The current round of nuclear negotiations between a U.S.-led coalition of major powers and Iran is moving in the direction of significant concessions from both sides.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that the deal being discussed in Lausanne, Switzerland currently involves a restriction of Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program to 6,000 centrifuges, for at least a decade. Iran currently uses 10,000 of the devices. The nuclear program would be monitored by outside inspectors.
In exchange, the draft agreement obtained by the AP includes immediate relief from existing American economic sanctions linked to the country’s nuclear program. Other sanctions, like those linked to Iran’s terror sponsorship and human rights record, would remain in place.
“It’s a good deal for the Iranians,” said Alex Vatanka, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The number of centrifuges and enrichment volume are all things they’ve agreed to in the past.”
Matthew McInnis, an expert at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed. Looking at each team’s statements this week, he observed that “the Iranian side’s very excited about what’s happening, whereas the U.S. and E.U. are a bit more hesitant.” In light of recent American attempts to block an agreement, he suggested, “there’s additional eagerness, even anxiousness, on Iran’s part to get things going before Congress or other actors can create more obstacles.”
“Theoretically, at least, that could translate into greater concessions on the Iranian part to speed up a deal.”
The 6,000-centrifuge figure is at the center of an extensive debate about breakout capacity — Iran’s closeness, at any given time, to the ability to build a nuclear bomb. While the dismantling of nearly half the country’s centrifuges is a significant barrier to creating a weapon, some say that technological advances will eventually allow Iran to make more progress with less equipment.
Among the other parties brokering the deal with Iran, France has expressed the greatest hesitation, with the AP quoting an official who said the country wants oversight of the deal to last as long as 25 years.
For both sides, moving forward depends on a measure of trust in their negotiating partners. McInnis said, “How Iran has been presenting its adherence to a deal is not necessarily indicative of how it’ll behave after a deal is signed.” Rather than naïveté, he says, the United States and other parties have been observing Iranian negotiators “on their best behavior,” and assuming that the pattern will continue into the future.
Likewise, Iranians have expressed frustration with the U.S. Congress, and the apparent determination by some of its members to block an agreement in the future. (RELATED: Just Who Are Those Iranian ‘Hardliners’ We Keep Hearing About?)
According to Vatanka, the administration has put so much effort into the negotiations because President Barack Obama sees potential for a genuinely historical step. “I think Obama believes this is his real potential foreign policy success. But the risk is that, if it goes wrong, it could be the biggest failure.”
Meanwhile, McInnis expressed fears that a narrow focus on nuclear negotiations has kept the administration away from other problems with Iran. “The Iranian regime is not really changing here,” he said. “This is a transactional relationship, not a transformative one. What I’m afraid of is that we’ll solve the nuclear problem partway, and then not really address all the other issues.”