Analysis - Political Transformations

Framework Agreement

Iran's tentative gains vs. a complicated domestic calculus

Monday، April 06، 2015
Framework Agreement

Multi-lateral diplomacy has made a breakthrough by reaching an unprecedented understanding between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers that led to the framework deal involving Tehran's nuclear program following eight days of marathon talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, two days past the 31 March deadline. 

The Framework Agreement

The framework agreement will form basis for a final agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) to be reached no later than 30 June 2015. Iran and P5+1 negotiators agreed on reciprocal measures that, from the West's point of view, will curb Iran's nuclear ambitions by reducing its nuclear activities from in exchange for relief from international nuclear-related economic sanctions if it verifiably abides by its commitments. Negotiations will continue until a final agreement is reached by 30 June. Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, will be responsible for verifying Iran's implementation of nuclear-related measures, once the agreement is finalized, while the EU will supervise the implementation of the agreement and UN Security Council will vote on a new resolution that will endorse the agreement and urge its full implementation.

Under the framework, Iran agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge. Iran will only enrich uranium at the Natanz facility and agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years. All Iran's excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment. It also agreed to convert its Fordow facility into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.

Under the framework agreement, Iran committed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years, to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years, and to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak which will not produce weapons grade plutonium, and which will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production. Iran also agreed to give IAEA regular access to all of its nuclear facilities, including to Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies. IAEA inspectors will have access to uranium mines and continuous surveillance at uranium mills, where Iran produces yellowcake, for 25 years.

In return for Iran's actions, a US$15 billion installment of its frozen assets, estimated at US$100 billion, will be released along with US$4.2 billion in oil revenue. But sanctions against Iran's Central Bank, other banks, insurance, or reinsurance and shipping sectors will remain in place.

Iranian nuclear negotiation tactics

During the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group, Iran pursued certain tactics based on the determinants and fixed principles of its foreign policy, which enabled it to make real gains that, although not being fully satisfactory in terms of its ambitions, are the best that can be done at this stage of internal contradictions and foreign pressures. These gains also constitute the foundation for Iran's approach to achieving its final goals during the next negotiations on a final agreement on 30 June.

  1. Protracting negotiations over many rounds that exhausted the other parties and put them under pressure as they were made to think that the talks are doomed to failure. Clearly, Iran's goal was to make as much as gains as possible from a complex negotiation process marked by a plethora of subjects and details. In this way, Iran portrayed itself as the party which makes several concessions in exchange for one thing, and eventually going back to square one at the start of each round of the talks.
  2. Iran exaggerated its nuclear ambitions and capabilities and at the same time put hurdles in the way of IAEA inspectors' to Iran's nuclear sites, and made everything about its nuclear program look vague and mysterious. It also used to leak information about new or suspicious nuclear sites. All this was aimed at one thing: to create a worrying and confusing perception about Iran's nuclear program and its peacefulness. This created uncertainty on the part of the other parties leading them to make successive concessions to the Iranians.
  3. Iran exploited Israel's exaggerated talk about the scale and progress of Iran's nuclear activities, Iran's becoming a military nuclear power and the threat it poses to Israel's security. This went on in parallel with hard-handed reaction and statements from Iranian military officials on Israel's pressures on all negotiators in general and on the U.S. in particular, who sought to make gains during the talks that would later enable the world powers to explore the nature of Iran's nuclear program and make sure that no deals seen as a threat to Israel would be made. Iran's exploitation of this exaggeration enabled it to protract the nuclear talks and at the same time to press for lifting the international sanctions.
  4. Iran fragmented the issue under negotiation, i.e. its nuclear program, and turning it to a purely technical issue that is discussed away from the other issues and topics of the negotiations. At the same time, Iran often created new issues about the deadlines seen by its negotiators as restricting their ability to maneuver during the talks. They also sought to gain time to create variables that would help them bargain about, and outflank certain points they want to leave out and go ahead of, which confused the other party (P5+1) and made it unable to keep focused on the main issues under negotiation.
  5. Iran created the impression that it was not serious about completing the nuclear talks, as its influential officials made contradicting statements while the negotiations were on. By doing this, Iran made the other party feel that they had to seize any available opportunity to reach an agreement while Iranian negotiators were under pressure from Iranian conservatives, and that no opportunities for further negotiations should be lost, which led the P5+1 to make concessions to Iran that enabled its negotiators to promote the agreement opposed by conservatives at home.
  6. Iran exploited the pressures put by Republicans and some influential Democrats on US President Barrack Obama and his administration who wanted to be credited with making a progress in the nuclear talks and were keen on not to fail in their showdown with the Republicans and in their pressures on the U.S. negotiators, and consequently the other Western negotiators, to ease off their demands during the nuclear negotiations in order to make maximum gains and minimum unsatisfactory concessions to Iran.

