U.S. and Iran see nuclear deal differently
December 6th, 2013
12:10 PM ET

U.S. and Iran see nuclear deal differently

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.

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    I think Jonathan just swallowed my comment.

    December 7, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  2. rightospeak

    In defense of democracy , of course.

    December 7, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  3. George

    Well, all we needed was an explanation from an executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, another right-wing Israeli agent in Washington. But, actually this article is practically vacuous. We all know already that the White House distorted the text of the agreement. Iran is merely following the agreement, whereas the White House has to distort it to appease die-hard Israel supporters.

    December 7, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  4. Alfonso

    Translation: Let's scuttle any deal with Iran because Netanyahu ordered us to do so. Any excuse or method will do. The Israeli firsters have imaginations with names like "Foundation for defense of Democracies" give me a break!!! When these gang of people were calling themselves Jewish Defense League, claiming to be anti-terror until they were labeled terrorists by FBI, at least we all knew where they were coming from. A better name for their organization would be "Foundation to destroy Democracies" by bankrupting them. We don't want any more wars Mr. Schanzer, go back to Canada where most of you are from.

    December 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    The author has to realise that the interim deal is just the start of painstaking negotiations. It just confirms that Iran and P5+1 have found common ground, on which they can build an agreement. As Kerry said, the West was not naïve and the leadership in Iran knows that it's vital for its survival to have sanctions lifted. They only have access to some frozen assets and their economy is far from being out of the wood. This gives them incentive to compromise. We have to review the situation in a year, to see if there's any progress made on Iran's side.

    December 8, 2013 at 6:56 am |
  6. changeirannow

    US foreign policy since the advent of the Cold War has always been to build international agreements based on proven and verifiable steps towards normalization and a key component of those steps has been to improve human rights in whatever nation we are dealing with. Be it the plight of Soviet dissidents or North Korean defectors, the US has long maintained that improvements in a nation’s internal political environment has been an accurate bellwether of its ability to live up to international agreements. Iran has made no such effort to improve its human rights situation and in fact has done the opposite since Hassan Rouhani’s election, stepping up dramatically its rate of public executions and arrest and imprisonment of prisoners for political or religious reasons.

    December 8, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • George

      This is my second attempt at a response.

      People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Do you know the situation of human rights in this country? Do you know that almost 1% of the people are in prison and there is still torture going on in Guantanamo? How about the NSA spying?

      I had more things to say, but I am not going to waste my time if CNN refuses to print my comments.

      December 9, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
      • rightospeak

        Thought Police censors the comments at CNN, George , and if you make too much sense and are in disagreement with their official propaganda the comments get trashed. CNN does not want an intelligent discussion-they want to brainwash people for more wars.

        December 10, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  7. sand

    USA and Israel and Britain are cancers tumours now they are trying an evil plan they want rouhani and shimon peres to meet this must never happend the jews are the enemy of iran everybody must fight against these jews they must destroyed and killed of even there children must die and also usa is planning an evil plan also they want to genome test the population of saudi arabia they are after something evil usa must be destroyed there children must be r a p e d and killed death to america..

    December 9, 2013 at 8:01 am |
    • The Frumious Falafel


      I can tell you're holding back your *real* opinion due to politeness. Why don't you share with us what you *really* think of the USA and Israel? Certainly merely "destroying them, killing their children," (and later) "raping their children" is only the beginning. Don't hold back: tell us what should *really* be done with the Jews and their children.

      December 9, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  8. Mski

    I recommend

    July 6, 2014 at 1:25 am |

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