Jeffrey LewisIAEA-Iran Modalities Plan Online

The IAEA has posted the Modalities Plan, formally Understandings of The Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA on the Modalities of Resolution of the Outstanding Issues.

(Apparently Iran and IAEA ignored my plea to name it the “Action Plan” — although the IAEA website refers to it as a “workplan”.)

Interestingly, Iran asked for the workplan to be made public. Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of the conservative Keyhan (full text in the comments) offered one rationale in calling for Iran to release the document:

In an interview with ISNA, speaking about this issue, Hoseyn Shari’atmadari said: “In order to make sure that public opinion throughout the world, as well as experts, are informed about the truth of the matter, the Islamic Republic of Iran must announce the agreed modalities of the agreement with the Agency. As the modalities have been set out in a technical and legal language, its publication can allow the public to become familiar with the reactions of the 5+1 countries, and it can also show that many of their demands are illegal.”

Yeah, well, regardless of what you think about that logic, at least we get to see the full text.

The workplan is basically a timetable for resolving various disputes in a logical order — putting the horse before the cart. So, for example, Iran and the IAEA agree to resolve questions about the history of the P1 and P2 programs before moving to the source of the HEU contamination at a Technical University in Tehran. That seems sensible, since ElBaradei has said the IAEA can confirm Iran’s explanations about HEU contamination “only with a full understanding of the scope and chronology of Iran’s centrifuge enrichment programmes.”

Criticism, from the US Ambassador to the IAEA and David Albright, emphasizes that Iran can’t be given a clean slate without additional verification measures, including compliance with the Additional Protocol.

That seems right to me, but the workplan does has the virtue of forcing Iran to provide satisfactory, exculpatory explanations by a certain date. That, in and of itself, is quite valuable. I don’t think Iran can do it, although I would be happy to be proven wrong.

Update David Albright and Jackie Shire have released a short statement calling the workplan a flawed agreement.


  1. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Text of unattributed report headlined “Hoseyn Shari’atmadari: Iran must announce the agreed framework with the IAEA” published by Iranian newspaper Kayhan website on 28 August

    The managing director of Kayhan newspaper has called for the publication of the details of the agreed modalities [this word given in English] (the framework) of the agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the nuclear officials of our country.

    In an interview with ISNA [Iranian Student’s News Agency] , speaking about this issue, Hoseyn Shari’atmadari said: “In order to make sure that public opinion throughout the world, as well as experts, are informed about the truth of the matter, the Islamic Republic of Iran must announce the agreed modalities of the agreement with the Agency. As the modalities have been set out in a technical and legal language, its publication can allow the public to become familiar with the reactions of the 5+1 countries, and it can also show that many of their demands are illegal.”

    A few days ago, Reuters News Agency, quoting one of the diplomats, had reported that even if Iran provides answers for the remaining questions, the IAEA will not be able to confirm that Iran’s nuclear programme is peaceful, unless Tehran implements the Additional Protocol.

    Speaking about this issue, the managing director of Keyhan newspaper said: “The International Atomic Energy Agency has nothing valid to say regarding Iran’s logic. The inspections have been carried out, and there has been nothing in the reports of the Agency’s inspectors to show that there is any sign or indication that there has been any diversion in Iran’s nuclear activities. The Agency itself admits this point.”

    Pointing out that the issue is not limited to the Agency, he said that it is the political will of various powers and not the technical and legal views of the Agency that is involved in this issue. He continued: “From a technical and legal point of view, Iran’s nuclear file must be withdrawn from the [UN] Security Council. However, there is another political will that is being exerted by some powers. Therefore, it seems that as the 5+1 countries have not so far paid any attention to the technical and legal information and details, and as they have mainly dealt with the issue from a political point of view, they will continue with the same outlook in the future as well.”

