http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/world/middleeast/talks-with-iran-on-nuclear-deal-hang-in-balance.html?_r=1&Deal Reached With Iran Halts Its Nuclear Program
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
Published: November 23, 2013
GENEVA — The foreign policy chief of the European Union and Iranian officials announced a landmark accord Sunday morning that would temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program and lay the foundation for a more sweeping accord.
After marathon talks that finally ended early Sunday morning, the United States and five other world powers reached an agreement with Iran to halt much of Iran’s nuclear program. It was the first time in nearly a decade, American officials said, that steps had been taken to stop much of Iran's nuclear effort and even roll some elements back.
The freeze would last six months, with the aim of giving international negotiators time to pursue the far more challenging task of drafting a comprehensive accord that would ratchet back much of Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it could be used only for peaceful purposes.
"We have reached agreement," Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief foreign policy official, posted on Twitter on Sunday morning.
According to the accord, Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent. To make good on that pledge, Iran would dismantle the links between networks of centrifuges.
All of Iran’s stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent, a short hop to weapons-grade fuel, would be diluted or converted into oxide so that it could not be readily used for military purposes.
No new centrifuges, neither old models nor newer more efficient ones, could be installed. Centrifuges that have been installed but which are not currently operating — Iran has more than 8,000 such centrifuges — could not be started up. No new enrichment facilities could be established.
The agreement, however, would not require Iran to stop enriching uranium to a level of 3.5 percent or dismantle any of its existing centrifuges.
Iran’s stockpile of such low-enriched uranium would be allowed to temporarily increase to about eight tons from seven tons currently. But Tehran would be required to shrink this stockpile by the end of the six-month agreement back to seven tons. This would be done by installing equipment to covert some of that stockpile to oxide.
To guard against cheating, international monitors would be allowed to visit the Natanz enrichment facility and the underground nuclear enrichment plant at Fordo on a daily basis to check the film from cameras installed there.
In return for the initial agreement, the United States has agreed to provide $6 billion to $7 billion in sanctions relief, American officials said. This limited sanctions relief can be accomplished by executive order, allowing the Obama administration to make the deal without having to appeal to Congress, where there is strong criticism of any agreement that does not fully dismantle Iran’s nuclear program.
With lawmakers in Washington vowing to propose tougher sanctions next month if the Iranian program is not halted, and hard-liners in Tehran insisting that Iran never capitulate on its nuclear “rights,” the negotiators were effectively locked in a race against time.
Expectations were high that a deal was in the offing on Saturday morning, when Secretary of State John Kerry and top diplomats from five other world powers swept into Geneva to conclude the talks and, they hoped, sign the agreement.
Going into Saturday’s talks, a major sticking point involved the constraints that would be imposed on a project that Iran is pursuing to produce plutonium, which involves the construction of a heavy water reactor near the town of Arak.
Mr. Kerry met with his French and Russian counterparts before joining a three-way session with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, and Ms. Ashton, the first of two such sessions on Saturday. Late on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the Russian delegation said the two sides were "very close."
The wrangling behind closed doors recalled the round in Geneva two weeks earlier, which seemed to be tantalizingly close to a breakthrough only to sputter to an end as France pressed the world powers to toughen their demands, particularly regarding the Arak plant, and Iran balked at the new terms.
There were also other sticky issues, including Iran’s insistence that it had the right to enrich uranium. At the end of that round of negotiations, the world powers presented a unified proposal, and the Iranians said they needed to consult with the authorities in Tehran before proceeding.
As to what Iran considers its “right to enrich,” American officials signaled a possible workaround last week, saying they were open to a compromise in which the two sides would essentially agree to disagree, while Tehran continued to enrich.
The fact that the accord would only pause the Iranian program was seized on by critics who said it would reward Iran for institutionalizing the status quo.
The deal would also add at least several weeks, and perhaps more than a month, to the time Iran would need to produce weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear device, according to estimates by nuclear experts.
American officials argued that it would preclude Iran from shortening the time it would need to produce enough bomb-grade uranium for a nuclear device even further, and would provide additional warning if Iran sought to “break out” of its commitment to pursue only a peaceful nuclear program.
A second and even more contentious debate centered on whether an initial deal would, as the Obama administration said, serve as a “first step” toward a comprehensive solution of the nuclear issue, one that would leave Iran with a peaceful nuclear program that could not easily be used for military purposes.
Two former American national security advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, recently sent a letter to key American lawmakers endorsing the administration’s approach. “The apparent commitment of the new government of Iran to reverse course on its nuclear activities needs to be tested to insure it cannot rapidly build a nuclear weapon,” they wrote.
But some experts, including a former official who has worked on the Iranian issue for the White House, said it was unlikely that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would ever close the door on the option to develop nuclear weapons. Instead, they said, any initial six-month agreement is more likely to be followed by a series of partial agreements that constrain Iran’s nuclear activities but do not definitively solve the nuclear issues.
“At the end of six months, we may see another half step and six more months of negotiations — ad infinitum,” said Gary Samore, a senior aide on nonproliferation issues on the National Security Council in President Obama’s first term. Mr. Samore is now president of United Against Nuclear Iran, a nonprofit group that advocates tough sanctions against Iran unless it does more to curtail its nuclear program.