So that’s done

The full-text of the Iran agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) has been posted online by the EU here. I’ve been reading it bit by bit all morning, and so far it seems to align with the fact sheet that was put out by the State Department after the initial framework was outlined at Lausanne in April. That’s a good thing in my view. As to the issues that were still outstanding after Lausanne and continued to be problematic over the past three months:

  • It appears (according to the Russians) that the UN arms embargo against Iran will remain in place for at least another five years.
  • If a dispute arises the issue will go to a “joint commission” that includes representation from Iran, each of the P5+1 countries, and the EU, for a total of 8 members. If the commission, plus an advisory board and the various foreign ministers of the participating countries, can’t resolve a dispute over Iran’s compliance, the party that brought the dispute can then take it to the Security Council. At that point, the Security Council would have to vote on a resolution to continue lifting sanctions, and if that vote failed (say, if the US were to veto it), sanctions would go back in place. Sanctions can theoretically be back in place within 65 days if it comes to that.
  • Sanctions will be lifted on “implementation day,” which the agreement defines as the point when the IAEA verifies that Iran has met its nuclear-related obligations.
  • Iran will “provisionally apply” the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, pending its ratification by their parliament, which gives IAEA inspectors increased monitoring rights. Iran is also obliged to meet IAEA demands for information on past militarization activity.
  • The question of inspector access to Iranian military sites has been muddled. If the IAEA wants access to an undeclared site, it will have to negotiate the issue with Iran. If they can’t reach an agreement, then the joint commission gets to vote on the matter (which significantly means that an Iran-Russia-China bloc would still need at least one “Western” vote to prevent inspections), and could send it to the Security Council for treatment as a treaty violation. This suggests that the IAEA will be able to get access when and where it wants for the most part, but the lack of a clear statement to that effect makes this the weakest part of the agreement as far as I can tell, and will probably be the issue that deal opponents immediately criticize.

Most of the rest of the terms have already been out there for a while now: Iran will mothball the old Arak reactor and replace it with one that doesn’t produce plutonium; Iran’s enrichment stockpile and centrifuge activity will be strictly capped; the Fordow enrichment facility will be mostly shut down for the next 15 years, though a part of its equipment will remain active for separating non-nuclear isotopes; Iran will be able to do some limited centrifuge R&D, but will have to stick with its inefficient IR-1 models for its enrichment operations for the next decade.

I don’t have any hot take to offer you here, partly because I haven’t finished reading the text, partly because so much of it is in legalese/diplomatese and so my reading of it may be inaccurate, and partly because the proof of the pudding is in the eating when it comes to this kind of thing. As difficult as this agreement was to reach, it’s only the first step in what will hopefully be a long process of bringing Iran back into the global community, strengthening moderate political forces in Tehran, and thus transforming it into a constructive partner for stability in the Middle East. None of those things are going to happen immediately and none may ever happen at all. But you don’t have to be Pollyanna to recognize that there was no chance of any of that stuff ever happening without a negotiated resolution to the nuclear issue. Heck, this agreement isn’t even the hardest part of dealing with that particular issue; it’s up to the monitors and the agreement participants now to ensure that everybody sticks to their obligations under the terms of the deal. On balance I think we’re better off for having made the deal, but anybody who tells you that they know how this is going to turn out (from either perspective) isn’t playing straight.

A lot of folks are terming this a “historic” agreement already, and it is, but in what way it turns out to be historic depends on what happens in the months and years ahead.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Thank you!

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