The political framework for a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program, which will be called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was agreed to after many false starts and extended deadlines by the United States, its international partners and Iran on April 2, 2015. Since it is an outline to guide further negotiations and not itself a final deal, the framework agreement only offers some concrete details about what the JCPOA will contain—the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to operate, for example—while only sketching general principles in other areas.
Such ambiguity was to be expected from a framework agreement. What has been alarming, however, is that the parties to the JCPOA do not appear to be in full agreement about what they have committed to. While Iran was reportedly reluctant to put any details of what was agreed upon in Switzerland in writing, eventually both the U.S. Department of State and Iranian Foreign Ministry released their own “fact sheets” describing JCPOA’s parameters. And a third version of the deal surfaced when the French government showed journalists its own account of the framework.
The divergences between the two descriptions of the framework agreement include:
- The duration of limits on Iran’s enrichment program:
- U.S.: up to 15 years;
- Iran: only 10 years.
- The fate of Iran’s stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium:
- U.S.: will be reduced to 300 kilograms;
- Iran: can use its existing stockpile for “nuclear fuel center”;
- The status of Iran’s advanced centrifuges:
- U.S.: “Limited” research and development with advanced centrifuges;
- Iran: Continued research and development of IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 centrifuges;
- France: Continued research and development of IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 centrifuges, and Iran allowed to begin enriching uranium with IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges after 12 years.
- Verification and monitoring:
- U.S.: Iran will implement Additional Protocol, which does not grant “anytime, anywhere” inspections;
- Iran: Additional Protocol will be voluntary, pending political approval of the Majlis, Iran’s parliament;
- France: Establishment of a guaranteed access mechanism of IAEA inspectors to any suspicious site, beyond Additional Protocol access measures.
- Sanctions relief and timing:
- U.S.: only nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted and only after Iran has addressed “key” nuclear concerns;
- Iran: all sanctions will be revoked once JCPOA enters into force.
These major differences that suggest that not just the United States and Iran, but potentially all six nations at the table have a substantially different understanding of what was agreed to—differences that could sink further negotiations toward a comprehensive deal or, if they persist, lead to major difficulties in implementing that deal.