International negotiators have given themselves six months beginning January 20 to conclude a comprehensive agreement with Iran ensuring that Tehran’s nuclear program will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
This new phase of talks comes after both sides agreed to an interim accord freezing Iran’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for some relief from international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Joel Rubin, an expert on Iran with the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, said this new phase of discussions will be much more complex and difficult than the talks for an interim accord.
Tough road ahead
“From the Western perspective, there are going to be demands for a limited number of centrifuges and a limited amount of enrichment, most likely to a very, very modest level,” said Rubin.
“There will be demands about the Arak plutonium facility to convert it in a manner that makes it clear that it can only be for peaceful purposes. There will be discussions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. These will be tough. And from the other side, Iran is going to ask for an end to the international sanctions placed on it,” said Rubin.
The interim agreement allows the International Atomic Energy Agency unprecedented access to key Iranian nuclear sites.
Rubin says that is a key element as negotiators work out a comprehensive pact.
“The idea that one can have a deal with Iran and just trust it is not one that has much currency nor gives much confidence. So the idea is that these inspectors will be verifying all the parts of the agreement. And they will have daily access to facilities in Iran," said Rubin.
Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association said the issue of confidence is essential.
“There is deep mistrust on the part of both sides about the goodwill and the intentions of the other side to actually carry out an agreement. Now we have a specific commitment with a whole lot of milestones over the next six months and it will be very important to know in virtually real time whether or not these commitments are being fulfilled," said Thielmann. “Then, of course, any kind of ultimate agreement is going to require that the international community has high confidence in whatever commitments the Iranians make about whatever residual nuclear energy program they have.”
Thielmann believes that despite the mistrust, both sides want the negotiations to succeed.
As Western and Iranian negotiators continue their talks, some U.S. senators are considering harsher sanctions on Iran. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation last July imposing stricter measures targeting - among others - the financial and oil sectors.
The Senate is also expected to discuss the issue of tougher sanctions.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any such legislation. Other U.S. officials say tougher sanctions on Iran would torpedo the talks.