The White House released a summary of what are being called "parameters" for an eventual nuclear deal agreed in Lausanne today between Iran, the United States, and five other world powers.
The briefing is cautious, with a deadline for a final agreement three months away. The first paragraph warns: "Important implementation details are still subject to negotiation, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."
But there's plenty to dig into in what is formally being called the "Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's Nuclear Program."
Fears that Iran might pursue a nuclear bomb center on the question of how much uranium Iran will enrich – and to what levels. The increase a few years ago of its stockpiles of "highly enriched uranium" – which, if enriched further, could create enough fuel to make a nuclear bomb – set alarm bells ringing. In essence, the sprint from highly enriched uranium to uranium capable of producing a bomb could have been only a few months if Iran decided to kick out UN nuclear inspectors and go for it. As of last year, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran had significantly reduced its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, but the reductions were not enough to reassure the United States.
The briefing released today says that Iran has agreed to cut the number of centrifuges, the key machinery to enrich uranium, from roughly 19,000 today to 6,100, with about 1,000 kept offline. In 2008, Iran had about 3,000 working centrifuges.
Iran also agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium – the first step toward producing either fuel for a nuclear reactor or a bomb – from 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms for 15 years. It also promised not to build any new enrichment facilities during the same time period.
"Iran’s breakout timeline – the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon – is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months," the briefing says. "That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework."
Iran is also promising to reduce its nuclear facilities. It currently has two enrichment sites, one at Fordow, and one at Natanz.
The briefing says that Iran will not enrich fuel at Fordow for at least 15 years and that the facility will be converted to a nuclear and physics research center. Research into uranium enrichment would also be prohibited. The site will remain under UN nuclear monitoring.
Iran is also agreeing to convert its heavy-water reactor at Arak – which could be used to produce plutonium suitable for a bomb – in such a way that it won't produce weapons-quality plutonium.
"The original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country," the statement says. "Iran will ship all of its spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the reactor’s lifetime."
But promises are one thing. What about monitoring?
The IAEA will have continuous access to all of Iran's nuclear facilities, as well as to the "supply chain that supports Iran's nuclear program" in order to "prevent diversion to a secret program."
Iran has agreed to more intrusive inspections than it's been subject to thus far. And it has promised IAEA inspector access to its uranium mines and mills for the next 25 years.
What does Iran get?
This is more vague. Iran will get sanctions relief "if it verifiably abides by its commitments." But a time frame for verification is not given.
"U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place," the statement reads.
The language of the briefing also seems designed to reassure those who think the negotiators are going too easy on Iran that sanctions can be easily restored if Iran is found to be breaking the agreement. "The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance," it says. "All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency)."
There is clearly a lot of work to be done, and three months can be a long time, with political opposition to the deal in the US, Iran, or elsewhere always possible. Once an agreement is signed, expect disputes over how much time it takes to "verify" that promises have been kept.