Mose Apelblat

Last Thursday evening the world was happily surprised to hear that a framework agreement had been reached on Iran’s nuclear programme. While Iran will be allowed to continue enrichment of uranium, enrichment capabilities will be restricted and limited to one nuclear facility (Natanz). Nuclear activities at other sites, Fordow and Arak, will be curbed and restricted to purely peaceful objectives.

Enrichment level and stockpile will be limited for specified durations so that the break-out time for producing material for one nuclear weapon will be at least one year. Everything will be strictly monitored and subject to inspections by the IAEA. In return nuclear related sanctions on Iran will be lifted, enabling Iran to engage in international trade and develop its economy.

But the agreement has hardly been announced and already doubts have been raised about what has been agreed. The agreement has been called a “Framework” agreement laying the ground for more detailed and technical discussions during the coming three months until June 30. However, no signed agreement has been published.

For some reason the agreement wasn’t announced by all parties involved, i.e. Iran, the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China, Germany) and the European Union, but only by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

In a joint statement they declared: “Today, we have taken a decisive step: we have reached solutions on key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This is a crucial decision laying the agreed basis for the final text of the JCPOA. We can now restart drafting the text and annexes of the JCPOA, guided by the solutions developed in these days”.

The statement, which is about 500 words, has been published by EU’s External Action Service (EEAS), and outlines very briefly what seems to have been agreed in principle. No details or figures on stockpiles and time lines are specified. Is it because these issues haven’t yet been agreed and remain to be negotiated? (

To learn more about the agreement we have to read a “fact sheet” or “media note” published by the U.S. Department of State. This note is presented as parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – again not as a signed framework agreement. It states that while significant progress has been made, “important implementation details are still subject to negotiation”.

The note – about three times the length of the joint statement above – includes indeed quantitative data and other details but also leaves some questions unanswered. ( It doesn’t specify where advanced centrifuges and excess enriched uranium will be moved and stored. Different time lines, from 10 years to 25 years, are given for different nuclear activities, which is confusing and might include loopholes.

While Iran’s nuclear programme will be limited in the short- and medium term – what will happen in the long term?

What will prevent Iran then to produce nuclear weapons? This isn’t an agreement that will put a definitive end to Iran’s capability to develop a nuclear weapon. The agreement is rather based on the assumption and hope that Iran thanks to short-term restrictions and the lifting of sanctions will open up to the world and become a peace-loving country with no need of nuclear weapons.

Currently Iran is fighting by proxies in other countries and openly threatening Israel with annihilation. This was only addressed indirectly if at all in the agreement. The American fact sheets includes a paragraph stating that U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.

It’s obvious from the wording that the fact sheet is an interpretation by the U.S. Iran would surely not have agreed to the above paragraph or to state that the purpose of the agreement is to limit its break-out time for a nuclear weapon to at least one year. Or that it will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments. Otherwise the sanctions will “snap back into place”.

Is the U.S. fact sheet just wishful thinking? Does it basically reflect what was agreed between the parties? Judging from the Iranian reaction, they don’t agree with all of it. France has published its own version of what was agreed and it differs from the American version as regards the right of Iran to restart its enrichment programme after the first 10 years period.

President Obama has an interest in presenting the agreement as favorably as possible to counter criticism from the congress and avoid an extension of the sanctions. The Iranian negotiators have an interest in showing their public opinion that they didn’t make any concessions and that the sanctions will be lifted as soon as an agreement is signed. Only the EEAS can credibly explain what really was agreed.

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