VIENNA -- World powers have adopted a final, comprehensive agreement with Iran that will govern its nuclear program for over a decade.
The deal culminates a two-year diplomatic effort in which the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, led by the United States, have sought to end a twelve-year crisis over Iran's suspicious nuclear work.
Formally known as the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 159-page document amounts to the most significant multilateral agreement reached in several decades. Its final form is roundly opposed in Israel— by the government, by its opposition, and by the public at large.
The JCPOA allows Iran to retain much of its nuclear infrastructure, and grants it the right to enrich uranium on its own soil. But the deal also requires Iran to cap and partially roll back that infrastructure for ten to fifteen years, and grants the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, managed access to monitor that program with intrusive inspections.
In exchange, the governments of Britain, France, Russia, China, the US and Germany have agreed to lift all UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic— once Iran abides by a set of nuclear-related commitments.
"We have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region," US President Barack Obama declared in the early hours of Tuesday morning from Washington. The deal, he said, "has the full backing of the international community."
The moment Tehran receives sanctions relief— including access to an estimated $100 billion in frozen assets overseas— will be on "implementation day," as one senior administration official put it on Tuesday morning in Vienna. That date is not set, and is entirely reliant on the pace of Iran's initial haste in preparing for life under the deal.
Once Iran has reduced its stockpile to just 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride, disconnected and removed some of its infrastructure and neutered its heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak, the UN Security Council will vote to lift all sanctions at once.
A Joint Commission has been established to adjudicate disagreements in the deal and, if necessary, vote to demand access to a specific site, or to request the reimposition of sanctions. The commission will be comprised of one delegate each from the permanent five members of the Security Council, Germany, Iran and the EU.
Negotiators failed to meet the standard of achieving "anytime, anywhere" access that several members of the United States Congress had demanded as a part of any nuclear deal. Instead, in the event Iran objects to an IAEA request for access to a specific site, a "clock" will begin that grants the two sides 14 days to negotiate.
If that period expires without any resolution reached directly between Iran and the IAEA, the Joint Commission would have seven days to advise them on a way forward. Iran would then have three days to comply with the commission's final advice, bringing the total time on the clock to 24 days.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post
whether that met a standard of anytime, anywhere access, a senior administration official involved in the negotiations said it did not.
"We don't think that 'anytime, anywhere' inspections are feasible," the official said. "It's just not something that happens anywhere in the world."
Should Iran fail to comply with the commission's requests— or should it violate the deal in any other "significant" way— a majority can vote to refer the complaint to the full UN Security Council.
But the Security Council would not then vote to renew sanctions on Iran. Rather, it would hold a vote to keep sanctions relief in effect— and would require just one permanent member's veto to end it.
That mechanism means that sanctions could snap back in place with action from the United States alone, the official noted.
Iran has agreed explicitly in the deal to "generally allow" IAEA access— wording sought by the US after Iran's history of generally rejecting such access. Tehran has also agreed to sign on to the IAEA's Additional Protocol, which broadens access, in a binding manner and in perpetuity.
"Above and beyond" its commitments made in a political agreement reached back in April, Iran has also agreed not to work on any technologies required for the construction of a nuclear warhead. That provision, US officials said, also does not have an expiration date.
Newly developed electronic seals will physically cap much of Iran's declared nuclear infrastructure, and the IAEA will also use new, online enrichment measurements to monitor activity in the cascades of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to retain.
That number is small, but not zero: 5,060 centrifuges, first constructed in the 1970s, will be allowed to enrich uranium to a low grade at Natanz for the first decade of a deal.
The IAEA will now be able to monitor Iran's entire supply chain of nuclear-related materials— from Iran's two uranium mines, through the refinement process and up to its storage facilities. Should the agency suspect activity at a location Iran has not declared, the deal favors the IAEA in its pursuit of access to the site.
The Arak installation will be converted into an altogether new design, based on conceptual models of a peaceful plutonium reactor that still uses heavy water. Outside of its April agreements, US officials say that Iran's heavy water stocks— stored in "beer kegs"— will also be monitored.
Not everything in the JCPOA will be made public, but the entire deal will be provided to Congress. "Everything that we know— that the administration knows— Congress will know," said a second senior American official.
The official was referring, in part, to the future of Iran's research and development into advanced centrifuge technology, beyond that of its 1970s models, as well as other equipment necessary for the construction of an industrial-sized nuclear program beyond 2025.
