The Framework Deal with Iran: The Details

April 06, 2015

On April 2, 2015, the P5+1 (the US, UK, China, Russia, France and Germany – with EU facilitation) announced a framework agreement, setting the parameters for a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. The parameters, which emerged after an intense eight-day period of negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, and followed two years of talks between the world powers and Iran, create a basis for negotiations over a final agreement to be concluded by June 30, 2015.

What does the framework call for?

The framework outlines measures the Iranians and the international community will take regarding Iran’s nuclear program in the event of a final agreement. While the steps laid out within the framework have been presented as the key elements of any such agreement, the specifics are still subject to negotiation. It’s important to note that both the U.S. and Iran published fact sheets outlining the framework deal, and there are discrepancies between the two. The following is based on what was published in the U.S. version:

Some measures Iran has agreed to:
  • Reduce the number of installed centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104, with only 5,060 of those enriching uranium for 10 years (all of which will be located at the Natanz facility)
  • Limit all uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent for 15 years
  • Reduce its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 10,000 kg to 300 kg
  • Cease enrichment of uranium at the Fordow facility for 15 years
  • Convert the Fordow facility into a nuclear, physics, technology research center. Approximately 1,000 centrifuges will be used for this purpose.
  • Redesign and rebuild the Arak heavy water reactor so it can no longer produce weapons grade plutonium
  • Ship all spent fuel from the Arak reactor out of the country
  • Allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regular access to all nuclear facilities and suspected sites, as well as to the nuclear supply chain
  • Allow inspectors access to uranium mines and surveillance of uranium mills for 25 years
  • Implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA to allow the Agency greater access and information regarding the nuclear program, including the program’s possible military dimensions 
Some measures the P5+1 have agreed to:
  • Suspend U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions against Iran once the IAEA has verified Iran has abided by all key nuclear-related steps. Should Iran fail to fulfill its commitments, sanctions will “snap back” into place
  • The lifting of all past U.N. Security Council resolutions on the Iranian nuclear issue simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key nuclear concerns
  • A new U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the framework, urging full implementation and retaining some provisions relating to weapons

The majority of the framework’s clauses would last for 10 to 15 years, with a small number lasting up to 25 years. The US estimates that if these steps are implemented, Iran’s nuclear breakout timeline would be at least one year.

Many questions have been raised regarding a number of important issues which aren’t explicitly addressed within the framework. Some of these include:

  • What happens to the 9,700 kg of low-enriched uranium Iran has agreed to dispose of? Where does it go?
  • What happens after the 10 year period when certain aspects of the agreement expire while others will remain in place for 5 more years?
  • What happens to the centrifuges currently installed at Fordow?
  • What exactly will the international inspection mechanisms look like? How much access and information will the IAEA be granted?
  • There are discrepancies between the U.S. and Iranian versions of the timing of and triggers for sanctions relief. The U.S. asserts it will be contingent on Iran taking steps to roll back its nuclear program, while Iran claims sanctions will be lifted as soon as the agreement goes into effect.
  • How will disputes over claims of Iranian violations of the agreement be resolved, and how long will it take?  Failure to act quickly could shorten Iran’s nuclear breakout period from the projected one year timeline. What measures will be in place to ensure Iran can’t use the dispute resolution process to run down the clock on the 12 month breakout period? 
What the US is saying:

President Obama has called the framework “a historic understanding with Iran”, arguing that a final deal “cuts off every pathway” for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. A number of experts on nuclear weapons technology and proliferation have raised concerns about essential aspects of the deal. Some Members of Congress have criticized the framework saying it doesn’t go far enough to ensure Iran can’t develop nuclear weapons, and some lawmakers have called for a Congressional review of any potential final deal. The President has expressed a desire for a “robust debate” over the framework and an openness to finding a role for Congress to play in reviewing the deal. He has also acknowledged that many details remain to be negotiated and agreed upon.

What the Israeli government is saying:

Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed deep dissatisfaction with the framework, saying “it could be a historically bad deal.” He argued that the framework fails to significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear program, saying it “keeps Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure in place…they’re getting a free path to the bomb.” He called on the P5+1 to ratchet up pressure on Iran until it agrees to roll back its nuclear infrastructure, stops supporting international terrorism and stops calling for Israel’s annihilation.

The Israeli government also issued a list of changes it believes are needed for a better deal. These include:

  • Ending all research and development on advanced centrifuges
  • A more significant reduction in the number of centrifuges Iran is allowed to retain
  • The full closure of the Fordow facility
  • Iranian compliance in revealing its activities with respect to the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program
  • Ensuring Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is shipped out of the country
  • Assurances that international inspectors will have access to Iran’s nuclear facilities “anywhere, anytime”
ADL’s Assessment:

When the framework was announced last week, ADL issued a statement expressing “strong concern over the many unanswered questions” regarding the framework,” and calling for a “robust congressional review of what may be achieved and may not be because there are a lot of unanswered questions as to the implementation and the verification.”

ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said that while ADL welcomes a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program, “there are many unanswered questions as to whether the deal has the potential to achieve what President Obama has sought in terms of reducing Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon.”

Mr. Foxman explained that “The implementation of the proposed accord has many obstacles because Iran simply cannot be trusted. The apparent rush to remove sanctions gives Iran an incentive to comply with the terms of the agreement, but once sanctions are removed, then what?  The Iranian regime has not changed, and we do not expect a change in its behavior.

Iran’s history of covert activity, noncompliance, and never owning up to that history warrants strong skepticism. Based on Iran’s history of non-compliance and continuing aggression throughout the region, we assume Iran will continue to seek a nuclear-weapon capability and frustrate the implementation of the comprehensive verification mechanisms described in the agreed parameters. We worry that disputes over monitoring and verification activities will be dragged out and allow Iran time and space for illicit activities.”

ADL said there is a need for Congress and the American public to “have an opportunity to hear more from the administration, to analyze the outline and engage in the “robust debate” the president has encouraged. Congress will have a critically important role to play on behalf of the American people as it engages with the Administration in this process.”

As negotiations over a final agreement move forward, ADL will support efforts to have those unanswered questions publicly addressed, and will work to help ensure that any final agreement represents the best interests of the U.S. and deals with the security concerns of Israel and American allies across the Middle East.

What happens next?

Over the coming months, the P5+1 and Iran will continue negotiating based on the framework, with the goal of reaching a final agreement by June 30, 2015. According to the U.S., “important implementation details are still subject to negotiation, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

We can also expect significant Congressional engagement to elicit answers to the many questions raised about the framework. We will also likely see advocacy efforts by the Israelis and others to ensure a tougher final agreement than what is currently stipulated in the framework deal.