The Deep Foundation for the Iran Nuclear Deal
Instead of waiting until the end, let me sum up the main conclusions I arrived at from studying the history of the Iran and P5+1 negotiations leading up to the 2013 Framework and Joint Plan of Action deals. That way the reader can keep them in mind as he or she reads this potted history and sees if they would draw the same conclusions, most of which are not controversial. Or else they may also not want to bother reading the rest at all.
- A deal between parties needs willing parties on both sides. Between 2000-2008, the allied side lacked a committed U.S. partner. Between 2005-2012, Iran was an unwilling partner. The deal came together (and rather quickly) in 2013 because both sides were ready to make a deal.
- The allies could have obtained better terms that included non-nuclear items, such as ending Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, if they had negotiated in 2003.
- Once Iran went full speed ahead on its nuclear program and invested so much in it, the only deal available was a restriction on Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons.
- The total elimination of Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear enrichment program was never on the table.
- Netanyahu was opposed to making a deal with Iran no matter what the terms of the deal were.
Professor Toope in his discussion of the Iran nuclear deal on Yom Kippur did not have time to spell out the background to the deal; he concentrated on the analysis of the terms. In my last blog, I referred only to one item in that background, the 11 November 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) with IAEA and the 24 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action Agreement (JPAA) with the P5+1 that put in place the foundations for the detailed negotiations.
The deeper foundation was that Iran under the Shah had signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 making any Iranian nuclear program subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. In 1987, Iran began to use the black market to acquire the capacity to enrich uranium by purchasing the technical details on how to build a P-1 centrifuge from the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the atomic bomb in Pakistan and the greatest scourge ever in the business of nuclear proliferation.
Back in December 1975, after three years on the job, Khan left his position with the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO) in The Netherlands, a subcontractor in the uranium enrichment consortium, with copied blueprints for centrifuges and the list of suppliers needed to build one for Pakistan, a goal achieved by 1978. However, because of the USSR’s war in Afghanistan, no sanctions were imposed on Pakistan lest Pakistan be pushed into the Soviet embrace. By the 1980s, Pakistan was able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.
Soon after, Khan began supplying the Iranian Ruhollah Khomeini regime. (Khomeini was the founder of the Iranian revolution who ruled from 1979-1989 as distinct from the current Ali Khamenei Supreme Leader who succeeded him.) Iran received both blueprints and a list of suppliers. Khan’s clandestine activities spread to North Korea, Syria and Libya through the nineties. The Pakistan authorities, if not aware of his nefarious activities before the turn of the millennium, a highly dubious proposition, finally forced Khan into retirement in 2001 and put him under arrest in 2004. He was convicted but pardoned the very next day by President Pervez Musharraf and only held under “house arrest” until 2009.
The whole surreptitious trade in nuclear materials, centrifuges and centrifuge components came into the open when Libya renounced production of nuclear weapons in 2003 and Colonel Qaddafi turned all of this valuable intelligence over to the CIA, ending once and for all any credible claim that Iran, and of course Pakistan, were not involved in illegal transfers of nuclear technology. George W. Bush had gone after the one country, Iraq, that for one reason or another had declined Khan’s offers to provide nuclear technology to it. The result of the huge American mistake: the effective destruction of Iraq and eventual turning of most parts, except for the Kurdish area, either into a satrap of Iran or control by ISIS.
The 2003-2004 revelations set off an international effort to rein Iran in, possibly less from the fear of Iran as a nuclear power than the fear that Israel, with U.S. backing given Bush’s record, would bomb Iran and expand the sphere of instability in the Middle East beyond Iraq. (Arab Spring was not yet on the horizon.) The effort was accelerated with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the wild man of Iranian politics, as President in 2005 with 62% of ballots cast. In his previous position as mayor of Tehran and as President, he was both a hardliner and irrational. It was under his watch that the UN became increasingly aggressive with a sanctions regime put in place until the election of a “reformer,” Hassan Rouhani, on 15 June 2013. Within the next six months, on 11 November 2013, the Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) and, on 24 November 2013, the Joint Plan of Action, were both signed. The two will be discussed in subsequent blogs.
This set of blogs is intended to sum up the foundation of the Iran nuclear deal, depict and evaluate its terms and the role and motives of various agents for the part played leading to the agreement on the terms. For example, did Netanyahu really believe the deal was a bad one and, if so, why? Was he justified? Or was he whipping up fear for domestic purposes to ensure he would remain in power? Or was he using Iran’s nuclear enrichment program as a wedge issue to keep Iran, a real conventional threat to Israel, ostracized and isolated? What effect did Netanyahu’s opposition have on the terms of the deal, on Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and on the security of Israel itself?
