Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
John Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006, wrote on April 30, 2015 "Tehran and Pyongyang have cooperated on ballistic missiles since at least 1998 ... numerous reports have emerged of Iranian and North Korean scientists exchanging visits and potentially valuable information. What if Pyongyang is already hosting an extensive Iranian-enrichment program, deeply buried somewhere in its half of the peninsula? What if some of the estimated 20 warheads are actually Iran’s property, having been manufactured and now stored far from Tehran to avoid detection? East Asian experts have long looked through a stovepipe at North Korea, and Middle East experts gaze through their own stovepipe at Iran."
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions against entities and individuals involved in weapons trade with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement at a news conference on 21 September 2020. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was also in attendance. The move came after the Trump administration declared on Saturday that it reimposed UN sanctions against Iran. The administration had earlier notified the Security Council that it had begun the process of restoring the sanctions, including a continued arms embargo on Iran. But most UN Security Council member states say the US had no legal standing to take that action as Washington had withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal.
The deal to limit Iran's nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief took effect 20 January 2014. Officials from both sides confirmed the start date January 13, 2014 after experts spent weeks discussing how to implement the six-month pact they first agreed to in November. Iran would limit its uranium enrichment to five percent and reduce its stock of higher-enriched uranium, while also allowing United Nations inspectors to access nuclear facilities. In exchange, the United States and European Union eased sanctions that have squeezed Iran's economy. Iran and the six world powers, which include the U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany, would use the six months to continue negotiations on a long-lasting deal to address fears that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.
Iran's foreign minister met in Geneva Tuesday 15 October 2013 with officials from the so called P5+1: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany. This latest round of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program came with high expectations following new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani striking conciliatory tones throughout his young administration. "I assure you that, on the Iranian side, this will is there fully, a hundred percent, that within a very short period of time there will be a settlement on the nuclear issue," said Rouhani, discussing the upcoming talks.
However, not all are convinced. Israel thinks Iran is merely playing for time as it continues to attempt to develop a nuclear weapon. Israeli Government spokesman Mark Regev. "Our concern is, that the Iranian promises, the Iranian words of good faith, are in fact a smokescreen, a cover for the continuation of their aggressive nuclear programs. And what are the facts? Israel will look at what Iran does, not what it says,” said Regev.
JCPOA - 2014
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said 08 July 2014 that Iran needed to significantly increase its uranium enrichment abilities to meet its long-term nuclear energy goals. Khamenei’s remarks -- which came in a posting on his official website -- underlined divisions between Tehran and world powers at talks in Vienna aimed at reaching a permanent nuclear accord by July 20. The so-called P5+1 – the United States, Russia, France, Germany, China, and Britain – wants Tehran to reduce its enrichment capacity so that it can’t quickly produce the highly enriched uranium needed to build nuclear weapons. Khamenei said the P5+1 wants Tehran to accept a capacity of 10,000 separative work units, or SWU -- a measurement of the effort needed for the separation of isotopes of uranium. The separative work units (SWU), a complex unit, indicates energy input, enrichment and depletion levels. Khamenei said Iran needs 190,000 SWU to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants.
“A current sensitive issue is the nuclear issue,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech to government officials 07 July 2014, adding that the opposing side has taken a maximalist position in the nuclear talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. “Their goal is that the Islamic Republic — in regard to the suitable enrichment capabilities, for instance, which is one of the issues — to be satisfied with 10,000 SWU,” he said, adding, “However, they started at 500 SWU and 1,000 SWU. Approximately 10,000 SWU is the output of approximately 10,000 centrifuges — from the outdated ones we’ve had and have. This is their goal.
“Our officials say that we need 190,000 SWU,” he continued. “Maybe this need will not be for this year, or two years, or five years, but this is the final need of the country.”
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, clarified the country’s nuclear needs 08 July 2014. “Our needs for an agreed time frame, for the next eight years, to secure annual fuel for Bushehr nuclear power plant, is approximately 190,000 SWU... “If the capacity of each centrifuge is three SWU, approximately 60,000 centrifuges are needed ... If the ability of each centrifuge is 10 SWU, we need 19,000 centrifuges. If the machines of the centrifuge from our latest generation have the ability of 24 SWU, we need less than 10,000 centrifuges.... the latest generation of centrifuges with the capacity of 24 SWU have not reached mass production... Based on designs, the ability of current centrifuges, which are first generation, are approximately three or so, which in reality is less than two SWU.”
