Possibly, Maybe, A Temporary Agreement with Iran
UPDATE: After three days of intense talks in Geneva, the P5+1 and Iran have ended without an agreement. However, all sides are committed to closing the gaps between them and achieving a breakthrough “first phase” deal. According to Secretary of State John Kerry, who made an unscheduled appearance at the meetings on November 8th, the negotiators made “significant progress” and there is “no question in my mind that we are closer now, as we leave Geneva than we were when we came.”
The P5+1 is seeking an initial agreement that would pause Iran’s nuclear progress; address the production and stockpiling of uranium enriched to 20 percent and the deployment of additional and/or more efficient centrifuges; and allow for more transparency measures. In exchange, 20% enriched uranium fuel would be allowed at the Tehran Research Reactor and for medical isotopes, and some of the tough economic sanctions in place against Iran would be lifted temporarily. For the most part, the Western powers that make up the P5+1 are in agreement, though the French foreign minister implied to the press in the middle of negotiations that the proposals were inadequate and did nothing to address the enrichment site in Arak, though the reactor there is not yet operational and isn’t scheduled to be until mid-2014.
Talks will resume on November 20th in Geneva. In the ensuing time negotiators will return to their respective countries and try to maintain the momentum to work toward an agreement. Policymakers in Washington and leaders in Israel who have been calling for more concessions by Iran, but increased demands could create more roadblocks to advancing the discussion. Israeli leaders have identified France as their representative at the talks, and remarked at being pleased no deal was made.
What are the next steps now that no agreement has been reached in these talks? Why is France concerned about initial negotiations not addressing a plant that isn’t even operational? Will Israel be happy with any deal? Is there a chance that hardliners on any side will be able to impede the progress that’s already been made?
As nuclear negotiations resumed November 7th with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), there is a call for Iran to halt its nuclear program for six months in exchange for temporary sanctions relief. This would be the first phase of a two-phase agreement. The second phase would be agreed upon later. The team announced that some progress has already occurred.
A U.S. official said that any new sanctions against Iran in this moment could hinder chances to reach a diplomatic solution. The Obama administration is urging Congress to pause in ratcheting up sanctions as work on the defense budget begins next week. Economic sanctions against Iran would not be lifted permanently until their nuclear program is proven for peaceful purposes only.
U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who is leading the negotiations with Iran, said on Israeli TV Sunday that these negotiations are “the first step to stop the clock and prevent the nuclear program from going forward” giving all sides “time to discuss a broad agreement that treats all the issues that concern us.” The Security of U.S. allies in the Gulf Coast is paramount and Secretary of State John Kerry has been traveling throughout the region to address their concerns. The negotiating team is committed to transparency in what the P5+1 is considering and vows not reach a deal without consulting all those with a stake in the outcome.
Is Congress likely to impose new sanctions during this process after having been urged to back off? What are the ideal outcomes for both sides, and are either likely to come out happy? Without concrete evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, why are hardliners in the U.S. and Israel insistent that Iran cease their nuclear program altogether?