought Iran will be allowed to have 6,000. Sceptics argue this is more than required if they are only for civilian use. However many centrifuges which are dismantled will be kept in Iran under UN supervision. The site at Fordow, buried under a mountain, will only be used for storage.
URANIUM ENRICHMENT – This will only take place at the Natanz site and use older centrifuges which struggle to spin uranium at the speeds required to produce weapons grade material.
STOCKPILES – Iran has 8 tons of highly enriched uranium. The text should tell us how much can be used for medical research, how much must be diluted, and if any will be moved abroad.
DURATION – How the long the deal is for is of interest. It’s thought the text will say for between 10 and 15 years.
If the deal is done the US Congress will want a say on it. Because the parties missed a July 9th deadline, Congress will now have up to 60 days to see if it want to approve the text. During this period President Obama cannot lift American sanctions. Congress is also expected to insist that every 90 days the President must confirm that Iran is fulfilling its side of the bargain.
It’s been a long road. There is still further to go.