According to Western powers, the deal ensures that Iran cannot produce the materials necessary to build a nuclear weapon without the world having one year's notice. That, among non-proliferation experts, is colloquially referred to as "breakout time."
But that standard sunsets in ten years. After a decade, officials could not say how Iran's program would develop.
The future outlook of Iran's program, one US official said, is a matter between Iran and the IAEA.
"We don't know everything thats going to be in Iran's enrichment and enrichment R&D plan, and we have not negotiated the whole plan with Iran," the official said. "Its difficult for us to know exactly what that plan is going to say and therefore difficult for us to know exactly what that breakout time limits will diminish to."
The IAEA's investigation into Iran's military nuclear work, according to US officials, will have to be addressed to the IAEA's satisfaction before sanctions are relieved. But the details of that query, similarly, will be for the IAEA and Tehran to sort out for themselves.
In a prepared statement released on Tuesday morning, IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said that all of the agency's outstanding questions— on issues past and present— must be resolved by October 15 of this year. A final report will be prepared by December.
Amano announced a "roadmap" for the resolution of the IAEA's decade-long quest for answers to just twelve questions on the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program. The roadmap "will continue to take into account Iran's security concerns," it reads. Iran's atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed the roadmap document.
"If Iran violates the deal, all of these sanctions will snap back into place," Obama said, hailing the agreement as a comprehensive solution to the longstanding dispute. "So there’s a very clear incentive for Iran to follow through, and there are very real consequences for a violation."
Final negotiations toward the deal slogged through eighteen days in Austria's capital. And the technical task of precisely translating the text, and of reviewing each provision, held up announcement of the deal on Monday.
But it was that morning when Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief and coordinator of the talks, began her morning meeting with her colleagues with news that process could not go on any longer. They agreed to push through to the finish line, and the hardest talks took place on that day, an official close to the process said.
Obama spoke with Kerry and his team just before midnight that evening. White House officials tell the Post
that the president remained in constant contact with the US delegation on the ground.
The final issue that challenged negotiators was language of a UN resolution that details the expiration of an embargo on conventional arms.
The US agreed to allow the embargo to expire in five years, and to allow another embargo on missiles to expire in eight years.
The agreement came midday. "There wasn't this triumphalist celebration," the official added. "People were pretty tired."
Toward midnight on Monday, various delegations began scheduling media interviews and preparing their press corps for an announcement ceremony at the city's Austria Center, outside the heart of the city.
Earlier in the day, the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the Obama administration was "going to have a lot of confidence in our ability to advocate for this agreement," after several Republican senators alleged the deal would be a "hard sell" on Capitol Hill.
The deal now goes to Congress for a 60-day review period. The US legislature will then have the opportunity to hold a non-binding vote to approve or disapprove of the deal.
And in his only public remarks on Tuesday, at the announcement ceremony for the deal with all seven delegations, Kerry spent significant time answering questions on how he plans to negotiate with skeptical lawmakers.
"If Congress were to veto the deal," Kerry said, "the United States of America would be in non-compliance with this agreement, and contrary to all of the other countries in the world.
"I don’t think that’s going to happen," he continued. "I really don’t believe that people would turn their backs on an agreement which has such extraordinary steps in it with respect to Iran’s program as well as access and verification.
But a fight appears guaranteed. Leadership in both parties issued tepid, if not hostile, statements on the deal as the day progressed, with cautious language on the importance of the review process.
Both Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took time for prayer during their prolonged stays in Vienna. Iran's delegation marked Ramadan with a night at Imam Ali, an Islamic center, on July 6, one night before the second of four total deadlines; And Kerry attended a Sunday mass at the city's central Stephansdom on Sunday, July 12, just hours before the deal was ultimately sealed. "I really don’t believe that people would turn their backs on an agreement which has such extraordinary steps in it with respect to Iran’s program as well as access and verification."
Their teams here are large, with heavy portfolios and massive hotel bills: Even before Kerry and Zarif arrived on June 26, their delegates had been on the ground, preparing the historic text as a basis for high-level political discussions.
Hundreds of journalists descended on this city for the original deadline of June 30. Many remained, working out of a tent erected by the Austrian government just outside the palace where the talks took place.
