Has Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, changed his mind about when sanctions against Iran should be lifted based on the April 2 framework agreement worked out in Lausanne, Switzerland, with the United States and five other world powers?
The Washington Post reported that Khamenei, in an April 9 speech, said, “Sanctions should be lifted completely on the very day of [the] deal,” once one is reached.
An April 9 tweet, sent from Khamenei’s account, said, “All sanctions should be removed just when the deal is reached. If sanctions removal depends on another process then why we started to talk?”
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said all sanctions against Iran “will be canceled on the very first day of the implementation of the deal.”
The president’s reading contained a subtle but important distinction from what the supreme leader seemed to be demanding. There will, inevitably, be a time difference between the day a final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) is signed — if one ever is — and when it will be implemented.
So there appeared to be a disagreement between Khamenei and Rouhani, and here is where it becomes interesting.
On April 10, Khamenei’s official Web site put out its own version of the supreme leader’s April 9 speech.
It reads: “Ayatollah Khamenei said he has also asked the Iranian negotiators to demand the removal of sanctions all at once. ‘This issue is very important and the sanctions should be annulled the same day an agreement [would come into force].’ ”
Note the bracketed words “would come into force,” which were added to the Khamenei quote on the Khamenei Web site. That little addition seemed to bring Khamenei’s statement in line with that of Rouhani.
Of course, neither Iranian view is as specific as President Obama’s April 2 statement that sanctions relief for Iran “will be tied to the steps Iran takes to adhere to the deal” or the U.S. fact sheet, which says sanctions “will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns.” The fact sheet listed items that could take months, if not years, to implement.
The lesson is not to leap immediately to conclusions on these negotiations and remember there is still a long way to go before any final deal is reached on what is a complicated subject.
The current negotiations remind Columbia University professor Gary Sick of the process that preceded Iran’s freeing of the U.S. hostages in January 1981. Sick, who during the Carter administration’s hostage crisis was the principal Iran specialist on the National Security Council, recalled that “Iran insisted on a number of principles that had to be stated up front, but they also were willing to make huge concessions in the footnotes or fine print that followed.”
In 1981, Iran’s original supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, acquiesced in a “process of finding drafting solutions to what appeared to be fatal contradictions — satisfying the political requirements of either side,” according to Sick, who described it as “the essence of diplomacy.”
In this period of analyzing the Iran framework agreement, it also is worth weighing the views of “experts,” sometimes in the context of what they had said at an earlier time.
For example, Sick wrote on Tumblr Friday that former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, in their widely distributed April 7 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, may have engaged in “moving the goalposts” when compared with a Dec. 2, 2013, analysis they wrote in the same newspaper after the November 2013 Geneva agreement between Iran and the P5+1 that set up the current negotiations.
Back then, Kissinger and Shultz said that deal’s temporary freezing of Iran’s nuclear program and reduction of its 20 percent enriched uranium were “a tactical pause on Iran’s march toward a military nuclear capability” unless its “technical ability to construct a nuclear weapon . . . [was] meaningfully curtailed in the next stipulated negotiation.”
Compare what Kissinger and Shultz set out in 2013 as the needed goals, in quotes below, with the U.S. fact sheet’s description of what’s in the April 2 framework agreement.
In 2013, they called for “a strategically significant reduction in the number of centrifuges”; the new framework says Iran’s installed centrifuges are to drop from 19,000 to 6,104. They wanted “restriction on its installation of advanced centrifuges”; the agreement says all installed centrifuges will for the next 10 years be Iran’s first-generation models, with more modern ones placed in International Atomic Energy Agency-monitored storage.
They wanted “foreclosure of its route toward a plutonium-production capability,” and the plan says Arak’s heavy-water reactor, which had the capability to produce weapons-grade plutonium, will have its original core removed and destroyed.
They said, “Activity must be limited to a plausible civilian program subject to comprehensive monitoring,” and the agreement says Iran’s Natanz facility will produce only 3.67 percent uranium enrichment and maintain a stockpile of 300 kilograms for 15 years. The underground Fordow facility for the next 15 years will not enrich any uranium.
They said, “Any final deal must ensure the world’s ability to detect a move toward a nuclear breakout, lengthen the world’s time to react, and underscore its determination to do so.” Enrichment and nuclear research and development will be limited under the plan to ensure a breakout timeline of one year with unprecedented inspections to enforce it, and the military option remains on the table.
Nonetheless, Kissinger and Shultz remain unsatisfied.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.