    The Agency should refrain from issuing a double-edged report

    Pointing out that we should wait for the September report of [Muhammad] al-Baradi’i to the Board of the Governors [of the Agency], Shari’atmadari said: “The worry that we have is about another double-edged report by al-Baradi’i. Unfortunately, in his reports when he is dealing with technical and legal issues, al-Baradi’i has relatively positive views as the arguments are clear and transparent. However, when in another part of the report, political issues also get involved, and when political issues are prominent, the situation changes. Consequently, most of his reports are double-edged.”

    He stressed: “From a technical and legal point of view, the Agency cannot express any worries regarding Iran’s nuclear activities. However, when some political considerations enter the debate, he [al-Baradi’i] expresses some anxieties that are not at all logical and are not within the framework of the activities of the Agency.”

    The managing director of Keyhan newspaper added: “The main issue is not the question of deviation from peaceful nuclear activities, and this is something that the Westerners know very well too. However, they have hijacked our nuclear file for the sake of some other challenges that they have with us in the region. It does not seem likely that they will easily give up this blackmail.”

    The present phase has been successful

    Stressing the fact that Iran must continue its peaceful nuclear activities, Shari’atmadari said: “The process that we adopted after putting an end to the suspensions [of uranium enrichment] has been a successful phase. In other words, while sitting at the negotiating table, we have continued our peaceful nuclear activities, and we have not suspended them. The first achievement of this process has been that the West cannot deprive us of various opportunities [presumably to continue with enrichment], contrary to the period when all the activities had been suspended, and every procrastination was in their favour and against our interests.”

    He pointed out: “Today our officials have come to the conclusion that each country’s share in the international order is in keeping with the power that the country possesses, not in keeping with theoretical capabilities and dialogue.”

    Source: Kayhan website, Tehran, in Persian, 28 Aug 07 p 14

  2. James (History)

    Your surprise that Iran wanted this public means you assumed the IAEA would be able to prevent it from leaking. Information security at the IAEA has never been a strong suit.

  3. Geoffrey Forden (History)

    It is important to back off a little from this issue and remember why the Iranian file was sent to the UN Security Council. It was not sent because the IAEA had concluded that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. Nor was it sent to the Security Council because Iran had ended its compliance with the Additional Protocols, which it had signed but not ratified. That, after all, was consistent with the Additional Protocols being an additional measure that was not part of the NPT.

    Rather it was sent because the IAEA had found a number of inconsistencies in Iran’s statements and declarations and was refusing to address those inconsistencies, and the resulting questions and issues they raised, in a sufficiently detailed fashion. It is true that Iran’s failure to answer those questions is very troubling and does justify the international community in suspecting a clandestine nuclear weapons program. However, now that Iran has undertaken to answer those questions to the IAEA’s satisfaction, it is important to understand that Iran needs—and is justified in demanding—confidence building measures that its answers will be accepted by the international community if the IAEA is satisfied by them. (And this point-by-point resolution timeline is clearly designed to establish Iran’s confidence that the international community will accept yes as an answer.) I think we can count on the IAEA not rolling over just to end this current crisis. After all, if it hadn’t been for the IAEA’s moral courage, this issue might never have been raised at all.

    David Albright’s report, where he specifically attack’s the IAEA’s very limited statement that Iran has not diverted declared material as being too sweeping is a very good example of how difficult it is to “prove the negative” and illustrates why Iran needs this confidence building timeline. As I am sure David is aware, weapons inspectors never asked Iraq to prove the negative. Instead, it was always a question of verifying Iraq’s declarations of its past history. This technique worked very, very well in Iraq where it discovered, for instance, Iraq’s biological weapons program even before Hussein Kamel defected. We should let it work in Iran.

  4. abcd (History)

    The net effect of Iran presenting this as a case closed, fait accompli will be that the Russians and Chinese will see it exactly that way while the US dithers at the SC for a third round of sanctions and marginalizes itself. Though, like Dr. Lewis, I’d love to be proven wrong…

  5. arnold evans

    From Iran’s point of view there are two issues that are resolved in Iran’s favor by this document.

    The first is the US position that Iran is in a special category of NPT non-weapons states that must not only not have weapons, but must not have the technological capability to produce a weapon. That position has been dealt at least a major setback and quite possibly a fatal blow.