By one July 2014 account, the West tried to force Iran to accept a limit of 4,000 centrifuges. But now Iranian negotiators were unfortunately requesting 8,000 centrifuges, which would deny industrial enrichment.
World powers and Iran agreed July 19, 2014 to extend a deadline for reaching an agreement aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program until 24 November, citing progress made, but nowhere near enough to reach a deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the draft had " more brackets than words", reflecting gaps and points of disagreement between Iran and the P5+1.
Iran had converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complied with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing of sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had converted its stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium to lower enrichment.
Iran will accept monitoring of its nuclear program as called for in the global non-proliferation treaty, but not any inspections beyond that. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said August 17, 2014 that any inspection beyond the legal framework of the treaty "would be a precedent, against the interests of all developing countries."
By October 2014 Iran proposed to keep about 10,000 centrifuges spinning while suggesting that 900 other machines could be disconnected and those still operating spin at lower rates or with less uranium gas injected. The latest US position had reportedly edged up from 1,500 centrifuges to 4,500. If Iran agreed to reduce the number to 7,000 – as an Iranian source VOA reporter Barbara Slavin – that might be enough to sway Russia and China – not to mention a host of developing nations and Iranian neighbors – to resume normal trade with Iran.
On November 24, 2014 International powers and Iran extended talks on a comprehensive deal over Iran's nuclear program, with new deadlines reaching into next year. More than a year of intensive talks and the direct involvement of seven foreign ministers failed to settle differences over how much nuclear enrichment capability Iran will be allowed to have, and how quickly economic sanctions will be lifted. Negotiators will work toward a political framework agreement by 01 March 2015. A final deadline of July 1, 2015, was set for the comprehensive deal. Talks would resume in December. This was the second extension, after an original, six-month deadline expired in July. The negotiators want Iran to be at least six months, preferably a year, away from building a nuclear bomb.
JCPOA - 2015
On 25 March 2015 US Secretary of State John Kerry defended US policy to continue nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying if Washington will walk away from the talks, the sanctions against the Islamic Republic will not hold. Kerry said "... the sanctions will not hold, because those other people who deem the plan to be reasonable will walk away and say, 'You do your thing, we'll do ours. You're not willing to be reasonable, we're going to do what we think is reasonable.' And then you have no sanctions regime at all."
Iran and six world powers agreed 02 April 2015 to "key parameters" for a preliminary deal involving Tehran's nuclear program. The framework deal – fiercely opposed by US ally Israel – substantially reduced Iran's enrichment program for at least a decade. Among its more than 40 parameters, it cut the Islamic Republic's number of installed centrifuges for enrichment from 19,000 to 6,000, reduced its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and extended its "breakout time" – the period needed to acquire sufficient material for a weapon – to at least a year. It was then estimated to be two or three months. Iran also agreed to transparency for its nuclear program, allowing inspectors to monitor the supply chain, materials and facilities. Different restrictions on Iran's nuclear program would continue for a quarter-century. In return for compliance, international sanctions would be lifted.
No deal was actually signed, and the competing fact sheets were critical to understanding what had been "agreed". There were at least six major areas of discrepancy between American and Iranian accounts of what the "agreement" actually entails. The US parameters state that sanctions will be suspended only after Iran has fulfilled all its obligations, while Iran claims the immediate lifting of all sanctions as soon as a final agreement is signed. The Americans provide for restrictions on enrichment for 15 years, while Iran speaks of 10 years. The US says the framework rules out development of advanced centrifuges at Fordo, while Iran says they are free to continue this work. The US says that Iran has agreed to surprise inspections, while Iran says such consent is only temporary.
Contrary to the US account, Iran says its stockpile of enriched uranium [enough for seven bombs if highly enriched] will not be shipped out of the country. The issue of the Possible Military Dimensions [PMD] of the Iranian program has not been resolved.
