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IRAN: European Nuclear Negotiations

Author: Esther Pan
April 14, 2005
This publication is now archived.

What are the details of the European-brokered deal to halt Iran's nuclear program?

On November 29, 2004, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution welcoming Iran's recent agreement with three European nations to freeze temporarily all uranium enrichment, reprocessing, and conversion-related activities. The endorsement meant Iran will not face United Nations Security Council sanctions for its nuclear activities in the near future. U.S. diplomats favored a tougher negotiating line because they believe the Islamic Republic is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons. The agreement states that the enrichment freeze will remain in effect until a final pact is negotiated, a process expected to take up to two years. Many experts say the chances this deal will lead to a permanent ban on uranium enrichment are slim.

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What is at the heart of the deal?

An arrangement negotiated by the so-called troika of Britain, France, and Germany to resolve the ongoing standoff with Iran over its illicit nuclear program. On November 14, Iran agreed to an immediate freeze of nuclear activities. In return, Tehran received promises of assistance for its civilian nuclear-energy program and a package of economic and trade incentives. The deal was hailed in some quarters as a diplomatic success. However, some experts warned that it leaves room for Tehran to potentially produce nuclear weapons in the future.

What terms did Iran accept?
  • An immediate freeze on its enrichment activities. These include building centrifuge parts and converting uranium to uranium hexafluoride, a gaseous form of uranium that can be processed in high-speed centrifuges. Depending on its enrichment level, the gas can fuel either energy plants or nuclear weapons.
  • Increased IAEA inspections under the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the main international agreement that regulates the spread of nuclear-weapons technology.
  • Permission for inspectors to tag and seal centrifuges and other nuclear components to guarantee that they cannot be used. After agreeing to these terms, Iran then tried to exempt 20 centrifuges for research purposes. After intense international pressure, Iranian officials backed down and agreed that the 20 centrifuges would be covered by the freeze, provided they were subject only to video monitoring and not sealed by inspectors.
What will Iran receive?

In return for agreeing to the freeze, Iran was promised a package of incentives, including:

  • European help in building a light-water reactor for nuclear power. Nuclear experts say the byproducts of light-water reactors are harder to convert to weapons-grade nuclear material than those of heavy-water reactors.
  • European assistance procuring reactor fuel.
  • Negotiations with the European Union, on a trade and cooperation agreement.
  • Support for Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Who is in charge of ensuring Iran’s compliance with the deal?

IAEA inspectors will report violations to the IAEA board, which can take disciplinary measures, including referral of Iran to the Security Council. In addition, Iran and the troika agreed to set up three working groups: on nuclear issues, non-nuclear collaboration between Iran and Europe, and regional security. These groups will meet to continue the negotiations and report every three months to senior diplomats from each country.

Who is in charge of ensuring Iran’s compliance with the deal?

IAEA inspectors will report violations to the IAEA board, which can take disciplinary measures, including referring Iran to the Security Council. In addition, Iran and the troika will set up three working groups: on nuclear issues, non-nuclear collaboration between Iran and Europe, and regional security. These groups will meet to continue the negotiations and report every three months to senior diplomats from each country.

What objections do the deal’s critics raise?

That its vague language could permit Iran to continue an illicit nuclear program. "They're saying that the suspension will last as long as the talks, but they could stop the talks at any time," says Charles D. Ferguson II, science and technology fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Disagreements over interpretation caused the failure of the last deal brokered by the troika in October 2003.

What happened to that agreement?

In October 2003, negotiators persuaded Iran to suspend temporarily all uranium-enrichment programs, including the manufacture of centrifuges; to give a full and complete declaration of its activities to the IAEA; and to open the country to increased inspections under the Additional Protocol. In return, the Europeans promised to provide technological assistance for nuclear energy and help resolve the IAEA investigation. After six months, the Europeans claimed Iran was still hiding information about its nuclear program, while Iran said it had never received the promised technology from Europe. In June 2004, Tehran backed out of the pact and threatened to resume manufacturing centrifuges and related enrichment activities.

-- by Esther Pan, staff writer, cfr.org

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