By Jonathan Schanzer, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of the new book State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State. The views expressed are his own.
The nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran last month has been widely hailed as a successful interim measure to stave off an unwanted conflict over Tehran’s illicit nuclear program. But after initially celebrating a diplomatic success, Iran is now reportedly lashing out at the United States for releasing a modified version of the agreement to the American people that does not reflect its interpretation.
Just how far apart are Washington and Tehran on the deal they only so recently inked?
The Arak heavy water reactor may be the biggest sticking point. In the Geneva agreement, Iran commits itself to not making “any further advances of its activities” at a number of nuclear sites including “the Arak reactor.” The Joint of Plan of Action (JPA) states that a final agreement would “fully resolve concerns related to the reactor at Arak,” with the goal of ensuring there is “no reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing.”
According to the White House Fact Sheet, this means that “Iran has committed to no further advances of its activities at Arak and to halt progress on its plutonium track.” The White House listed seven limitations related to Arak. Iran cannot:
1. Commission (operationalize) the Arak reactor.
2. Fuel the Arak reactor.
3. Produce fuel for the Arak reactor.
4. Test fuel for the Arak reactor.
5. Install any additional reactor components at Arak.
6. Transfer fuel and heavy water to the reactor site.
7. Construct a facility capable of reprocessing (to separate plutonium from spent fuel).
According to Reuters, however, Iran could “build components off-site to install later.” Moreover, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told the Majles that while “no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed…construction will continue.” According to the Iranian Eghtesad Online website, he added that “building and construction will continue because currently we are at this stage in Arak.”
In response, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We’re not sure exactly what he means by construction in the comments that he makes, but there will be no work on the reactor…no work to prepare fuel for the reactor, or do additional testing of the reactor.”
“[I]f he’s referring to a road here or an out-building there, that’s something different,” Psaki added.
Another area of concern is uranium enrichment. U.S. officials claim the Geneva deal does not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Iranian officials claim it does. According to Zarif, “Iran enjoys that right and it is important to recognize that right. This recognition is there [in the agreement].” Similarly, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araghchi tweeted in Farsi, “Our enrichment program has been formally recognized.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also boasted that the “nuclear rights of the people of Iran and their right to enrichment was acknowledged by global powers.” Rouhani later declared that “enrichment, which is one part of our nuclear right, will continue, it is continuing today and it will continue tomorrow and our enrichment will never stop and this is our red line.”
Iranian officials have repeatedly said that Iran will not dismantle its nuclear enrichment sites. On this, the two sides may actually agree. According to the Wall Street Journal, “senior U.S. officials have said they no longer believe it is feasible or practical to reach an agreement with Iran that completely dismantles its nuclear program.”
Finally, there appears to be some daylight between Iran and the United States on sanctions relief. According to the White House Fact Sheet, Iran will receive approximately $7 billion in sanctions relief over six months. However, according to Araghchi, the Geneva deal will provide Iran with access to $15 billion over that time. Iranian officials have further reportedly claimed that the United States has unfrozen $8 billion in Iranian assets thus far. The math on the deal remains somewhat fuzzy in Washington.
More broadly, after the deal was struck, President Obama stated that the “broader architecture of sanctions will remain in place and we will continue to enforce them vigorously.” Rouhani, however, claimed that “cracks in the sanctions organization have begun…and as time passes, the space between these cracks will increase.” And in other remarks, the ever-smiling Rouhani boasted that “we broke the structure of sanctions.”
As it stands now, the Geneva agreement looks less solid than previously believed. Rather large gaps remain on core issues. As luck would have it, both sides have at least a month to iron out the details; the agreement will not be implemented until before late December or early January. It sounds as if both sides may need it.