3 Apr 2015

‘Victory for us’: interpreting Iran’s nuclear agreement

Unlike the US, the Iranians are not putting out fact sheets about the scale of nuclear reduction because they would rather be a little vague on the compromises they’ve made.

Yesterday all anyone wanted to talk about was harmony. After eight days of hard negotiations, the US and its allies had finally come to an agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Now all they want to do is emphasise the differences. That’s not because they were covering up disagreement before, but because each side has to persuade hardliners at home that they’ve won.

The Americans got their retaliation in first with a ‘fact sheet’ emphasising the details they think will win over sceptics in Washington. “Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges,” it said. “Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.”

It went on to detail how Iran will reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 10,000 tonnes to 300 kg, allow intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and not build any new uranium enrichment facilities for 15 years.
“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,” it said.

“That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.”


It was all very factual, numbers and percentages, and the lifting of sanctions wasn’t mentioned until the penultimate section. The Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohamad Javad Zarif, was not impressed. “The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on,” he tweeted.

The Americans had said in their fact sheet that EU and US sanctions would be ‘suspended’ once Iran had complied with the provisions to curb its nuclear programme. They were a bit fuzzy about how and when.

“Quoting statement ‘The EU will TERMINATE the implementation of ALL nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions.’
How about this?” tweeted Mr Zarif in response. The Supreme Leader’s ‘red line’ was that all sanctions must be lifted immediately, not in stages, so Mr Zarif has to finesse that point.

In north Tehran, people came out on the streets honking horns and waving Iranian flags. For the first time ever, a speech by a US President was broadcast live on Iranian TV. Such was the excitement some took selfies of themselves with Obama behind.

One even virtually pinched the US President’s cheek and others kissed the TV.

The headlines on state-controlled Press TV were triumphant: “Iran P5+1 statement infuriates Israel.” “No halt in work of Iran N-facilities.”

Quite true – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is certainly angry about the deal, which he regards as a threat to Israel, and nuclear facilities will continue working, just not in the same way.


As Mr Zarif returned from Lausanne, his car was mobbed. He is the hero of the hour, the man who sealed the deal. The Iranians are not putting out fact sheets about numbers of centrifuges because they would rather be a little vague on the compromises they’ve made.

The middle class North Tehran crowd is desperate for rapprochement with the US but to suspicious hardliners it is still the Great Satan.

Technical experts will be meeting until the end of June, and it will take Iran about six months to adjust its facilities as outlined in the agreement. Realistically that means sanctions are unlikely to be lifted until next year.

The Iranian government has to sustain hope and enthusiasm until then, while the US administration tries to convince a sceptical right-wing Congress that this is not caving in to the Islamic Republic but making the world a safer place.

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