The 2014 nuclear negotiations marked one of the most contentious issues in Iran's domestic politics and foreign affairs alike. The partial diplomatic headways, two failures to meet the extended nuclear deadlines, and the possibility of the historic comprehensive nuclear deal highlighted progression and setbacks with respect to the nuclear negotiations for both the Islamic Republic and the six world powers known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).
At the beginning of the year, Iran and the P5+1 began the process of implementing the Joint Plan of Action, which was proposed by Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif. Parallel with the nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, the IAEA began its frequent inspection and monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program in order to ensure that Tehran was complying with the November 11 framework agreement.
The first IAEA report revealed that Iran was complying with some of the articles of the provisional nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic ceased enriching uranium at the high level, 20 percent, which is a technical step away from developing weapons-grade uranium. Tehran stopped major activities at the Arak heavy water and plutonium reactor. Iran began diluting, and converted its highly enriched uranium, continuing its nuclear research and development within the framework of the interim nuclear deal. Iran promised to build a plant which would convert the newly 5 percent enriched uranium into an oxide, which cannot be utilized for further enrichment. In addition, according to the initial IAEA report, Iran provided "additional information and explanations," that Tehran has conducted tests on explosive detonators for "a civilian application."
In return, the United State and European Union began suspension of some of the economic sanctions on Iran, particularly in the automotive sector, gold and precious metals trade, plane parts, and petrochemical exports. Furthermore, the Islamic Republic began receiving approximately $7 billion in sanctions relief, in which $4.2 billion were from the Iranian oil sales revenue in frozen accounts. President Rouhani appeared to improve the domestic economy, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Islamic Republic progressed in stabilizing its economy and the appreciation of its currency (Rial).
In August, Iran failed to meet five spectrums of the requirements in the interim nuclear deal. Unable to bridge the differences, the six world powers and the Islamic Republic failed to reach a comprehensive agreement. However, both sides agreed to extend the nuclear talks for additional four months.
In November 24, for the second time, the P5+1 and Iran failed to strike a final nuclear deal. Secretary of the State, John Kerry, proposed a 7 months extension, which was welcomed by Zarif. The gaps appeared to be deep too bridge between the P5+1 and Iran. In addition, no clear agenda was presented to overcome the main stumbling blocks and gaps for the next round of negotiations.
Domestic Criticism and Challenges
Although President Rouhani and his technocrat team appeared to be successful in making some diplomatic headway with respect to the nuclear negotiations and receive a limited amount of sanction relief, Rouhani's administration was faced with a series of criticism from hard line media and prominent hardliners, including Mohammad Hossein Karimi-Ghadoosi, a crucial political figure in the hard-line Islamic Endurance Front and a member of the Iranian parliament, Majlis.
The main criticisms of Iran's hardline circle have been linked to the compromising and weak position of the President Rouhani and his negotiating team. In addition, the hardliners demand immediate removal of all economic sanctions and confirming Iran's right to enrich uranium. President Rouhani reaffirmed Iran's right by drawing "red lines" and stating "For us there are red lines that cannot be crossed. National interests are our red lines that include our rights under the framework of international regulations and [uranium] enrichment in Iran."
Nevertheless, President Rouhani remains to enjoy the blessing of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to continue with the nuclear talks. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's policy anchored in marinating a balance between and appeasing both the hardliners and the moderates (or centrists). After the second failure to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal, Ayatollah Khamenei pointed out, "We are not opposed to the extension of the talks, for the same reason that we weren't opposed to the talks in the first place. Of course we will accept any fair and reasonable agreement, but we know that it's the US government that needs an agreement and will suffer if no agreement is reached. If these nuclear talks do not achieve any results, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not lose anything."
Stumbling Blocks and Gaps
The seven months extension did not specifically lay out the framework upon which the gaps between Iran's policies on its nuclear program vis a vis the six world powers' position would be adequately and efficiently addressed.
The major stumbling blocks and crucial gaps remained:
1. The phases through which sanctions will be lifted. The Islamic Republic continues to demand swift lifting of all economic sanctions after a final nuclear deal is struck. The Western countries propose a gradual removal of sanctions as Iran shows signs of fulfilling the comprehensive agreement.
2. Information on Iran's previous activities with regards to exploding detonators and the military dimension of the nuclear program is another crucial stumbling block.
3. The next issue is whether the Islamic Republic will accept to reduce the volume of its stockpile of uranium. The Western countries attempt to increase the "breakout" timeline, Tehran's capacity to develop weapon-grade uranium, to at least a year.
4. The time for implementation of the final nuclear deal and lifting of all economic sanction. The Islamic Republic demands much shorter time than the 20 years suggested by the Western members of the P5+1
5. The number of centrifuges that Iran can retain. The Islamic Republic currently holds approximately 19,000 centrifuges.
Despite some of the diplomatic headways that President Rouhani and his negotiating team made and despite some of the limited sanction reliefs that Iran has received, the gaps between the six world powers and Iran remain to be deep to bridge. In addition, the extension of nuclear talks continue to ratchet up domestic criticism to Rouhani's administration, particularly from the hard line circle of Iran's political spectrum.
Majid Rafizadeh, an American scholar and political scientist, is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He is originally from Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria.
This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.