TEHRAN, Iran-Iran and six world powers began implementing an agreement this week that curbs key elements of Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporarily lifting some of the onerous sanctions that have had a deleterious effect on Iran’s hydro-carbon rich economy in recent years. The six-month interim accord is aimed at giving diplomats from the two sides time to negotiate a permanent, comprehensive agreement to end the more than decade long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.
The deal between Tehran and the diplomatic bloc known as the P5-plus-1, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, came into force on January 20, when Iran suspended some of its nuclear activities that have caused the most concern in Washington and European capitals and the United States and the European Union suspended for six months some of the economic sanctions that they have imposed against the Islamic Republic in recent years.
Iran and the P5-plus-1 forged the agreement on November 24, 2013, following years of on-again, off-again talks between Tehran and the six world powers. The negotiations were given fresh impetus last June, when Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric, was elected as Iran’s president, replacing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardliner whose eight-year presidency was marked by a palpable deterioration in Tehran’s relations with the west.
Following the announcement of the accord between Tehran and the P5-plus-1, technical experts from the two sides held three rounds of talks on how to implement the technical aspects of the nuclear agreement, such as the sequence of the steps each side would be required to carry out and whether Iran would be allowed to conduct research on advanced during the six month lifespan of the agreement.
The two sides reached a final agreement on how to implement the deal during a round of talks between Helga Schmid, the deputy to E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, on January 9 and 10.
Under the agreement, formally known as the “Joint Plan of Action,” Iran is barred from enriching uranium to above 5 percent purity and is required to convert any newly produced uranium enriched up to five percent purity into oxide form. By converting any newly enriched uranium into oxide form, Iran’s stockpile of the nuclear material will not grow during the 6 months that the agreement is in effect.
Tehran is also required to neutralize its entire stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, meaning it has a 20 percent concentration of U-235, the isotope necessary for nuclear fission. According to the terms of the agreement, this will be done by converting some of the 20 percent enriched uranium into oxide form and by diluting the rest of the 20 percent enriched material to no more than five percent purity.
Neutralizing Tehran’s growing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium is of critical importance to the U.S. and its European allies because uranium enriched to this level is only a short technical step away from the 90 percent enriched fissile material that forms the core of an atomic device.
The agreement also bars Iran from installing new centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities, from feeding uranium into centrifuges that are installed but not currently enriching uranium. and from building new centrifuges beyond those needed to replace broken machines.
In exchange for these concessions, the U.S. and the E.U. have agreed to suspend their sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports and on the country’s trade in gold and precious metals. The accord also requires the U.S. to suspend the sanctions that it has imposed against Iran’s automotive industry as well as the measures that it has imposed against Iran’s civil aviation industry.
– Eric Erdahl