Iran's gains from the nuclear framework

No doubt, the nuclear framework deal, due to its format and according to all considerations, has exceeded the expectations of the Iranian regime which is being extremely pressurized by popular ambitions for economic detente and an end to the current standstill. In addition to Iranians' ambitions for an understanding that would break Iran's isolation from the West, open wide avenues away from the traditional perception where the regime was always keen on perpetuating the conspiracy theory it upholds as a justification of the domestic crisis and the deterioration of public freedoms. The Iranian regime has also succeeded in exploiting the nuclear talks and the resulting framework deal as follows:

  1. Obtaining clear international recognition for Iran's nuclear program despite all the opposition from the U.S. and the West. The nuclear negotiations were no longer about freezing Iran's nuclear program and related activities. Rather, negotiations have become about getting reassurances that this program will not deviate from peaceful purposes, and also about leaving out issues that allows Iran to enrich Uranium at is facilities, which was previously rejected by the West. It even came to the point where Iran would seek technical help from the IAEA that would help in developing its nuclear program in the future.
  2. Making economic gains through the agreement to lift the international economic sanctions despite the fact that the sanctions relief is incremental and linked to Iran's compliance to the agreed conditions. This even provides a chance for bargaining as Iran's fulfilling its commitments are linked to a timeframe. This gives the Iranian regime an opportunity to be free from the "internal sanctions" imposed on it.
  3. The Iranian regime appeared to be cohesive and supportive of its delegation to the nuclear talks despite the serious and heated disagreement between reformists conservatives backed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that did not prevent Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from giving the green light for resuming the nuclear talks. This gave the Iranian negotiators more maneuverability during the nuclear talks.
  4. Temporary isolation of Israel that seeks to thwart the nuclear negotiations by promoting the impacts of the outcome of these negotiations on its security. This resulted in temporary tensions in Israel's relations with the Obama administration that wanted to strike a deal which would ensure that Iran's nuclear ambitions are curtailed in the next stage. Iran exploited this to consolidate its stature at the negotiations by interfering in ramified regional issues that certainly affected the attitudes of negotiators, the Americans in particular.
  5. Postponing the other issues to the advanced stages of the nuclear negotiations, which allowed the Iranians to study the positive results of the framework agreement, and to garner the sanctions relief that will enable the Iranian regime to sell itself at home and abroad and drive the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, to deal with the present facts in a more pragmatic way and recognize Iran's influence on regional developments, thanks to the Iranian regime's policies and ability to deal with these developments.

Future hurdles to a final nuclear accord

Having said that, the framework agreement reached recently in Lausanne is expected to create suspense and anticipations on the part of the Iranian regime and its institutions. Although Iranian crowds took to the street to celebrate the achievement made by the reformists under the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian conservatives and hardliners are set to counterbalance this euphoric moment by organizing demonstrations against the current form of the nuclear agreement.

That is because this progress which the reformists are credited with, will certainly lead to more demands at home for raising the level of Iran's ambitions, and consequently increasing the cost of maintaining the current Iranian regime in power, especially that the Supreme Leader of Iran has not yet voiced his support for, or opposition to the recent agreement. But his opposition the agreement is no longer realistic in the light of his previous emphasis on the option of negotiations. He will confuse the calculations of the conservatives if he comes out now to re-emphasize this option, even though it is expected  that the supreme leader will go for counterbalancing the situation by granting the Revolutionary Guard Corps more mobility outside Iran in the next stage.

Against this backdrop, Obama will be facing more complicated calculations due to the continuous pressures by both Republicans and Democrats at both houses of Congress in particular because relieving  U.S. sanctions on Iran will have be to be put to vote as most of them  were imposed by Congress. It us even likely that Obama will be pressurized into imposing new sanctions against Iran that would lead him to interfere to abort them by a presidential veto. This would complicate the situation in the next stage as the agreement is not acceptable by two other parties, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members and Israel which represent US interests in the Middle East.

In addition to this, the coming stages of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 will witness some tensions due to an exchange of accusations of non-compliance to the commitments expressed by each party in the framework agreement. This will lead to non-party interventions aimed at destroying the negotiations, especially since Iran will seek to bolster its position in the next stage of negotiations by promoting its regional influence. This will consequently lead to side  negotiations aimed at tackling  each issue separately, and to shift the focus from the main topic towards a form of comprehensive and integrated agreement that is in line with Iran's endeavors to consolidate its regional stature on the expense of the other powers.

Keywords: IranP5+1USAIAEANuclear Negotiations