WASHINGTON – The nuclear “framework agreement” worked out between Iran and the Western powers has drawn a broad range of reactions, from celebration by the White House to cautious optimism from Tehran’s archenemy Saudi Arabia to strong criticism from Israel.
President Obama said the interim deal is designed to insure that the Middle East doesn’t engage in a nuclear arms race.
He said it would “cut off every pathway” to Iran developing a nuclear weapon, and he hoped it would lead to a fundamental change in relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic.
House Speaker John Boehner, in contrast, warned that the “parameters” represented an “alarming departure” from initial U.S. goals.
He said his “immediate concern is the administration signaling it will provide near-term sanctions relief,” referring to a provision calling for U.S. and European Union sanctions relief once inspectors verify Iran’s progress toward the nuclear-related steps of the deal.
“Congress must be allowed to fully review the details of any agreement before any sanctions are lifted,” Boehner said.
Saudi Arabia, which has threatened to have its own nuclear program, gave cautious support for the framework.
“Everyone wants a serious agreement,” said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir.
However, he wanted to wait for more details of the deal before commenting further.
Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, received a rock star’s welcome in Tehran following the announcement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the framework agreement threatens the survival of Israel and legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program, adding that it “would not block Iran’s path to the bomb (but) would pave it.”
“Such a deal would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war,” he said.
Some observers affirm that with the U.S. shift in opening relations with Iran, the Saudis and other Gulf Arab countries might pursue their own nuclear weapons, concluding they can no longer rely on the U.S. for security.
Iran insists it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons but wants to use its nuclear development program for peaceful purposes. Obama has referred on a number of occasions to a fatwa, or Islamic legal pronouncement, from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei against developing nuclear weapons.
Skeptics of Iran’s intentions, however, point to the declaration of Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable” and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei recently joining a crowd in chanting “Death to America.”
Iran claims it has an “absolute right” to a nuclear development program as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Terms of the NPT only forbid the transfer of nuclear weapons to another country or bringing together the necessary components to make a nuclear device. However, it doesn’t forbid making the components, even though all would be subject to IAEA inspection. The NPT also allows Iran to enrich uranium, even though the level at which Iran has enriched to date – 20 percent – is of concern. Israel doesn’t want Iran to have any enrichment capability.
A 2012 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was moving more rapidly to produce nuclear fuel than many outsiders expected, using a deep underground site that Israel and the United States have said is better protected from attack than Iran’s older facilities. At the same time, the New York Times reported, U.S intelligence analysts said they had no hard evidence Iran had decided to build a nuclear bomb. A 2007 intelligence said Iran had given up its nuclear weapons program as early as 2003. Nevertheless, at the time of the 2012 report, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, told a Senate panel that American officials believed Iran was preserving its options for a nuclear weapon.
Assist from North Korea
Regardless of any deal to which Iran may agree, Asia expert Gordon Chang said North Korea for years has been helping Tehran in a “secret program” to develop nuclear weapons.
It’s questionable, he said, that a secret program outside Iran’s borders would be covered under the deal with the West.
“The international community wants the preliminary arrangement … to ensure that the country remains at least one year away from being able to produce an atomic device,” Chang said.
“But no inspections of Iranian sites will solve a fundamental issue,” he added. “As can be seen from the North Korean base housing Tehran’s weapons specialists, Iran is only one part of a nuclear weapons effort spanning the Asian continent.
“North Korea, now the world’s proliferation superstar, is a participant. China, once the mastermind, may still be a co-conspirator,” he said.
“Inspections inside the borders of Iran, therefore, will not give the international community the assurance it needs.”
Regional arms race
Pakistan is seen as the likely source for the Saudis and the Gulf Arab countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons, if needed, sources tell WND, since the Saudis financed Islamabad’s own nuclear development program and the weaponization that grew out of it.
Saudi Arabia already has ballistic missiles it received from China years ago.
Sources also have told WND that Pakistan already may have sent some nuclear devices to the Saudi kingdom for safekeeping in the event Sunni jihadi groups were to threaten the Pakistani government.
Similarly, Israel, assessed by the U.S. intelligence community to have more than 200 tactical nuclear weapons and a similar number of strategic nuclear devices, developed its nuclear weapons program with the help of South Africa before that country renounced its own nuclear weapons program.
Unlike Iran, Israel is not a signatory to the NPT. Nor is it a member of the IAEA. Sources say that the reason for not signing the NPT or becoming a member of IAEA is to prevent international disclosure of its nuclear arsenal.
Arab countries for years unsuccessfully have been calling for Israel’s full disclosure of its nuclear weapons.
Sources tell WND that there not only will be increased scrutiny of Iran’s own nuclear program but also monitoring of the travels of Iranian nuclear scientists to North Korea when the Hermit Kingdom undertakes future underground nuclear tests.
Whether any alleged overseas development could be convincing enough to be regarded it as a potential violation of any nuclear agreement with Iran remains an open question.
Experts, such as Chang, don’t think so.
Nevertheless, the agreed-upon framework says Iran will either dilute or ship abroad its stockpile of enriched uranium. While Iran has been enriching up to 20 percent, which is consistent for medical purposes, the total accumulation at that level, U.S. officials say, would give Iran a supply of enriched uranium should it have a breakthrough to enrich up to the weapons-grade level of 90 percent or better.
