Since last week’s announcement of a “framework agreement” on the Iranian nuclear program, I’ve been bothered by a handful of troublesome ambiguities. Near the top of that list was what precisely had been agreed to regarding an Iranian commitment to the Additional Protocol (which authorizes intrusive IAEA inspections of suspected non-disclosed nuclear sites) and to the modified Code 3.1 (which requires countries to disclose new nuclear facilities “as soon as the decision to construct or to authorize construction has been taken, whichever is earlier.”)
According to the State Department fact sheet, “Iran has agreed to implement” both the Additional Protocol and the modified 3.1. At first glance, that sounds great. But “implement” is actually a pretty fuzzy term. As I wrote a few weeks ago, what American and the international community have been seeking is not just “implementation,” but Iranian consent to being legally bound by these regulations. After all, there has already been a period when Iran voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol in the past, but as Iran never sent the formal letter “concluding” its agreement to the Protocol, it backed out a few years later. Similarly, although for a time Iran observed the modified Code 3.1, in 2007 it suspended implementation arguing that the modified provision had never been approved by the Iranian parliament.
Given this history, it is crucial that Iran not only agree to “implement” the Additional Protocol and modified Code 3.1, but also take those steps (parliamentary votes, letters to the IAEA etc) necessary to establish an unambiguous, permanent legal commitment. By using the word “implement,” the State Department fact-sheet is simply not clear about what precisely is expected.
Interestingly, the Iranian fact-sheet is actually more informative---at least with regard to the Additional Protocol. Here’s a translation of the relevant section released by Harvard’s Belfer Center:
Iran will implement the Additional Protocol on a voluntary and temporary basis for the sake of transparency and confidence building, and, in continuation, the approval process of the Protocol will be ratified within a specified timeframe under the mandate of the President and the Islamic Consultative Assembly.
It seems, then, that at first, implementation will be “voluntary and temporary,” and ratification (and presumably, formal conclusion by means of a letter sent to the IAEA) will follow eventually. This is reassuring. The Iranians, it appears, are expecting not only to implement the Additional Protocol, but to take the legislative and international legal steps necessary to declare themselves legally bound by it.
Still, like almost everything else in the Iran deal, the devil remains in the details. Much will depend on how quickly Iran commits to making the shift from “voluntary and temporary” implementation to formal ratification and conclusion. But assuming the timeframe is relatively swift and the international community is prepared to give this requirement teeth, the Iranian fact-sheet is a good sign. I only wish the American version had provided similar detail.