Former ambassador John Bolton, who served as Under Secretary of State for arms control and international security, said “The sanctions that we have seen have caused Iran to come to the table to get relief from sanctions - well, no kidding! What else would you expect? But, they have not caused Iran to make anything other than trivial and easily reversible concessions on the nuclear program”.
Under the agreement, Iran will have to reduce its uranium stockpile, remove thousands of centrifuges and make conversions at nuclear facilities. After Iran's compliance is verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, all sides in the negotiations will mark “Implementation Day,” when the United States and the other powers involved in the past two years of talks will take action to lift international sanctions against Iran that have hobbled its economy.
JCPOA - 2018
The long-standing, almost visceral hatred many in the Trump White House felt towards the Iran nuclear agreement was probably best summed up on 07 May 2018 night by former presidential national security aide Sebastian Gorka. "The Iran deal has to be shot in the head. It is bad for America, it is bad for the world, it is bad for our friends," Gorka told broadcaster Fox News.
In bellicose remarks on 08 May 2018 about his decision to pull the United States out of the Iran deal, President Donald Trump stopped short of making any comparable reference to physical violence. But he reiterated his long-held conviction that the Iran deal is bad for the US and the world, and that Washington's allies agree with that assessment.
Germany, France, the UK and the EU called on Iran to stay committed to the accord after Donald Trump said the US would withdraw, while Trump's Middle Eastern allies praised his decision. In a joint statement provided by British Prime Minister Theresa May's office, Germany, France and the UK requested the US not obstruct other nations as they attempt to implement the deal and urged Iran to "show restraint" and continue fulfilling its own obligations.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Germany, France and the UK would speak with one voice on the Iran accord: "We remain committed to the nuclear deal," he said in Berlin on Wednesday. "The deal is working. We want to keep the controls and transparency rules in place," he added. The German minister said that Trump's decision was "incomprehensible" and had dealt a blow to stability in the Middle East.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, challenged Trump's decision: "You cannot do a damn thing!" he said while meeting with school teachers in Tehran . Khamenei, who is Iran's highest religious and state authority, also derided Trump's announcement as "silly and superficial."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would remain in the international accord, but scolded Trump for his decision. In "exiting the deal, America has officially undermined its commitment to an international treaty," the Iranian leader said. Rouhani said he would like to speak with the five nations that remain in the deal, but he simultaneously warned that "whenever it is needed, [Iran] will start enriching uranium more than before."
The president of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, said the US president lacked the mental capacity to deal with problems. Lawmakers set a paper US flag on fire in the Iranian parliament and yelled, "Death to America!"
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump's "historic move," calling the deal a "recipe for disaster, a disaster for our region, a disaster for the peace of the world."
"Iran used economic gains from the lifting of sanctions to continue its activities to destabilise the region, particularly by developing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorist groups in the region," the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the accord "would have led to a regional nuclear race with little trust in Iran's intentions."
Donald Trump warned other countries that they will also face sanctions if they continue to trade with sanctioned sectors of the Iranian economy. All the other parties to the nuclear deal — the European Union, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — said they remained committed to the agreement and have expressed strong disappointment at Washington's withdrawal. State Department and Treasury officials were traveling around the world meeting with U.S. allies to try to persuade them to cooperate with the sanctions.
The first part of U.S. sanctions will snap back on 06 August 2018. These sanctions include targeting Iran's automotive sector, trade and gold, and other key metals. The remaining U.S. sanctions snap back in 04 November 2018. These sanctions include targeting Iran's energy sector and petroleum-related transactions, and transactions with the central bank of Iran.
"Our goal is to increase pressure on the Iranian regime by reducing to zero its revenue on crude oil sales," Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook said 02 July 2018. "We are working to minimize disruptions to the global market, but we are confident there is sufficient global spare oil capacity."
Saudi Arabia's cabinet on 03 July 2018 endorsed the kindgdom's readiness to pump more oil to maintain market balance and stability, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said. "The kingdom is prepared to utilise its spare production capacity when necessary to deal with any future changes in the levels of supply and demand," a cabinet statement said, following a meeting chaired by King Salman. Donald Trump on Saturday said Saudi Arabia's King Salman had agreed to his request to increase oil output "maybe up to" two million barrels.
