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Iran nuclear deal: Devil’s in detail, so hold the champagne, please


The contentious nuclear deal struck on Tuesday between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) in the Austrian capital city of Vienna has been described as a win-win for everybody.

But an analysis of the 100-page agreement reveals certain cold facts that may dampen celebrations.

In a long-running dialogue rife with mistrust, Iran and its interlocutors, including the US, were working on the deal for many years amid efforts to curtail Tehran’s nuclear capability and lifting of almost a decade-old economic sanctions against the Iranian nation.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), as the present deal has been called, states that “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will it ever seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons”. The distinction here was between nuclear weaponry and nuclear power.

Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) stressed that, under the deal, “world powers have recognised Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme and are to respect the nuclear rights of Iran within international conventions”, adding that no Iranian nuclear facilities or centrifuges would be dismantled, including the heavy water reactor in Arak (250 km from Tehran).

IRNA also stated that “the policy of preventing enrichment (of) uranium has now failed and Iran will go ahead with its enrichment programme”. The agreement will also enable Iranian scholars to pursue studies in the nuclear field.

None of these points indicates that Iran’s nuclear programme would change significantly. The agreement didn’t focus on what the Iranian government must do to down-size its nuclear programme, but the US State Department did, in its synopsis of the agreement.

It said that Iran would:

* Keep its uranium enrichment levels at no more than 3.67 percent down from near 20 percent.

* Maintain a uranium stockpile (at the above prescribed level) under 300 kg, well below its current 10,000-kg stockpile. (President Barack Obama said this works out to Iran reducing its nuclear stockpile by 98 percent).

* Phase out its IR-1 centrifuges within 10 years, keeping over 5,000 centrifuges running during this stretch at its Natanz facility, Iran’s central facility for enrichment with over 19,000 centrifuges currently operational. “Excess centrifuges and enrichment-related infrastructure at Natanz will be stored under IAEA continuous monitoring.”

Obama said Iran would put away about two-thirds of its roughly 19,000 current centrifuges.

* Not have any nuclear material at its Fordow facility, the site of an underground uranium enrichment facility, for 15 years, and will convert that site “into a nuclear, physics and technology centre”.

* “Design and rebuild a modernised heavy water research reactor in Arak… using fuel enrichment up to 3.67 percent” after getting international authorities’ green signal on the final design.

“The reactor will support peaceful nuclear research and radio-isotope production for medical and instructional purposes.” Iran would not add any other heavy water reactors for the next 15 years.

* Ship spent fuel outside its borders.

Of course, it’s not as simple as Iran signing a piece of paper, agreeing to a bunch of things, and this years-long impasse getting over. For the US, EU and others to believe Iran was living up to the bargain, they have to see it — through the eyes of inspectors.

“This deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification,” Obama said. “Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.”

Inspectors look likely to spend the bulk of their time at Iran’s established nuclear facilities like Natanz, Fordow and Arak. They’ll have a number of tasks:

* Monitor uranium levels “from all uranium ore concentration plants for 25 years”, according to the US State Department.

* Keep an eye on all centrifuges (including those Iran will store, as per the agreement) for 20 years to ensure Tehran was abiding by the agreement.

* Communicate back and forth with Iranian officials over the next few months to get explanations on key points and address “any possible ambiguities”.

* Maintain a “long-term presence in Iran,” beyond its specific objectives.

Iran doesn’t have to grant permission for inspectors to go somewhere, said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, because Washington and its European allies have enough votes to make it so.

“If they don’t grant access,” Rhodes said, “they violate the deal.”

The big worry for the US and allied leaders was not that Iran might have nuclear energy, but that it would have nuclear missiles and bombs.

Thus, Iran’s military — which would have a role in weaponising such technology — has to be part of the discussion.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano noted that the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency and Iran have reached “a separate agreement regarding the issue of Parchin”, a military site.

This suggests that international inspectors would get some access at least to that base southeast of Tehran, though it’s not clear how much or if they’ll be able to check on other military sites.

Because of the deal, Iran said it would no longer face the restrictions that have long affected its military. There will still be limits on ballistic missiles, IRNA pointed out, but only on “missiles designed for nuclear weapons”.

The state news agency added that “Iran’s arms embargo (will) be lifted or be replaced with some restrictions”, some of which might be addressed on a case-by-case basis. “These restrictions will be completely removed after five years.”

It’s not clear as to what extent all parties to the Vienna agreement, though, will loosen up on military matters. The US, for instance, insists that it would continue to enforce sanctions tied to “Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses and missile activities”.


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