How Three of the Iran Negotiations’ Toughest Issues Were Resolved

by Gareth Porter, Truthout | News Analysis –


The 159-page text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the six powers led by the United States does not contain any major surprises about the two central elements of the agreement – limits on the Iranian nuclear program and the timing and sequencing of lifting sanctions. And there is nothing in the text about the last major issue to be resolved – how the Security Council’s new resolution will deal with the arms embargo and ban on the Iranian ballistic missile program.

But details provided in the official text help confirm information available from other sources on the other two toughest issues: IAEA access to “suspicious sites” and the past allegations of Iranian work on nuclear weapons.

Below are brief accounts of what we now know about how these three major negotiating issues were resolved during the Vienna round of negotiations. The three issues are of particular interest because they have all been the most clearly linked to the politics of Israeli and Saudi opposition to the agreement.

1. Access to “Suspicious Sites”

The issue on which the Obama administration promoted the toughest line publicly was its insistence that Iran had to open its territory to inspections upon demand by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That demand reached the peak of its intensity in April when the administration, under pressure from a pro-Israel Republican majority in the Senate that had demanded “anywhere, anytime inspections” of “suspicious sites,” claimed in a fact sheet and in a statement by Secretary of State John Kerry that the United States had achieved such language in the April 2 Lausanne framework outlining a final agreement. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes even said Iran would be required to let the IAEA into military sites that the agency wanted to visit.

In fact, the Obama administration’s claim went far beyond the general language agreed on in Lausanne on the Iranian provision of access. And a statement by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reacted to the Obama administration claims by insisting vehemently that Iran would not open its military sites to inspectors. US officials then began suggesting that the supreme leader was forcing Iranian negotiators to withdraw previous concessions. In fact, as an Iranian official explained to this writer on condition that he not be identified, Khamenei’s statement was intended to push back against what had been perceived as a US effort to exploit the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to obtain sensitive information on Iran’s military sites.

In fact, both sides made concessions to reach agreement on the access issue. The JCPOA incorporates language that Iran wanted to ensure that no IAEA inspections could be used to obtain information on military sites. “In line with normal international safeguards practices,” it says, “requests [for access] will not be aimed at interfering with Iran’s military or national security activities. …” It adds further that the provisions on access are “without prejudice” to the Additional Protocol, which allows Iran to use techniques of “managed access” to ensure against such intrusion on its national security.

The JCPOA provides that the IAEA will express any concerns about a specific site to Iran, and if Iran’s explanations are not sufficient, the IAEA can request access to the site along with all “relevant information” about the reasons for the request. Alternately, if the IAEA and Iran have not agreed on arrangements to solve the problem within 14 days, the two will consult with the “Joint Commission,” consisting of representatives of all the parties to the agreement, including the EU, to resolve the IAEA’s concerns. If that consultation also fails, the Joint Commission will decide on whether the visit will go ahead by a vote of five of its eight members.

Iran clearly would have preferred to avoid having a majority vote in the Joint Commission determine the outcome of an access issue. On the other hand, the sequence of consultations in which Iran would have ample opportunity to present the case that the reasoning behind the request lacks credibility will discourage the kind of requests for inspection at undeclared sites the IAEA has carried out in Iran in the past, based on the flimsiest evidence.

2. “Possible Military Dimensions”

For months before the final agreement, news media were reporting that Iran’s refusal to “come clean” about its alleged past work on nuclear weapons – the issue the IAEA began in 2008 to call “possible military dimensions” – was a key sticking point in the negotiations. It was generally understood that Iran would have to agree to IAEA interviews with an extensive list of Iranian scientists. As late as July 1, The New York Times’ David Sanger was still reporting that the unwillingness of Iran to allow such interviews was a key sticking point in the negotiations.



Reprinted with permission from Truthout


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