The Vienna talks between Iran and the E3/EU+3 group, acting for the P5+1, reached a constructive conclusion on February 20, with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton making identical statements, in Farsi and English respectively, that the parties had identified all the issues necessary for a long-term deal. In effect, they have agreed on the framework for a “comprehensive and final agreement.” The next round of talks is to start on March 17, again in the Austrian capital. Under the interim agreement, Iran will stop producing uranium enriched to nearly 20 per cent, will dilute half the stockpile it has already enriched to the same level, and will continue converting the rest to a form unsuitable for further enrichment. In addition, Tehran will not enrich uranium in about half the centrifuges at Natanz and three quarters of those at Fordo. It will manufacture equipment only to repair existing machines, and will put the Arak heavy-water reactor on indefinite hold. It will not build any more enrichment facilities. Furthermore, the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to inspect Natanz and Fordo on a daily basis, and the Arak reactor at least on a monthly basis.
On the other side, the western countries in particular have undertaken not to impose further nuclear-related sanctions if Iran fulfils its Vienna commitments; they will also pay Iran a total of $4.2 billion in oil revenues, allow Iran to resume exporting precious metals, suspend sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports, and permit the Islamic Republic to import goods and services for automobile manufacturing plants. In addition, they will maintain their current levels of crude oil imports from Iran, and will allow Iran’s civil airlines to acquire spare parts and services. Yet the deal already faces interference. Israel is pushing certain western governments to include Iran’s missile programme in future talks, thereby showing its own anxiety that a final agreement will be reached without it. Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as a theological and political rival, will also view the current prospects with alarm. Iran’s willingness, however, to keep the door open need cause neither surprise nor suspicion. It was in fact the United States which, by providing uranium enriched to 93 per cent, helped start Iran’s nuclear programme in 1967, and Tehran aimed for nuclear self-sufficiency only after the West imposed sanctions on the Khomeini regime in the 1980s. There could be no clearer evidence for continued engagement between the P5+1 and Iran, and both sides must reach fair and just final-status arrangements without delay.