A Major Step Toward a Nuclear Deal

Iran and world powers have outlined a path toward a historic agreement.

Brendan Smialowski/Reuters/The Atlantic

On Thursday, six world powers and Iran emerged from negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, with a framework for a deal on the Iranian nuclear program—signifying a major step in a process that started 18 months ago. The talks, which went two days beyond the deadline, sketched the contours of a final deal that is expected by the end of June.

EU Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini announced the agreement alongside her Iranian counterpart. “We have stopped a cycle that is not in the interest of anybody,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Key Issues Remain

One surprising component of Thursday's news was the level of detail about the framework itself, which covered some of the thorniest issues in the deliberations.

Iran's secret underground nuclear facility at Fordow, a major concern for Israel and the Arab Gulf states, will be converted into "a nuclear, physics, technology, research center." Meanwhile, as Reuters noted, "Two-thirds of Iran's current enrichment capacity will be suspended and monitored for 10 years." The proposal would extend Iran's nuclear-breakout capacity—the estimated time it would take Iran to produce enough uranium for a nuclear weapon—from the currently estimated two or three months to a year.

"In return," U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement, "Iran will receive significant economic and financial sanctions relief including the termination of all UN Security Council Resolutions." Little has been said about the timeline for lifting sanctions, and what international monitoring of Iran's nuclear program might look like a decade from now.

In a phone call earlier this week, Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a former member of the American delegation to the Iran nuclear negotiations, predicted that the "phasing of sanctions relief" and Iran's ability to conduct "research and development" on advanced centrifuges might be "two of the key issues" remaining as negotiations neared the initial deadline. After Thursday's announcement, the specifics of those issues remain unresolved.

Getting Support from Israel and the Gulf States

In a speech at the White House, President Obama hailed the agreement as the "best option" (as opposed to military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, or walking away from a deal altogether) while tempering the enthusiasm of the moment by explaining that it is “not based on trust,” but rather “unprecedented verification.”

Obama also emphasized it was not only a "good deal," but also a "good deal for Israel." Hours before the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Twitter to raise his concerns.

Following the announcement, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz issued a statement calling "the smiles in Lausanne ... detached from the grim reality" of Iran's continuing threat to Israel and the rest of the region. President Obama also noted that he had spoken with the king of Saudi Arabia and invited the member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who are also wary of a nuclear deal with Iran, to Camp David to discuss the agreement.