    This position is still held by the US, and has been recently stated by the President. The position is somewhere between vastly and outrageously inconsistent with the wording and the spirit of the NPT.

    Supporters of this position tend to change the subject when the position is brought up directly rather than try to defend it. It is truly an indefensible position.

    One practical effect of this document is that Iran will be able to make tangible progress towards answering the questions the IAEA says it still has while it is enriching and solidifying its position alongside Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, Romania and dozens of other non-weapons states as “nuclear capable”.

    The second issue is that Iran’s position is that there are not non-trivial questions remaining about its program. According to Iran, the US has been applying political pressure on the IAEA to produce an endless stream of nit-picks so that Iran can be in some sense out of compliance which justifies US efforts to continue to isolate Iran.

    It has to be noted that the US has had unilateral sanctions against Iran since the revolution and from an Iranian point of view, the US wants others to sanction Iran using any excuse it can get.

    Supporters of the US position will say “oh no, all of the IAEA questions are valid, there is no political maneuvering going on.” That doesn’t matter, because this agreement says these questions will not be used to produce either anti-Iranian propaganda or further nitpicks – every issue has predictable conditions under which it will be closed. Also this agreement installs pressure to resolve each individual issue because Iran is not responsible for further questions until the previous ones are closed.

    Creating a situation where the questions will not be open ended, where Iran is told to expect its answers to lead to finality is the second issue that has been resolved in Iran’s favor by this document, at least from Iran’s point of view.

    So what happens now?

    First Iran does not have an active weapons program. There is no reason it would. If Iran has an active program, it can produce a weapon sometime in the next decade. If Iran does not have an active program, it can produce a weapon at the same time in the next decade. The conflict has never been over an active program, it has always been over capability.

    The rationale behind the remaining questions is that they may lead, just in theory, to uncovering an active program. The IAEA is not able to say today that there is certainly not an active program. The truth is every half-way intelligent observer of the situation knows there is no active program, but these questions are presented as issues that must be answered before the IAEA can certify such.

    So now Iran is going to answer the questions. At most it will be uncovered that there was a modest weapons program in the 80s or 90s. That program will have been demonstrably shut down. By modest I mean on a much smaller scale, and much further from its goal than the programs of Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan or Romania. Maybe there really wasn’t a program. We’ll find out.

    But the IAEA under this agreement can, and will be obligated to certify that there is no remaining evidence of an active program today.

    And because Iran has not ratified the Additional Protocols, that’s all Iran legally has to have certified.

    After the questions have been answered, China and Russia simply won’t go along with applying further pressure. It must seem especially ironic to China that Israel is, according to the US, supposed to have a regional monopoly on nuclear capability but Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are nuclear capable with US blessing. It’s just not a defensible position.

    So the unanswered questions were a propaganda coup for the US. It gave Russia and China a rationale to increase pressure on Iran even though those countries have not signed onto the idea that Iran must not be nuclear capable. The agreement gives Iran the opportunity to nullify the propaganda coup and clears Iran’s way to join the ranks of countries that could, in theory, build a weapon if it chose.

    This agreement is a big deal. The United States at this time is scrambling to come up with a way to have the agreement rejected with minimal damage to its push for sanctions – and again, the US has always wanted sanctions against Iran, long before there was a nuclear issue.

    Baradei signed on. Olli signed on. The US is in a tough position right now.

  6. Robert

    Since the cornerstone of the issue was IAEA not being able to give Iran a “clean bill of health” until all outstanding questions have been addressed and IAEA is the only competent authority dealing with NPT compliance and concerns, it would seem obvious and practical that Iran has negotiated with IAEA to achieve their mutual agreement.

    So logically, reasonably and legally, they have an agreement/contract which details as to how they can achieve this objective, where Iran provides the information IAEA requires and IAEA gives Iran a clean bill of health!

    This of course is disliked by US, UK etc. because their strategy has always been to keep this on a never ending story, where there was no end for Iran and whatever they did, they would be expected to do more, because no one can ever prove the none existence of something!

