The scheduled July 20 deadline for an agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, plus Germany) was not met this weekend. Talks have been extended to November
Emily Landau, senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project, explained in a June 16 telephone briefing for journalists organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs the reasons why this was a predictable outcome.
In the conference call, Landau spoke from Israel to about seven reporters –including this one from The CJN – to outline details of the negotiations held in Vienna between foreign ministers from the six world powers mentioned above and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The latest round of talks, which began July 2, centred on key issues including the imposition of long-term restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment and the tightening of existing restrictions on plutonium production.
Landau said Iran has been violating the international Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) for decades, making it an issue of global concern.
She emphasized, however, that Iran’s nuclear activities are a major concern specifically for Israel as a result of the “rejectionist rhetoric directed to Israel [by Iran] on a regular basis.”
Landau said the message from negotiators in Vienna, particularly from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, was that enough progress had been made that the deadline to reach a deal would likely be postponed for another few weeks – and possibly months.
“It’s important to take into account that there is a wide gulf between Iran and the P5+1 negotiators on almost all the substantive issues on the table… We’ve heard very little indication that Iran is wiling to move toward the positions that the P5+1 have,” she said.
For example, she said, Iran is not only reluctant to dismantle its centrifuges [used for nuclear enrichment], of which the country currently has 19,000 [10,000 are operating and an additional 9,000 are installed but not in operation], but it has indicated that it wishes to increase the number of centrifuges it has.
She added that Iran is not interested in closing its enrichment facility at Fordow or in making significant changes to production at the Arak reactor site.
“Basically, Iran’s tactic… is to give up as little as they can get away with on the nuclear front, and to get maximum sanctions relief.”
She said it’s not clear whether the issue of Iran’s weaponization work will be on the negotiating table “the way it should be,” and that addressing this issue and paving the way for scientific inspection of Iran’s nuclear activities is central “for any comprehensive deal.
“If we don’t fully understand how Iran has been cheating and deceiving the international community for decades… [we’re] undermining verification down the line.”
She said Iran’s ongoing narrative, that it has done no wrong in the nuclear realm, is one that needs to be changed.
“If P5+1 don’t insist on this, they’re undermining their own ability to get the deal they’re trying to get.”
Landau then spoke about the sunset provision included in the Joint Plan of Action reached in 2013 between the P5+1 and Iran.
The provision states that any comprehensive deal reached between the P5+1 and Iran will only last for an agreed-upon amount of time. After that period, Iran will no longer be subject to restrictions beyond those placed upon any other non-nuclear weapon state member of the NPT.
Landau said she finds this highly problematic.
“If the implicit assumption in the comprehensive deal is that Iran is likely to cheat – which one can assume from the fact that the negotiation is focused on what the breakout [essentially, a rush to a bomb] time will be – it makes no sense to have such a provision,” she argued.
“If Iran is not making a strategic decision to back away from its military nuclear aspirations, why would the international community entertain the idea that the restrictions should be lifted? Why should Iran be able to go back to the starting point in, say, 10 years, if it hasn’t made a strategic decision to change course?”
She ultimately reiterated that an agreement was unlikely to be reached by June 20, and that these issues will likely continue to be on the agenda and “have to be grappled with P5+1 in the coming weeks, and months.”