In one form or another, Iran has maintained a nuclear program for nearly half a century. But the international community grew alarmed with its nuclear work in 2002, when two covert facilities— a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy-water plutonium facility at Arak— were discovered by Western intelligence agencies and revealed to the world.
While there are several ways to produce nuclear power that are exclusively peaceful, Natanz and Arak were two hallmark facilities built for the production of fissile material necessary for nuclear weapons.
Talks between Iran and three European nations— Britain, France, and Germany— began the following year, as the US was launching its second war in Iraq. Berlin's participation in this early round of nuclear talks has reserved it a spot at the negotiations to this day.
But the efforts of the "E3," as they were known, failed, and Iran dramatically expanded its nuclear program to include a vast and dispersed domestic enrichment infrastructure. That enrichment continued despite several demands from the UN Security Council to halt enrichment completely. And Tehran suspended its participation in the Additional Protocol, refusing to answer any more of the IAEA's many questions after 2006.
Another covert facility, this one burrowed inside a mountain near Iran's holy city of Qom, was uncovered in 2009. The UN Security Council passed a total of eight sanctions resolutions against Iran by 2010.
Washington already had a harsh sanctions regime leveled against Iran for a series of other, non-nuclear activities, including its violations of human rights and its sponsorship of terrorism worldwide. But that sanctions architecture was expanded dramatically in the following years, compounded by a sweeping oil embargo imposed by the EU.
Iran was then cut from Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, better known as SWIFT, which made basic transactions a struggle for the theocratic government. Iran will be permitted to begin using SWIFT once again, after the deal is fully implemented.
"That will be a significant driver of their economic improvement," the American official said.
The diplomatic effort which concluded on Tuesday began in secret, in the Omani capital of Muscat, directly between Iran and the US in 2013. Washington's goal was to lay the groundwork for high-level dialogue, and it worked: Just months later, Obama made a phone call to the newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani from the Oval Office. It was the first exchange of its kind in 34 years.
Among those representing the US in Oman was Wendy Sherman, who has led the talks ever since, and Jake Sullivan, now chief foreign policy advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Exiting a meeting with congressional Democrats, Clinton commented on news of the deal. "I think this is an important step that puts the lid on Iran's nuclear programs," said the former secretary of state, without elaborating.
Obama would ultimately continue his direct diplomacy through written correspondence, with the supreme leader, on several occasions over the life of the talks.
In Geneva that November, the US, Iran and its international partners agreed to freeze the crisis with a "joint plan of action." The interim JPOA effectively capped Iran's nuclear work as well as the imposition of new sanctions.
But the hard talks began after the 2013 holiday season in Vienna, at the Palais Coburg, a luxury hotel with only sixteen rooms just off the city's famous, tree-lined ring. The negotiations have now ended here, as well, in its gilded, blue-apholstered rooms overlooking the city's Theodor Herzl Square.
Different cities hosted the talks over the last two years, but negotiators mostly alternated between Geneva— where the United Nations is headquartered— and Vienna, where the IAEA is based. The talks were occasionally diverted further along the coast of Europe's largest lake to the resort city of Lausanne, and as far as to Montreux, at the foot of the Swiss Alps.
It was at the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne— after another marathon of talks, which included the longest-running meeting between a sitting US secretary of state and a counterpart in recorded history— where negotiators reached a series of core political agreements. Those agreements ultimately framed the final deal.
Over the course of their unprecedented relationship, hopping between rooms in five star hotels, Kerry and Zarif grew personally close. In Kerry's press availability, he called Zarif a "patriot," and praised him for representing Iran admirably over the course of the effort.
That relationship may prove to be the foundation of a much larger rapprochement, as was eluded to in statements from other leadership figures as the deal was celebrated.
"Constructive engagement works," Rouhani said with a message on Twitter, echoing a speech he delivered later in the day. "With this unnecessary crisis resolved, new horizons emerge."
And Mogherini, reading a joint statement with Zarif on a stage flanked with flags, said the day marked the conclusion of their negotiations, but "not the end of our common work."
Zarif called the moment historic, and indeed, that was the word of the day for all those that have been a part of this vexing struggle in one way or another.
"History shows that America must lead not just with our might, but with our principles," Obama said, standing in the State Floor of the White House alongside his vice president. "It shows we are stronger not when we are alone, but when we bring the world together."
"Today’s announcement marks one more chapter," he concluded, "in this pursuit of a safer, and more helpful, and more hopeful world."