Jeffrey LewisFrameworks and Agreements

I just wanted to write down a brief explanation about the documents that exist describing the Iran “deal”.  There seems to be some confusion about what they are and what they are not.  They are a deal in the sense that they tell us what the final agreement will look like.  But they are not a deal in the sense that many important details remain to be worked out.

The only official document is the Joint Statement by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, which was read out in English by Ms. Mogherini and in Farsi by Dr. Zarif. This is a “framework” agreement that serves as a kind of proof that the negotiators are close enough to begin negotiating what will be called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.  The framework agreement tells us broadly what the comprehensive agreement will look like, but turning the solutions and compromises outlined in the framework into the language of an proper agreement will be a challenge.

There are other texts, some of which we can see.  The United States released a fact sheet entitled Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program, and so did the Iranians.  (Payam Mohseni at the Belfer Center made a translation.)  Marie Harf mentioned both fact sheets during the April 3 press briefing. Gary Samore notes some of the interesting questions raised by the two fact sheets, which I would describe as being broadly consistent though with interesting differences of emphasis that point to challenges that remain.

For example, the US fact sheet notes that the IAEA “will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years.”  That’s great, but what does continuous mean?  The IAEA will have to develop a entirely new set of arrangements to provide continuous surveillance of rotors and bellows production and storage facilities, which is something it has never — to my knowledge — done before. The negotiators now will have to work this out.  The negotiators have given themselves three months — until the end of June — to do so.

Similarly, how will Iran reduce its stockpile of LEU to no more than 300 kilograms of material enriched to no more than 3.67 percent?  The Iranians seemed to have considered shipping the excess abroad, presumably to Russia, before changing their mind.  Will they instead dilute excess material?  Sell it on the open market?

These are just two of several interesting questions that must be addressed. The parties may already have resolved many of the discrepancies, just not in public.  There is the infamous whiteboard that recorded many solutions and compromises.  John Kerry, according to AFP, “had his own version committed to paper to consult on the go.”  I’d be shocked if it didn’t go beyond the Joint Statement.  The US fact sheet, for example, refers to Iran conducting “research and development on centrifuges will be carried out on a scope and schedule that has been mutually agreed.” Press reports suggest R&D was a sticking point at the end, so it must have come unstuck. (If I ever open a pub, I am calling it The Scope and Schedule.)

Overall, Joint Statement, as elaborated upon in the fact sheets, suggest that the parties have the framework of a strong agreement.  But these papers alone do not constitute an agreement, at least not yet.  An agreement is written down, with significantly more detail, and signed by the parties.  As the Obama Administration discovered during the ill-fated “Leap Day Deal” with North Korea, getting words on the paper is no small task.

Still, I am, for the first time in this process, hopeful about a successful outcome.  Neither of the two examples I cited are impossible for negotiators to solve. But solve them, they must.  And, in three months.  Give or take a few all nighters at the end.


  1. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    I have seen at least three people who should know better refer to the current document(s) as the JCPOA.

  2. Ara Barsamian (History)

    Secretary Kerry and Foreign minister Zarif have done the impossible against all odds, in potentially seriously limiting the path to an Iranian nuclear weapon. Congratulations,and best of success in translating it into an agreement that the world can live with.

    And ACW did its small part in educating the arms control community and the rest of us…Bravo, Jeffrey!

    • Jeffrey (History)

      We were just talking about you! Hadn’t heard from you in a while …

  3. Ian Stewart (History)

    I think I’ve only seen it referred to as JCPOA. Where’d CJPOA come from? (not wishing to nit-pick)

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Carelessness on my part!