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Conflicting expectations from the Geneva Document between the P5+1 and Iran

By Dore Gold
web posted December 16, 2013

The Nature of the Geneva Document

Many questions have arisen about whether the P5+1 (U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) and the Islamic Republic of Iran interpret the interim understanding reached in Geneva on November 24, 2013, in the same way. Indeed, at times it appears that they are not talking about the same piece of paper. This sort of confusion is part of the Iranian modus operandi in negotiations with the West.

Indeed, this was not the first time that Iran had reached an agreement with the West over the suspension of uranium enrichment. On October 21, 2003, Iran and the EU3 concluded the Tehran Agreement according to which Tehran undertook “to suspend all uranium enrichment activities and reprocessing activities.” Iran’s head of negotiation at the time (and today Iran’s president), Hassan Rouhani, was widely quoted years later proudly confessing that while the talks were underway between 2003 and 2005, Iran constructed its uranium conversion plant in Isfahan where the UF6 feedstock for its gas centrifuges was manufactured. In short, his admission showed how Iran exploited negotiations to advance its nuclear program.

But looking back to that period, there was something else Rouhani did that is worth recalling. He preferred to avoid precise legal definitions, not characterizing the Tehran Agreement as a legal obligation. He also preferred to keep matters vague, including the definition of “suspension” in the Tehran Agreement. Was it to be defined narrowly, as Iran preferred, to mean only a prohibition on inserting UF6 gas into a centrifuge? Or was it to be defined broadly to include issues like uranium conversion or research and development on new centrifuges? Is Iran returning to its negotiating style from 2003?

For this reason, it is important to investigate exactly how the Iranians defined the Geneva document. Amir Taheri, former editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan, wrote in Asharq al-Awsat on November 29, 2013, that the parties haven’t even agreed on how to call the document: an agreement or a memorandum? This becomes clear from the remarks of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jarad Zarif on Iranian television. For if the Geneva document does not legally obligate Iran, then its freedom of maneuver in interpreting its language will be greater.

BBC Monitoring Middle East - Political, November 27, 2013

Iran Foreign Minister Discusses Nuclear Deal

In an 80-minute interview, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif answered questions about the recent interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers, signed on 24 November. The foreign minister assured the nation that Iran could "reverse the nuclear deal" if its terms were not adhered to. The following is the text of the interview broadcast live by Iran's rolling news network (IRINN) on 25 November.


The Joint Plan of Action has this name because off its essence, as we have foreseen a six-month period for actions to be implemented by the sides...

If you read the text, we see the balance we were talking about. These are Iran's voluntary measures for the first stage and there are the other side's voluntary measures for the first stage. This shows that there will be no legal obligation, neither for us nor for the other party. What does it mean? It means that these measures are returnable.

The Expected Delay in the Iranian Program

From the standpoint of Western security, one clear purpose of the diplomatic efforts in Geneva was to extend the time the Iranians need to achieve a nuclear breakout to completing an atomic bomb. This was particularly true of the efforts of the P5+1 to prevent a leap to weapons-grade uranium from 20-percent-enriched uranium. Here, the U.S. and Iranian expectations are very different.

Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, Geneva, Switzerland, November 24, 2013

The measures that we have committed to will remain in place for six months, and they will address the most urgent concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Since there have been many premature and even misleading reports, I want to clearly outline what this first step entails. First, it locks the most critical components of a nuclear program into place and impedes progress in those critical components in a way that actually rolls back the stockpile of enriched uranium and widens the length of time possible for breakout. That makes people safer. With daily access – we will gain daily access to key facilities. And that will enable us to determine more quickly and with greater certainty than ever before that Iran is complying. Here's how we do that: Iran has agreed to suspend all enrichment of uranium above 5 percent. Iran has agreed to dilute or convert its entire stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium.

So let me make clear what that means. That means that whereas Iran today has about 200 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium, they could readily be enriched towards a nuclear weapon. In six months, Iran will have zero – zero

BBC Monitoring

Iran's Enrichment Right in Geneva Deal's Text, Zarif Tells Students

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has defended his team's performance during the Geneva nuclear talks, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.

Addressing a group of students of the University of Tehran on 3 December, he stated:

Who has said that we cannot produce 20 per cent uranium ever again? Shall I say what happened before and what we have taken?"

Zarif added: "In their proposal in Almaty [nuclear talks under the previous administration] they told you that we had to change the piping in Fordo [nuclear site] in a way that reversing it to its previous state would take nine months. Today, we are only unscrewing two taps between a cascade and if we decide to enrich uranium to 20 per cent we will do it in a period of 24 hours.

The Future of Sanctions

What stands out in the post-Geneva statements are very different expectations regarding the future of the sanctions on Iran. The U.S. initially estimated that Iran would receive only $6-7 billion as a result of the Geneva document, especially if the banking and oil sanctions remain intact. Currently, those U.S. estimates have been revised upward to $20-25 billion, according to Israeli sources (Ha'aretz, December 11, 2013). There is also an expectation that many states are waiting in line to renew their economic ties with Iran.

Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, Geneva, Switzerland, November 24, 2013

Now, I want to emphasize the core sanctions architecture that President Obama, together with allies and friends around the world, have put together, that core architecture remains firmly in place through these six months, including with respect to oil and financial services. To put this number in perspective, during this six-month phase, the oil sanctions that will remain in place will continue to cause over 25 billion in lost revenues to Iran, or over $4 billion a month. That is compared to what Iran earned before this took effect – the sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani Reacts to the Geneva Document

The core architecture of the sanctions will be fractured following the implementation of this agreement, whether others like it or not. Cracks in the sanctions' structure began to appear last night and as time goes by, these cracks will widen. In the first step, some of the sanctions will be gradually lifted....There will be no further imposition of sanctions as of today, the first day of the agreement. Some of the sanctions on the banking sector will be eased. This six-month period marks the beginning of a new era for the Iranian nation…the result of this deal is the commencement of final, comprehensive talks. These were initial negotiations, concentrating on the nuclear course and we are glad that after ten years, a deal at this level – albeit it a preliminary, six-month one – has been agreed between Iran and the superpowers.

Right of Enrichment

The Geneva document leaves the window open for future uranium enrichment by Iran, with certain international restrictions. The West feels that any enrichment of this sort has to be "mutually agreed," according to Geneva. The Iranians, in contrast, see enrichment as their right. In any case, the Geneva document unfortunately states that in the future, Iran will not always be under international restrictions.

Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, Geneva, Switzerland, November 24, 2013

This first step does not say that Iran has a right to enrichment. No matter what interpretive comments are made, it is not in this document. There is no right to enrich within the four corners of the NPT. And this document does not do that. Rather, the scope and role of Iran's enrichment, as is set forth in the language within this document, says that Iran's peaceful nuclear program is subject to a negotiation and to mutual agreement. And it can only be by mutual agreement that enrichment might or might not be able to be decided on in the course of negotiations.

ABC News, November 24, 2013

Secretary Kerry: No, there is no right to enrich. We do not recognize a right to enrich. It is clear in the NPT, in the Nonproliferation Treaty. It's very, very clear that there is no right to enrich. But under the terms of this agreement, there will be a negotiation over whether or not they could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program where they might have some medical research or other things they could do. But there is no inherent right to enrich.

President Hassan Rouhani Reacts to the Geneva Document

Whoever wishes to interpret it differently may do so. The text of the agreement clearly states that Iran will carry out its own enrichment and that is why I declare to the Iranian nation that the Iranian nation's enrichment activities will continue just as before. Under the six-month agreement, Natanz, Fordow, Arak, Isfahan and Bandar Abbas [facilities] will all continue their activities."

IRINN, November 25, 2013 - BBC Monitoring

Iran Foreign Minister Discusses Nuclear Deal

[Zarif] Well, see, what is agreed is that we continue enrichment. We will talk with America on enrichment. It means talk with it in this regard. It is written in the agreement and he [John Kerry] did not say something new and we did not say anything against it. We want that the world be sure that our nuclear program is peaceful. But we did not say anywhere that we reduce it or make the activities smaller. We said that we will talk about its dimensions. Maybe we come to a conclusion that its dimensions must be expanded. Who knows that we will not come to such conclusion? Maybe we come to this conclusion that some dimensions must be limited or some dimensions can be extended. Maybe we come to this conclusion that these programs can be held inside Iran through cooperation.

We might reach a conclusion that certain aspects of it should be limited while certain aspects of it should be extended. We might also reach a conclusion that these programs could be carried out through cooperation on Iranian soil.

There are several points that are our red lines and everybody is aware of them. Enrichment will take place on Iran's soil and it will not be stopped. Over the course of these six months, Iran's enrichment will transparently continue in our facilities and the production of enriched material will continue as well as conversion of enriched material. We agreed to suspend 20 per cent enrichment for six months but the same centrifuges, which were carrying out enrichment of up to 20 per cent, for example at Fordo, will resume to enrich up to five per cent. We currently have produced enough [enriched material] for our Tehran Research Reactor and therefore we are converting these materials into fuel rods and thankfully we have this technological know-how in Iran.

What Does The Geneva Document Actually Say?


The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons. This comprehensive solution would build on these initial measures and result in a final step for a period to be agreed upon and the resolution of concerns. This comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein. This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.

Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution.

The final step of a comprehensive solution, which the parties aim to conclude negotiating and commence implementing no more than one year after the adoption of this document, would:

Involve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters…

Dismantling Nuclear Infrastructure

The U.S. still hopes that in any permanent agreement, certain nuclear facilities in Iran will be dismantled. Western leverage to accomplish this will be limited, since key components of the sanctions regime might well crumble in the months ahead. In any case, Iran has a very different view of the question.

PBS News Hour, December 4, 2013

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman

Wendy Sherman: I think getting to a comprehensive agreement will be very, very difficult. Gwen Ifill: Does that include dismantling, full dismantling? Sherman: This includes a lot of dismantling of their infrastructure, because, quite frankly, we're not quite sure what you need a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor, which is what Arak is, for any civilian peaceful purpose.

Press TV (Iran), November 30, 2013

Dismantling Nuclear Facilities Red Line for Iran: Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran is using its nuclear energy program solely for peaceful purposes and dismantling the country's nuclear facilities is "100%" a red line. ESR

Dr. Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, served as Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations (1997-1999). He is the author of the best-selling books: The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City (Regnery, 2007), and The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West (Regnery, 2009).





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