The remaining signatories of the Iran nuclear deal announced on 24 September 2018 that they would establish a channel to facilitate payments for Iran's exports, including oil, as well as its imports. The decision was reached after high-level closed-door talks at the UN in New York. "Mindful of the urgency and the need for tangible results, the participants welcomed practical proposals to maintain and develop payment channels, notably the initiative to establish a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate payments related to Iran's exports, including oil," Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the EU announced in a joint statement.
The members' stated intent was "to protect the freedom of their economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran." The SPV could breathe life into the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal, and was sought by Tehran in order to counter the reimposition of sanctions triggered by the US's exit from the deal.
JCPOA - 2019
Iran is ready to continue consultations with the remaining JCPOA members, but will make a strong and immediate response to any irresponsible action, including referral to the UN Security Council or implementation of further sanctions, according to a statement by the Supreme Security Council of Iran on 08 May 2019. China called on related parties to exercise restraint, strengthen dialogue and avoid escalating tensions after Iran announced it would withdraw from some of the provisions of the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), considered a response to the "illegal" withdrawal of the US from the agreement a year earlier. However, Chinese experts expressed pessimism for an easing of the Iran nuclear issue 60 days later - a time limit Iran gave the remaining JCPOA members to meet Iran's demands, or the country would suspend compliance with uranium enrichment limits and measures.
Iran said 20 May 2019 it had quadrupled its uranium enrichment capacity. Iranian officials said the uranium will be enriched for civilian energy uses, far below weapons grade as spelled out in the 2015 nuclear agreement. Iran could soon exceed the amount of material it is allowed to stockpile under the deal.
On 17 June 2019, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said the Islamic will surpass the uranium stockpile limit set under the nuclear deal from June 27. "Today the countdown to pass the 300 kilograms reserve of enriched uranium has started and in 10 days time, we will pass this limit," Behrouz Kamalvandi told reporters at the Arak Heavy Water Reactor Facility. "This is based on the Articles 26 and 36 (of the nuclear deal), and will be reversed once other parties live up to their commitments," he added. Iran may also increase uranium enrichment to up to 20 percent for use in local reactors, he said. The 2015 nuclear accord caps the level of purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67 percent.
Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges [INSTEX] is a payment channel that France, Germany and Britain - the three European signatories to the nuclear deal, known the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - devised to continue trade with Tehran and bypass the US embargoes.
On 30 June 2019 the Chairman of the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce Yahya Ale-Ishaq highlighted the ineffectiveness of the Europeans’ long-awaited financial mechanism, known as INSTEX, in the face of US sanctions and said it cannot perform miracles for Tehran. Ale-Ishaq referred to the INSTEX, the payment channel that the three EU signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have set up to maintain trade with Tehran, as “a private company with limited capital... At first, it was supposed that INSTEX would compensate for the sanctions on (Iran’s) oil transactions, with the support of the European governments. But today, they say that INSTEX will work within the framework of data-x-items that are not sanctioned, such as medicine and food, which will not solve any of our problems”.
“This private company has limited capital and no one can be optimistic about this,” the official went on to say. “The volume of (Iran’s) exports to all European countries is one-tenth of the volume of exports to Iraq,” he said. This year, the Islamic Republic exported $13 billion worth of technical services and commodity to Iraq, Ale-Ishaq said, adding that INSTEX cannot work miracles for Iran.
On 01 July 2019 Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the country had increased the level of its low-enriched uranium production to over 300 kilograms as had been already announced by the country in line with Articles 26 and 36 of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “According to my information, Iran has surpassed the 300kg limit [in producing low-enriched uranium] and we had already announced [that we were planning to do] this,” Iran's top diplomat said. He added, “According to what has been announced, we have said very clearly what we are doing and consider this as part of our rights as per the JCPOA.”
As regards China and the UK’s plan to continue cooperation with Iran in redesigning the Arak heavy water reactor, the informed source said those two countries have announced in the final statement of the JCPOA joint commission meeting in Vienna that they will finish redesigning the Iranian reactor in due time. If this process goes on correctly, another subject will replace the issue of Arak reactor in the second step of reduction in Iran’s commitments to the JCPOA.
