Following the nuclear “Joint Plan of Action” (JPoA) signed between the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva in 2013, a “Framework Agreement” (FA) was finally closed in overtime in Lausanne this week.
The basic nuclear details sound quite simple: Cap centrifuges to 6,000 (from 9,000 in JPoA), enrichment to 3.67% (down from 5% in JPoA), enrichment only at Natanz (not mentioned in JPoA) and access of IAEA officials (just like JPoA).
The basic sanction details sound quite simple as well: Eliminations of all nuclear sanctions by the US/EU/UN ($7 Billion in JPoA).
But, beyond basics, there still is no real nuclear deal – that’s supposed to be penned in June if…
If…Rouhani “plays ball”…
If Rouhani patiently “plays ball” and upholds his end of the FA, as he personally vowed to do, he will have achieved his greatest election promise: disposal of all sanctions with an intact nuclear program with a bonus sunset clause. Worth being patient for…
Within 3 months, he can sign a nuclear deal and can set his sights on an economic boom, a rapprochement with the West and, perhaps, more time to develop the potential for nuclear break-out.
Rouhani focused on minimizing nuclear restrictions, sunset clauses and the time spans of the elimination of sanctions. Without them, the hardliners, and more importantly, Khamenei himself, would not buy the deal.
And best of all, he doesn’t even have to be friendly with the US…(Zarif’s quote: “Iran and U.S. relations have nothing to do with this, which was an attempt to resolve the nuclear issue … We have serious differences with the United States”), nor is he forced to stop meddling in Syria, Iraq and Yemen…nor is he forced to uphold his other election promise of better human rights in Iran.
If…Obama Chooses Engagement
Obama chose to work things out with Iran through engagement instead of through war or increased sanctions and isolation.
Had the FA not been signed, Obama would have to increase the sanctions which would effectively push Rouhani into his brother in sanctions’ open arms, Putin. Less likely, Obama would have chosen the war-path which he so desperately wants to avoid.
Obama focused on a “low risk”-“high gain” strategy: Continue to actively strive for peace and hope that the future will smile on him. Not without criticism from within (Republicans/Congress) and from without (Israel, Saudi Arabia, France, UK…).
If…Both Agree to Disagree
Much like the earlier JPoA, the FA is sometimes vague in the parameters of nuclear restrictions and on the time frame of the eliminating of sanctions. “Loose ends” are emerging as quickly as statements by leaders in in Tehran and in Washington to their respective crowds.
Flashback to November 23rd 2013 when the White House issued a fact sheet on the JPoA which satisfied politicians and voters sitting on the fence. Within days, Tehran called the fact sheet out as “invalid” for “overselling” to the Americans quite simply because it was “underselling” to its own hardliners.
Tehran poked a number of loopholes into the JPoA: the right to enrich 20% for “research purposes”, the exclusion of the heavy water plant in Arak, the number and quality of active centrifuges etc…All loose ends that were not tied by the P5+1 negotiators. But the talks went on…for thirteen months (beyond the 6 months in the JPoA deal).
And it’s happening again…
The official Iranian version is simply labeled “press statement”, beginning with a spoiler that the FA has no “legal aspect” yet and is intended only as “a guideline for drafting future accords”. The American text is called the “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” implying that “it’s a done deal”.
In some case, the Iranian text differs from the US version when it comes to nuclear restrictions: enrichment facilities (US says only Natanz, Iran says Fordow as well), the sunset clause (US says 10-15, Iran says none), the quality of centrifuges (US says old, Iran says advanced), the upkeep of Arak (US says no nuclear activity, Iran says “updated and modernized”) and the transparency of military aspects of the nuclear program (US says full transparency, Iran says…nothing)
But when it comes to the relief of sanctions, the differences touch on the type of sanctions to be lifted (US says “nuclear”, Iran says “all”) and the time span (US says “step-by-step” while Iran says “immediate” cancellation).
Do any of these amount to deal breakers? They certainly can in the hands of hardliners on both sides. More likely they will be used by Tehran as distractions to Iranian’s best strategy – patience, because, meanwhile, while the talks go on, the money flows in and the centrifuges spin.
And, if…Khamenei Signs
Yes, the biggest “if” of all: will Khamenei sign this deal?
Only Khamenei knows what is his state of mind, his intentions for his legacy and his ambitions for Iran and for the Islamic Revolution.