Joint Plan of Action - expires 30th June 2015
The Joint Plan of Action ("JPoA") agreed by the P5+1 and Iran, which brought limited sanctions relief, is set to expire today, 30th June 2015. While there has been no official world, recent developments suggest that it is highly unlikely that a final agreement on a nuclear deal with Iran will be reached by tomorrow. At an OFAC symposium on sanctions in Washington, D.C. on 11th June OFAC officials were unable to offer any insight into the nuclear negotiations being conducted by the State Department. They made it clear that the status of the JPoA going forward would depend entirely on the progress made in the P5+1 / Iran negotiations.
While it is very difficult to divine which public statements made in connection with international negotiations are truly substantive, and which are designed to obtain negotiating leverage, there were separate events last week which would seem to complicate the P5+1/ Iran negotiations.
Bipartisan Open Letter to President Obama
On June 23rd, the bipartisan group of 18 former legislators, diplomats, policymakers and experts (including five former advisors to President Obama) delivered an open letter to the President, which was also released publicly. The letter cautions that current negotiations ".may fall short of the administration's own standard of a 'good' agreement" unless the final agreement includes five critical points:
- Monitoring and Verification - International Atomic energy Agency ("IAEA") inspectors must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit, including military facilities.
- Possible Military Dimensions - IAEA inspectors must to able to take samples, conduct interviews, inspect sites and review documents relating to Iran's past, and any ongoing, nuclear weapon activities.
- Advanced Centrifuges - The agreement must establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge research and development.
- Sanctions Relief - Relief must be based on Iran's performance of its obligations.
- Consequences of Violations - Sanctions must be re-imposed automatically if Iran violates the agreement.
The views expressed by this bi-partisan group of private citizens in no way bind the U.S. negotiating team. They are, however, potentially significant. A few months ago a statute was enacted which requires the President to submit any deal reached with Iran to Congress for a yes or no vote. If the deal is reached before July 9, Congress has 30 days to act; if a deal is reached after July 9, Congress has 60 days to act. There are already many legislators in Congress who oppose anything but a hardline deal with Iran. The views of this respected bipartisan group may provide ammunition for those in Congress who oppose a nuclear deal with Iran.
The Supreme Leader's Seven Red Lines
On the same day that the bipartisan group delivered its open letter to President Obama, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a list of seven red lines which he said cannot be crossed in the nuclear negotiations. Several of those red lines contradict what was reportedly already agreed on April 2, 2015 and others clearly clash with the recommendations of the U.S. bipartisan group. The seven red lines are:
- No Long Term Restrictions - Iran cannot accept 10 and 12 year restrictions.
- Continuation of R&D and Construction During Limits - Iran must have the right to continue all research and development.
- Immediate Removal of Economic, Financial and Banking Sanctions When a Deal is Signed, With Other Sanctions Removed Gradually on a Reasonable Timetable
- Lifting of Sanctions Must Not Be Tied to Iran's Implementation of its Commitments under any Agreement
- No Requirement for IAEA Verification of Implementation of Iran's Commitments
- No Interviews of Individuals and No Inspection of Military Sites
- Time Frames of 15 or 25 Years for some Topics Not Accepted
Given the very significant gaps between what was agreed on April 2nd, what is recommended by the U.S. bipartisan group and the red lines issued by the Supreme Leader, it seems highly unlikely that any final agreement will be reached by tomorrow, particularly since yesterday Iran's chief negotiator, it's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, unexpectedly left Vienna and returned to Iran, presumably to meet with the Supreme Leader. Since it also seems unlikely that all parties would walk away from the talks after the progress that has been made, what seems likely is that there will be a further extension of the JPoA, and of the limited sanctions relief it provided. However, it is impossible say for certain that the JPoA will be extended, or to predict how long such an extension might run.