Before Ahmadinejad assumed office, Iran was the last signatory to the non-proliferation treaty to accept the obligation of providing the IAEA will all plans related to nuclear activities. The then President of Iran, using high level officials in President Mohammad Khatami’s government of Iran (1997-2005), set up a back diplomatic channel that promised not only full transparency into the Iranian nuclear program, but cessation of support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The proposal was purportedly endorsed by Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Bush administration ignored the offer.
Key European governments – France, Germany and the UK – did not. Together with the Iranian government, they along with Iran jointly issued the Tehran Declaration that would be recycled as the foundation for the FCA in 2013, but stripped of its non-nuclear provisions. Iran had agreed to the following:
- Pledged full cooperation with the IAEA
- Promised to sign and implement the Additional Protocol on disclosure of any plans as a voluntary, confidence-building measure
- Agreed to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities during the course of the negotiations.
In return, the EU-3 agreed to:
- recognize Iran’s rights to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes
- discuss ways Iran could provide “satisfactory assurances” with respect to its nuclear power program
- provide Iran with easier access to modern nuclear technology as long as Iran was in compliance with its signed obligations.
As a result, Iran signed the Additional Protocol on 18 December 2003 and set out to file the required reports with the IAEA as well as allow access to IAEA inspectors. The backlash within Iran, in part based on wild distortions of the Tehran Declaration, is viewed as one of the catalysts for Ahmadinejad’s resounding victory in the 2005 elections and the subsequent suspension of Iran’s agreement to abide by the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran also reneged on the promise to allow unfettered access to Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Iran accelerated its nuclear program, though, given Iran’s pattern of deceit as revealed in the IAEA Report of 15 November 2004, many contend this began even before Ahmadinejad took power. But, as will be seen in the next blog, the real acceleration started in the latter half of 2008.
Iran tried to blame its resorting to surreptitious activities on the American obstreperous barricades to Iran developing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes. The IAEA 2004 Report was agnostic on whether Iran was developing its technology for the military use of nuclear weapons, for the IAEA found no evidence that the previous undeclared activities were geared to developing a nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, neither could the IAEA vouch for the exclusively peaceful nature of the program.
In 2004, Iran voluntarily suspended its uranium enrichment program, but refused to agree to a permanent termination. Under pressure from the U.S., the EU could not agree to a partial limitation with the only condition, the enrichment could not be diverted for military purposes. It is not clear whether the failure of the EU to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes helped elect Ahmadinejad as President in June 2005 in an election largely fought on domestic issues – corruption and renewal. During the first few months of Ahmadinejad assuming the presidency, there was a flurry of events:
- In August 2005, Iran removed the seals on its uranium enrichment facilities at Isfahan
- Germany responded and refused to either export any more nuclear equipment to Iran or even refund monies already on deposit
- The IAEA reported that bomb-grade uranium found on inspected materials in Iran came from imported parts from Pakistan
- In September 2005, the EU rejected Ahmadinejad’s offer at the UN that Iran’s enrichment program be managed by an international consortium and the Paris Agreement was dead
- In February 2006, the IAEA in a 27-3 vote reported Iran’s non-compliance to the Security Council
- In 2006, the Bush administration in Washington insisted that Iran could have no enrichment program whatsoever;
- After that there were no substantive further negotiations until Ahmadinejad left office.
Even though U.S. intelligence at the end of 2006 declared that there was no evidence that Iran had a military nuclear program, that year was a turning point. It began with the reference of Iran to the Security Council to require Iran to suspend its enrichment program, cease construction of the Arak heavy water reactor (necessary for the production of plutonium) and fully cooperate with the IAEA. Iran signalled a willingness to cooperate but, at the same time, announced its initial success in enriching uranium to 3.5% at Natanz. In June, the first iteration of what would become the 2013 Framework agreement was proposed by some permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.
On 31 July, the UNSC adopted Res. 1696 demanding Iran suspend its enrichment program altogether. Though rejected, Iran responded with an offer to negotiate. At the same time, a new tunnel entrance was constructed at the Estfahan uranium enrichment facility and construction resumed at the Natanz conversion facility. By the end of the year, the UNSC passed Res. 1737 imposing sanctions on Iran for the first time even though American intelligence had concluded there was no evidence Iran had a nuclear weapons program. Countries were prohibited from transferring sensitive and nuclear-related technology to Iran. The assets of ten Iranian organizations and twelve individuals were frozen.