Kamal Kharrazi, chairman of Iran's Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, had warned that INSTEX does not go further than a "claim" and Iran would leave the JCPOA if the situation didn’t change. Kharrazi, who was Iran’s chief diplomat from 1997 to 2005, said there were no definitive assessments of the Vienna meeting, but with only several millions of euros of credit that the Europeans had allocated to INSTEX, business would definitely be impossible. There was still no sign of any real transaction being conducted through INSTEX.
On 07 July 2019, with the 60-day deadline to JCPOA signatories ending, Ali Rabiee, the government’s spokesperson, announced that Iran will take the second step in reducing its commitments to the JCPOA. “As of today, our uranium enrichment will surpass the current 3.67 percent and enriching to further purity will be based on our needs,” he said in an official statement.
Iran begun work 06 September 2019 on advanced centrifuges to boost enriched uranium for its controversial nuclear program. It was the third time in the past few months that Tehran had reduced its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal. The spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said that the Islamic Republic had activated 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges to boost its stockpile of enriched uranium. "The centrifuge machines, as they are engaged in research and development, will help with increasing the stockpile," Behrouz Kamalvandi said. "The capacity of these machines is many times more than the previous machines. This started as of yesterday [Friday]," he told reporters.
The spokesman said the latest move would not hinder the UN monitoring of Iran's nuclear program. "Regarding the monitoring and accesses of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] ... so that everything is clear [Iran's] commitments regarding transparency will be followed as before," he said.
JCPOA - 2020
Iran announced 05 January 2020 it was further reducing compliance with a tattered international nuclear accord, ending limitations on numbers of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. The latest blow to the accord, which was meant to ensure Iran did not develop a nuclear weapon under cover of its nuclear industry, deepened the regional crisis set off by the killing 03 January 2020 of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.
"Iran's nuclear programme no longer faces any limitation in the operational field", said the statement. This extends to Iran's capacity for enriching uranium, the level of enrichment carried out, the amount enriched, and other research and development, it said. "As of now Iran's nuclear programme will continue solely based on its technical needs," it added. However, Tehran said it would continue cooperating "as before" with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Iran also said it would once again comply with the terms of the 2015 agreement if the US does so too by lifting the sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy.
Although this is a disturbing development—coming in the aftermath of the US assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani—experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies emphasize that it does not mean the JCPOA is dead. "Despite what several headlines imply," said Senior Research Associate Paulina Izewicz, "Iran has not abandoned the JCPOA, nor was its decision to cease applying some of the deal's limits a response to the killing of General Soleimani. This step had been in the works for several months, and was widely anticipated." Izewicz continued to clarify that "The nature of the step is sufficiently ambiguous so as not to burn the remaining bridges just yet."
Vienna-based Director of the International Organizations Nonproliferation Program Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova also stressed that "Iran is not withdrawing from the agreement completely. Enhanced verification measures implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency, for example, remain in place. Iran wants to demonstrate they're not 'racing for the bomb,'" a strategic move that Mukhatzhanova says is a way for them "to avoid significant escalation and leave the door open for saving the deal."
"The latest decisions mean that the Iranians can now enrich uranium without any constraints, with the quantities they want, in the areas they want, and with the number of centrifuges they want," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV on 06 January 2020. "The repeated violations leave us today asking about the long-term validity of this [nuclear] accord. We are considering launching the dispute mechanism resolution ... we will make a decision in the coming days." Launching a dispute resolution process could eventually lead to renewed UN sanctions on Tehran.
Iran warned the United Kingdom, France and Germany about "the consequences" of their decision to launch a dispute mechanism against it under the 2015 nuclear deal. The European nations announced on 14 January 2020 they triggered the dispute mechanism provided for in the landmark nuclear agreement in order to force Iran to honour its commitments under the accord. Triggering the mechanism was a "strategic mistake", Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. "The usage of the dispute mechanism is legally baseless and a strategic mistake from a political standpoint," Zarif was quoted by the semi-official Fars News Agency as saying. Analysts say the move may mean the end of the nuclear accord and the reimposition of more sanctions on Tehran.
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