It no longer will be allowed to produce fissile material. A reactor at Arak would be rebuilt with international help to insure that it won’t be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
The virtually bomb-proof facility at Nantanz would continue to be allowed to enrich uranium for a 15-year period but under IAEA scrutiny.
In turn, the European Union and U.S. agreed to end most of their economic and financial sanctions, but only after IAEA confirms Iran has fulfilled its commitments under the deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, will have access to any facility for inspection, although it won’t be allowed intrusive, unannounced inspections, a provision sought by Western negotiators to prevent the ability to hide evidence.
PARAMETERS OF THE AGREEMENT
An outline of the deal’s framework is broken down into parameters for “a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program.”
Referred to as the JCPOA, the parameters are broken down under enrichment, conversion of Iran’s Fordow facility to prevent it from enriching uranium, reactors, reprocessing and phasing.
Iran agrees to reduce by some two-thirds its installed centrifuges. That number will go from 19,000 to 6,104 installed centrifuges, with only 5,060 allowed to enrich uranium for 10 years.
In addition, all of the 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first generation centrifuge.
Iran also agrees not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. Nuclear reactors need between 3 to 5 percent enrichment for U-235. In addition, Iran agreed not to build any new facilities to enrich uranium for 15 years.
Iran also has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of some 10,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to 300 kilograms of 3.67 percent for 15 years.
All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA-monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.
Iran’s breakout timeline – the time that it would take for it to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon – is currently assessed to be two to three months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least 10 years.
Fordow facility conversion
In converting the Fordow facility to no longer enrich uranium, it also will not be able to do so for 15 years.
Fordow facility it also is to be converted for “peaceful purposes only” into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.
At Fordow, Iran won’t be allowed to conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment or keep any fissile material for 15 years.
Some two-thirds of its centrifuges and infrastructure is to be removed. The remaining centrifuges will not enrich uranium. All centrifuges and related infrastructure will come under IAEA monitoring.
Uranium enrichment at Nantanz
Iran will only enrich uranium at Nantaz, with only 5,060 IR-1 first generation centrifuges, for 10 years.
The 1,000 IR-2M centrifuges currently installed at Natanz are to be removed and place in IAEA-monitored storage for 10 years.
Iran will not use its IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, or IR-8 models to produce enriched uranium for at least 10 years. It can engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the Western countries.
For 10 years, enrichment and enrichment research and development will be limited to ensure a breakout timeline of at least one year.
Beyond 10 years, Iran is to abide by its enrichment and enrichment research and development plan submitted to the IAEA, pursuant to the JCPOA under the “additional protocol” resulting in certain limitations on enrichment capacity. Those limits were not spelled out in the framework.
Inspections and transparency
The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including Iran’s enrichment facilities at Nantanz and Fordow. The IAEA will use its “most up-to-date modern monitoring technologies.”
Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.
For the next 25 years, inspectors will have access to uranium mines and continuous surveillance at uranium mills, where Iran produces yellowcake.
Inspectors will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years. Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing base will be frozen and under continuous surveillance.
All centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure removed from Fordow and Natanz will be placed under continuous monitoring by the IAEA.
As an additional transparency measure, a dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s nuclear program will be established to monitor and approve, on a case by case basis, the supply, sale or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology.
Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA, providing the IAEA much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities.
Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.
Iran has agreed to implement Modified Code 3.1 requiring early notification of construction of new facilities.
Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.
Reactors and reprocessing
Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild the Arak heavy water research reactor, based on a design agreed to by the West. It will not be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium but will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production.
Iran will ship all of its spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the reactor’s lifetime.
Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.
Iran will not accumulate heavy water in excess of the needs of the modified Arak reactor and will sell any remaining heavy water on the international market for 15 years.
Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors for 15 years.
Western sanctions are to be relaxed if Iran abides by its commitments.
U.S. and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place
The “architecture” of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
All past U.N. Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion by Iran of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns of enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD and transparency.
However, core provisions in the U.N. Security Council resolutions – those that deal with transfers of sensitive technologies and activities – will be re-established by a new U.N. Security Council resolution that will endorse the JCPOA and urge its full implementation.
It will also create the procurement channel of new technologies, which will serve as a key transparency measure. Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution.
A dispute resolution process will be specified, which enables any JCPOA participant to seek to resolve disagreements about the performance of JCPOA commitments.
If an issue of significant non-performance cannot be resolved through that process, then all previous U.N. sanctions could be re-imposed.
U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.
For 10 years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development, ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Beyond that, Iran will be bound by its longer-term enrichment and enrichment research and development plan it shared with the western countries.
For 15 years, Iran will limit additional elements of its program. For instance, Iran will not build new enrichment facilities or heavy water reactors and will limit its stockpile of enriched uranium and accept enhanced transparency procedures.
Important inspections and transparency measures will continue well beyond 15 years, although it wasn’t specified in the framework.
Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is to be permanent, including its significant access and transparency obligations. The robust inspections of Iran’s uranium supply chain will last for 25 years.
Even after the period of the most stringent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits Iran’s development or acquisition of nuclear weapons and requires IAEA safeguards on its nuclear program.