These resolutions were passed under the authority of Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter permitting the exercise of UNSC authority even though a peace threat had not been determined. However, unlike article 42, which does require a peace threat determination, there was no binding enforcement obligation under article 41. The sanctions only became effective because of the power and positions of the P5+1 and their willingness to impose sanctions. The failure to establish an actual threat to the peace sewed a fatal flaw in the long term effectiveness of the sanctions, especially if the P5+1 lost their united front. In that case, even if the U.S. had the power alone to make the sanctions quite effective, without a solid legal and even moral authority, the sanctions regime was being built on straw.
While emphasizing the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme was exclusively for peaceful purposes, three months later in March 2007, Res. 1747 was passed under Article 41 of the Charter. The resolution elaborated on the implementation of the sanctions Res. 1737 and introduced broader sanctions and targets in paragraphs 5 and 7:
Para 5: Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.
Para 7: Calls upon all States and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans, to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes.
Under this pressure, Iran agreed on a “work plan” in late August,but there was no substantive progress in the ongoing negotiations. In December, the U.S. publicly declassified and released a summary of the National Intelligence Estimate Report on Iran’s nuclear program, concluding that the intelligence community judged “with high confidence” that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and, further, declared that the program had not resumed as of mid-2007. Breakout time was then considered to be three years.
In March 2008, UNSC Res. 1803 was passed broadening the sanctions and the targets even further, but also offering to freeze further sanctions in return for Iran halting its enrichment program. In February 2009, Iran announced that it had successfully carried out its first satellite launch. Barack Obama was then President of the U.S. and he agreed that henceforth the U.S. would participate fully in the P5+1 talks with Iran without Iran agreeing to meet demands first. However, this seemed to have no influence on the Iranian election in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, even though there was some evidence and many claims that the election had been rigged. In the period of unrest and protests, diplomatic efforts were suspended. The suspension of back channel talks was reinforced when France, the U.K. and the U.S. jointly revealed that Iran had been constructing a secret, second uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow near the holy city of Qom.
New proposals nevertheless followed – a fuel swap with respect to the enriched uranium. In the interim, in 2010 Iran began enriching uranium to almost 20% instead of trading its 3.5% enriched uranium for 19.5% enriched uranium for Iran’s research program. However, in May Iran agreed to a specific version of the fuel swap agreement, but that was vetoed by France, Russia and the U.S. Instead, the UNSC adopted UNSC Res. 1929 on 9 June 2010 again expanding the sanctions that now placed an arms embargo on Iran and prohibited ballistic missile testing. Seizure of shipments to Iran was authorized. On 24 June 2010, the U.S. Congress adopted the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISAD) aimed at firms investing in Iran’s energy sector and companies which sell refined petroleum to Iran. The sanctions were not set to expire until 2016. Two days later, the EU imposed even broader sanctions aimed not only at energy and trade, but at financial services and more extensive asset freezes.
During this period, Israel had not been sitting still. In 2005, the Jewish state defined the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat. Israel was widely believed to be behind the Stuxnet computer virus that disrupted Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at Nantaz in September 2010. Israeli decision-makers began to consider whether and when to order a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. As rumours grew that such an attack might be imminent, the P5+1, fearing enormous economic, political regional and global security repercussions, upped the pace and efforts at reaching a deal with Iran. However, between 2010 and 2012 the negotiations with Iran produced no substantive results. In the interim in 2011, Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant began operating and achieved a sustained nuclear reaction. Further, Iran announced its intention to increase the amount of 19.5% enriched uranium it produced. This was all documented in the IAEA 8 November 2011 Report. That document also included further information on Iran’s deceptive practices even before 2004.
Then the final turn of the screw. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passed legislation allowing the U.S. to sanction foreign banks if they process transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The EU slapped a ban on the import of Iranian oil and prevented insurance companies from indemnifying tankers carrying Iranian oil. Negotiations, though protracted, began in earnest and at a deeper level through 2012 with more substantive exchanges of proposals and, on another level, crucial technical meetings. However, there was still no substantive movement on key issues.
At the United Nations on 27 September 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a red-line: if Iran amassed enough (250 kilos) uranium enriched to 20 percent. Without saying so, the red line implied that Israel would then launch an air attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (See the U.S. Government analysis of that threat: http://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R42443.pdf.) Initially this did not seem to deter Iran as, according to the IAEA November report, more centrifuges were installed at Natanz and Iran completed installation of the 2,800 centrifuges for Fordow. However, Iran kept constant the number of cascades producing 20 percent enriched uranium. The P5+1 talks with Iran still went nowhere until Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, was elected president of Iran on 14 June 2013.
With that, especially after Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the UN in September 2013 presented a new proposal to the Americans and President Barack Obama had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, talks then moved very rapidly towards the conclusion of the November 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) and the Joint Plan of Action in response to the demonstrably new candor from Iran.
Next: The Terms of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA)