As Diplomat readers will be aware, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are continuing after repeated extensions and despite a seeming trend toward gridlock among the P5+1 group, composed of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia. On Thursday morning, the Associated Press ran an exclusive detailing the latest draft deal between the two sides, alleging that, given current diplomatic realities, Iran has agreed to reduce its enrichment hardware “by about 40 percent for at least a decade.” In exchange, the P5+1 will concede immediate sanctions relief.
Specifically, the number of Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges would be capped at 6,000, down from a suspected all-time high of 20,000. Tehran currently operates 10,000 centrifuges, which it maintains produce uranium enriched at low levels for civilian use only. A major point of contention in the negotiations has been the actions Iran can take to assure the others (primarily the United States) that its “breakout capability” — or ability to create a deliverable nuclear weapon — is limited.
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), notes in an email to The Diplomat, that with this draft, “[T]he Obama administration has secured a year-long breakout capability,” meaning that even if Iran were to throw out the deal sometime in the future, it would still take at least one year to develop nuclear weapons. The theoretical one-year breakout capability would additionally be guaranteed by international legal oversight and regular inspections of Iranian nuclear activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), is subject to international oversight and regulation of its civilian nuclear program.
Despite the signal that the granular issue of centrifuge numbers may be on the cusp of resolution, the AP report notes that the P5+1 internally disagree about the time-span of a final deal. According to the report, the French delegation is insistent on a 25-year time-span. Realistically, the minimum length of a deal would be 10 years, though there is the possibility of an extension of up to 20 years. Sanctions relief for Iran would be gradual over the life of the deal.
When the Joint Plan of Action, an interim deal, was concluded in November 2013, The Diplomat highlighted the lopsided nature of that deal which largely favored the United States and the P5+1. Iran conceded far more than the P5+1 did in the interim deal. In the negotiation process for a final deal, both sides have made comparable concessions. Based on the AP report and other reporting on the negotiations, it is unclear if there is additional scope for either the United States or Iran to make concessions that will be tenable before their respective domestic audiences.
In recent weeks, partisan opposition to an Iran deal has intensified in the United States; a group of 47 Republican senators wrote the Iranian supreme leader, signaling that any deal would last only as long as the Obama presidency does (a questionable assertion, though with some truth behind it). Outside of Congress, recent polling found that a majority (68 percent) of the U.S. public supported negotiations with Iran.
The final deadline for a comprehensive agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is the end of June 2015.