Whilst the interim agreement that was reached on the 24th November between the P5+1 and Iran saw embraces and smiles from the negotiating teams, the hard work is only just beginning. The 9th December saw negotiations commence once again in an attempt to agree upon the technical details not discussed in the 24th November agreement. The talks are taking place at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, a suitable location considering the key role the organisation will play in monitoring Iran’s compliance when the final agreement is implemented – possibly as early as January.
An agreement between Iranian nuclear officials and the IAEA on the 11th November saw Iran allow the UN nuclear watchdog access to both the Gachin uranium mine and the heavy water facility at Arak. The latter had been a particular sticking point after Iran refused to adhere to a UN Security Council Resolution demanding cessation of work related to heavy water projects in 2006, with Iran maintaining that it was under no legal obligation to halt activity. The one-day visit to the facility by a two-member IAEA team on 8th December signalled the first inspection since 2011. Whilst the Geneva interim agreement stated that Iran would make no further advances in its activities at the Arak reactor, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif announced to Iran’s Press TV, just five days after the agreement had been reached, that although ‘capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase…construction will continue there.’ It is varying interpretations of what the interim does and does not allow that must be clarified in the current technical negotiations. Claims, for example, that the nuclear agreement includes loopholes that could allow for the production of specific nuclear-related components off-site, suggest that certain aspects of the deal still need to be clarified.
Another controversial aspect of the Geneva interim agreement is the lack of reference made to the Parchin military complex. A report released by the IAEA in November 2011 announced that it had received information from member states that suggested Iran constructed a large explosives containment chamber in 2000 and had been carrying out subsequent testing, possibly associated with nuclear materials – a charge that Iran denies. Whilst the IAEA’s visits in 2005 uncovered nothing of relevance, the UN watchdog maintained that Iran had yet to ‘explain the rationale behind these activities.’ Though Iran has argued in the past that the military sensitivity of the complex means that detailed inspections are not appropriate, there are hopes amongst U.S officials that further negotiations might break the impasse that Parchin has historically presented and allow a deal to be struck that could eventually permit future access.
Perhaps a more pressing issue concerns the practicalities of the IAEA’s expansion of monitoring in order to observe Iranian compliance with a final deal. The organisation’s Director-General Yukiya Amano announced on Thursday 28th November that the monitoring of the Iranian deal would have ‘implications for funding and staffing’ that would require an increased budget. Around 10% of the IAEA’s annual inspections budget of €121m is already used to monitor the Iranian nuclear program. The interim agreement and its subsequent technical additions will vastly increase the IAEA’s workload, requiring extra support, funding and time.
The 24th November interim agreement was certainly a breakthrough for both Iran and the P5+1. Putting the words to paper took much time and effort, but their implementation will require even more determination. The technical negotiations must clarify what exactly constitutes compliance if questions over facilities such as Parchin or loopholes over Arak are to be effectively addressed. The P5+1, Iran and the IAEA all have a difficult time ahead of them – the success of any deal will be measured ‘in months and years, not minutes.’