    So complaining that US don’t like this or this is not enough because IAEA should have forced Iran to sign up to the Additional Protocol is a smoke screen which is used by people who have other agendas and don’t like the fact that their biggest excuse to attack Iran has seemingly been removed from the agenda. After all, the additional Protocol is a voluntary protocol that can not be legally forced onto any NPT member, which is the reason why US and many other NPT members, have also not signed the Additional Protocol!

  7. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    The United States has signed the Additional Protocol, FYI.

  8. Andy (History)

    This agreement is a brilliant move by Iran for reasons others have listed, but also because Iran can technically progress during implementation. The plan gives Iran a lot of flexibility both by preventing action on items until they come on the agenda, and by allowing Iran to control and manage how long the process will take. I therefore predict that this “workplan” will be complete at about the same time Iran completely masters the fuel cycle. Iran can delay or accelerate resolving the outstanding questions as necessary along the way.

    It also undercuts the US and its EU partners from initiating further action against Iran since it has agreed, in principle at least, to address all the outstanding concerns. Finally, it also undercuts justification for Iran signing the Additional Protocol – once these issues are resolved and Iran receives a “clean bill of health,” then they will likely argue the AP is not needed at that point.

    In short, this agreement buys Iran a lot of time, flexibility and breathing room in which to operate and, in one fell swoop, cut the legs out from beneath the US/EU pressure strategy. Brilliant.

  9. hass (History)

    Correction – the US signed and ratified the Additional Protocol but only after having unilaterally carved out several exceptions for itself, including reservations and exclusions based on claims of “national security” and denial of access to “restricted data” etc etc. so in effect the reservations undo the effect of the protocol.

  10. James (History)


    How does the US ratification of the AP undo its intended effect?

    As a nuclear weapons state (NWS), the US, like the other NWS, makes voluntary concessions in the name of transparency. The AP as applied to NWS is not meant to be full disclosure, but a confidence building measure where the veil of secrecy is lifted more than it might be otherwise.

  11. Anon

    Further correction — Hass fails to note that one key reason why the Additional Protocol (“AP”) for the United States differs from the AP for nonnuclear weapon States (“INFCIRC/540/Corr.”) is that the objective of voluntary-offer safeguards on nuclear weapon States differs from the objective of NPT-required, comprehensive safeguards on nonnuclear weapon States.

    For nonnuclear weapon States, the technical objective of safeguards is: “the
    timely detection of diversion of significant quantities of nuclear material from
    peaceful nuclear activities to the manufacture of nuclear weapons or of other
    nuclear explosive devices or for purposes unknown, and deterrence of such
    diversion by the risk of early detection” (INFCIRC/153, para. 28).

    In contrast, for nuclear weapon States, the objective is “the timely detection of withdrawal from civil activities, except as provided for in this
    Agreement, of significant quantities of nuclear material which is being safeguarded….” (See INFCIRC/263, para. 28; INFCIRC/290, para. 28; INFCIRC/327, para. 28; and INFCIRC/369, para. 28.)

    The exclusions that the U.S. negotiated in its AP are consistent with, and extensions of, the exclusions of its original voluntary-offer safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

  12. hass (History)

    Because the AP does not permit the exclusions that the US has carved out for itself, that’s why. Like I said, these are UNILATERAL. If the US wanted to make legitimate exceptions for NWS then it should have done so as part of the AP itself.

  13. Anon

    Hass, I realize that you get a figurative (and perhaps even literal?) raging Woodrow Wilson from railing against what you see as Uncle Sam’s unilateralism, but from your comment (August 31, 2007, 3:34 PM) it’s clear that you fundamentally misunderstand the history and purpose of the Additional Protocols, esp. as they relate to non-nuclear-weapon States versus nuclear-weapon States. I recommend wholeheartedly that you (and anyone else interested in this subject) read this document, The Safeguards System of the International Atomic Energy Agency, paying attention to Sections C.12-C.15 — but especially C.15. These passages tend not to support your argument, my friend.