Originally Published 2014-05-15 05:32:30 Published on May 15, 2014
Now, a lot depends on how the fourth Vienna meeting between Iran and the P5+1 goes and whether or not Iran is able to complete the set of actions it has agreed to under the Framework for Cooperation with the IAEA by the May 15 deadline.
Iranian nuclear deal: At a critical juncture

"The ongoing nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 is now at a critical juncture as the fourth meeting began in Vienna on May 13. The three-day meeting will see the continuation of the process of diplomatic negotiations between Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US. The parties had previously met thrice -- on February 18-20, March 17-19 and April 7-9.

The initial phase of the deal was established on November 24, 2013 when Iran and the P5+1 signed the Joint Plan of Action, wherein Iran agreed to halt the construction of the Arak reactor, along with the decision not to pursue the construction of a separation facility in exchange for a decrease in the level of economic sanctions imposed on Iran. The phase was implemented successfully on January 20.

The issue of the heavy water production plant at the Arak site, referred to as the Arak reactor, is critical. The initial design, which Iran had implemented at the Arak site until November 2013, was capable of constructing a reactor which would be capable of producing enough plutonium to create two bombs per year. The decision to halt the construction and modify the design in a way that cuts the plutonium production to one fifth has therefore been critical for the successful negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear deal. In any case, Iran, at present, does not have a separation facility, without which it remains incapable of extracting weapons grade plutonium from the spent fuel. Its decision not to construct such a facility consolidates the trust with which the negotiations are being pursued. Subsequent talks have observed Iran’s compliance to the deal based on the IAEA reports of January 20 and March 20 confirming that Iran has diluted its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to the levels below 5%.

The IAEA report of March 20 also highlights certain other set of measures which Iran has complied with by February 11, 2014, in a separate Framework for Cooperation which the country had signed with the IAEA on November 11, 2013. These actions or measures include sharing of relevant sensitive information, along with the access to the Uranium mines, the heavy water production plant, the other research reactors, the sixteen sites meant for the construction of new nuclear power plants, and a clarification from Iran on its announcements on additional enrichment facilities and laser enrichment technology.

Iran is set to complete another seven actions, under the Framework for Cooperation with the IAEA, by the deadline of May 15; the day when the fourth meeting in Vienna between the P5+1 and Iran concludes. These actions includes the provision of access to the Uranium mines of Saghand to the IAEA inspectors; provision of relevant information, along with the access to the Ardakan Yellowcake Production Plant; submission of the new design for the Heavy Water Production Plant at the Arak site; and the conclusion of a safeguards approach for the Arak Reactor with the IAEA. Some of these action, as confirmed by the IAEA, have already been completed by Iran, including the submission of a new design for the heavy water production plant at the Arak site. Although a European diplomat underlined the point that a single issue cannot be considered resolved until all of the issues pertaining to the Iranian nuclear programme are dealt with comprehensively, the acceptance given by the IAEA to the new design for the Arak reactor submitted by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which proposes to cut the levels of weapons grade plutonium, certainly gives a greater momentum to the successful conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and P5+1.

The growing probability of a successful nuclear deal with Iran is further reflected in the Israeli position which, according to certain former US officials, seem to have taken a critical shift. Israel, during the initial stages of the interim deal, stressed that the only solution over the Iranian nuclear programme is to not allow Iran to run centrifuges, that is, a complete ban on domestic uranium enrichment, and also to not allow Iran to construct the facilities for the production of plutonium. However, the progress made by Iran on the nuclear deal so far has led Israel to start thinking on issues that may come up once the deal is completed, like the problems of monitoring and verification of the Iranian obligations to the deal, and considerations of various punitive measures which will have to be adopted if Iran is found to be violating any of its obligations.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, has made a remark that the Kingdom is ready to negotiate better ties with Iran. His remark comes right before the Vienna meetings between Iran and the P5+1, marking a startling shift in Saudi approach to the deal and also hinting toward the growing prospects of a successful negotiation of the comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran.

Now, a lot depends on how the fourth Vienna meeting goes and whether or not Iran is able to complete the set of actions it has agreed to under the Framework for Cooperation with the IAEA by the May 15 deadline. On transparency and the issue of trust deficit with regard to the Iranian nuclear programme, these rounds of negotiation will only deplete the deficit levels and Israel and other sceptics should therefore welcome the talks.

As for India, while there have been calls for India to use its good offices to further strengthen the chances of the current nuclear deal to succeed, it has maintained its position to support the deal from outside and not meddle in the ongoing negotiations. This position quite succinctly balances out the Indian interests in West Asia. On the one hand, India would want the resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue, as that would result in the withdrawal of economic sanctions on trade with Iran; a definite relief for Indian public and private entities engaged in trade with Iran. On the other hand, India would not want to upset its already concerned, military and defence partner Israel by taking a direct initiative. Anyway, for India, both the integration of Iran with the international community and not allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons remain important. Successful negotiation of the ongoing nuclear deal would address both of these agendas.

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Mairi Dupar

Mairi Dupar

Mairi Dupar Senior Technical Advisor Climate and Development Knowledge Network ODI

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