On November 23, 2013 after intensive negotiations in Geneva, the P5+1 (the US, UK, China, Russia, France and Germany – with EU facilitation) and Iran announced that they had reached an interim agreement which would put restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and, in exchange provide Iran with some sanctions relief. A summary of the technical understandings relating to the agreement was made public on January 16, 2014, and the agreement went into effect on January 20, 2014.
The interim period was originally scheduled to last for six months, but was extended in July 2014, and again in November 2014. It is set to expire on July 1, 2015.
What Does the Agreement Call For?
The agreement, titled the "Joint Plan of Action," outlines steps both sides will take in an interim period of six months (renewable by mutual consent), during which time the parties pledge to negotiate a comprehensive final settlement.
Iran agreed to:
- Dilute or convert its stockpile of 20% uranium;
- Cap further enrichment at 5%;
- Not increase its stockpile of 5% uranium;
- Not increase its centrifuge capacity to enrich uranium;
- Stop nuclear-related advances on the Arak facility (whose heavy water reactor could produce plutonium when completed);
- Allow IAEA inspectors enhanced access to nuclear facilities, uranium mines, and centrifuge manufacturing sites.
In return, the P5+1 agreed to:
Provide access to $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian funds on a set schedule throughout the six months. The first payment was issued on February 1st;
Suspend sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports, trade in gold and precious metals, auto industry, and civilian aviation;
Not impose new UN Security Council sanctions, or EU nuclear-related sanctions and the U.S. Administration, “acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions”;
- Facilitate “humanitarian trade” using Iran’s frozen oil revenue held abroad.
The U.S. estimates the value of sanctions relief at approximately $7 billion. Israel estimates the value to be much higher, possibly as much as $20 billion.
What the US Administration is Saying
Administration officials are hailing this agreement as a vehicle to halt the progress of, and partially roll back, Iran’s nuclear weapons program, while the parties conduct complex and difficult negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement. In his address to the nation on the agreement, President Obama stated “this first step will create time and space over the next six months for more negotiations to fully address our comprehensive concerns about the Iranian program. And because of this agreement, Iran cannot use negotiations as cover to advance its program.”
President Obama said “simply put, they (the demands on Iran in the agreement) cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.”
The U.S. insists that while Iran has gained some sanctions relief, the “broader architecture” of the sanctions regimes remain in effect and will be stringently enforced.
What the Israeli Government is Saying
While Israel had stated that it supports diplomacy as the preferred option to remove the Iranian nuclear threat, it has been publicly critical of the Geneva agreement as too soft and ineffective in diminishing the threat posed by its nuclear weapons program.
Israel believes the interim agreement rewards Iran with sanctions relief without Iran significantly rolling back its program. Israel had demanded that Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium be removed (the Geneva agreement leaves Iran with the ability to enrich uranium at up to 5%), its facilities (particularly Arak) dismantled, so as to remove Iran’s ability to quickly build a weapon.
Israeli officials say that were Iran to decide today to build a nuclear weapon, based on their current enrichment facilities and enriched uranium stockpiles, they could have enough weapons-grade material to make a bomb in about 6-8weeks. They argue that the Geneva agreement, even if implemented, would only add 1-2 months to the “nuclear clock,” should Iran decide to resume its nuclear weapons program.
For Israel, which views Iran as an existential threat, this deal provides Iran with the benefits of sanctions relief, plus international legitimacy for their present domestic nuclear program, without a significant impact on their capacity to quickly build a nuclear weapon. Iran thus remains a “latent” or “threshold” nuclear power.
Israeli officials further fear that once this sanctions relief begins, it will be difficult to maintain tough financial and oil-sector sanctions. They worry that corporations will be encouraged to do business with Iran, and existing sanctions will not be vigorously enforced. As a result, Iran will have less of an incentive to make any concessions in a comprehensive agreement.
At Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
"What was achieved last night in Geneva is not an historic agreement; it is an historic mistake. Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world. For the first time, the world's leading powers have agreed to uranium enrichment in Iran while ignoring the UN Security Council decisions that they themselves led.
Sanctions that required many years to put in place contain the best chance for a peaceful solution. These sanctions have been given up in exchange for cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be cancelled in weeks. This agreement and what it means endanger many countries including, of course, Israel.
Israel is not bound by this agreement. The Iranian regime is committed to the destruction of Israel and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. As Prime Minister of Israel, I would like to make it clear: Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability.”
ADL issued a statement expressing “deep concern about flaws in the agreement struck in Geneva between the P5+1 powers and Iran,” but pledged that “it would work to promote a final agreement which ensures Iran is incapable of building a nuclear weapon.”
Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director called the negotiations “an important step forward” but expressed skepticism about the agreement based on “Iran’s record of noncompliance.” “Instead, this interim agreement allows them to continue enrichment and maintain a breakout capability. Iran has not earned these concessions and has, in the past, used respites from international pressure to surreptitiously make progress in its nuclear program.”
The ADL leaders said: “Now that the agreement has been achieved, all parties must work to uphold and rigorously enforce the existing sanctions regime. The U.S. and the international community should sustain the pressure that brought about this forward movement and make clear that any and all violations will be punished. As the parties move into negotiations over a final agreement, the U.S. and the other P5 + 1 countries must make clear that the end goal is to prevent Iran from having the ability to develop nuclear weapons and from restarting its nuclear weapons program. Promises and partial measures by Iran will not be enough.”
As negotiations on a final deal begin, ADL will call for existing sanctions to be vigorously enforced and for additional sanctions measures to be advanced to give the U.S. all tools possible to press Iran to choose, once and for all, to halt its nuclear weapons program.
What Happens Next?
A number of EU-facilitated commissions will be established to monitor the implementation of the interim agreement.
Israel has said it will be carefully monitoring Iran’s compliance, and will work closely with the US on formulating the particulars of a comprehensive agreement with Iran.
The P5+1 and Iran will resume negotiations with the goal, as stated in the Geneva agreement, to reach “a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme that will be exclusively peaceful.” This agreement must be reached “no more than within one year” from the adoption of the interim agreement.
What Happens if Iran Violates the Agreement?
In his statement on November 23, President Obama declared “…if Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six-month phase, we will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure.” U.S. policy remains that “all options” remain on the table, including the use of military force to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
Israel has made clear that it will use military force against Iran’s nuclear facilities as a last resort in order to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons capability.