High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1-- the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany -- with regards to negotiations over Iran's nuclear program confirmed the news that Iran's interim nuclear deal is scheduled to begin on January 20th. Iranian leaders also confirmed the date in a statement this week.
According to the semi-official Mehr news agency in Iran, a spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry Marzieh Afkham told reporters in Tehran, "Capitals have confirmed the result of the talks in Geneva... the Geneva deal will be implemented from January 20."
Nevertheless, later in the week, Iranian leaders requested to postpone the process, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.N. nuclear watchdog. There were no reasons provided for the delay. Gill Tudor, spokeswoman of the IAEA, confirmed that the delay "was at Iran's request."
As a result, the meeting between Iran and the major powers that was scheduled to start implementing and discussing sanctions relief next week has been pushed back to February 8 at Tehran's request.
What are the pivotal next steps in the interim deal?
The next phase will include delegating responsibilities to the IAEA, which will take over a significant part of the process, along with a series of IAEA-Iranian negotiations. The IAEA will be tasked to ensure that Iran is abiding by the rules of the interim agreement and carrying out its obligations as part of the six-month provisional accord. The IAEA must also guarantee that there is no diversion of nuclear material for military purposes.
Nuances of the IAEA-Iran Negotiations: IAEA Checking Iran's Nuclear Ambitions
In the next step, the IAEA will play a critical role in verifying and monitoring the pact between Iran and the P5+1. This will require IAEA inspectors to travel to Tehran "to implement the first step," which has prompted the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors to plan on holding a crucial meeting to discuss the inspectors' key tasks.
When the preliminary deal was struck in November, the IAEA and Iranian leaders struck a cooperation pact as well. The pact includes six initial steps that Tehran must take in a three-month period. Tehran would also have to allow accessibility to information and grant access to two nuclear-related facilities including extra sites and plants where Iran is manufacturing equipment for enriching and refining uranium. Highly enriched uranium can be utilized both to fuel nuclear power plants and to develop nuclear bombs.
The IAEA has long been blocked from conducting investigations in several sensitive nuclear facilities. This has led the IAEA to suspect that Tehran's nuclear program also has military dimensions.
In the latest IAEA-Iran negotiations, Iranian leaders reiterated their position by pointing out to the IAEA that Tehran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Nevertheless, the several secret nuclear sites and activities that were revealed by Iranian oppositional groups in exile or U.S. satellites (ultimately confirmed Iran) have also increased suspicions in the IAEA, the West, and the international community.
The IAEA's task is to examine the allegations that Iran has conducted research to develop a nuclear bomb. Though the IAEA has previously asked Tehran to address these allegations, Iranian leaders have denied the charges.
According to several EU officials and international outlets, these actions by the IAEA will cost millions of dollars, which will be partially funded by voluntary member state contributions from the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors.
"The Game is Played on our Court"
In exchange for the implementation of the nuclear deal, the United States will fulfill their promise of sanctions relief-- worth between $6 and $7 billion -- and world powers will suspend certain sanctions on Iran's automotive sector, gold and precious metals trade, and petrochemical exports.
On Sunday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi also highlighted the reversibility of the interim deal by stating on Iranian state television, "As this game is played in our court, we cannot lose," adding, "Nuclear enrichment is our right." While on Tuesday, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani took to social media to point out that the interim nuclear agreement reached between Tehran and the P5+1 was the result of the "world powers surrender[ing] to the Iranian nation's will." He tweeted "Our relationship w/ the world is based on Iranian nation's interests. In #Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation's will."
The Western powers have primarily commended the recent IAEA-Iran negotiations. The Obama administration praised the interim deal, stating that this is a crucial step to halt Iran's nuclear efforts. In addition, President Obama added this week that he had "no illusions" that a final agreement would easily be reached, saying at a conference in Washington D.C. that there is at best a 50-50 chance of reaching a comprehensive agreement.
Intriguingly, Iranian hard-liners and Israeli leaders both seem to be on the same side, criticizing the deal and the recent IAEA-Iran negotiations, though for different reasons. The oppositional groups that revealed Iran's clandestine activities (in Arak and Natanz), have pointed out that Tehran is working on other underground nuclear facilities near Tehran, which remain untold to the West and the IAEA. American lawmakers have also threatened to pass further sanctions, although President Obama has stated that he will veto such efforts.
Previous interim deals with Iran were mostly successful at the first negotiations; however, the real challenge comes in the second phase, when IAEA has to verify Iran's actions. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, "While implementation is an important step, the next phase poses a far greater challenge."
The IAEA's inspectors have to verify that Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent. Iran's stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium will be diluted or converted to oxide in order to avoid the use of these materials for military purposes or other underground nuclear activities. The IAEA must also work to prevent the Islamic Republic from installing any new centrifuges or building new enrichment facilities.
The actual challenge is in the IAEA-Iran second phase, where the agency must confirm that the Islamic Republic has begun to take the promised actions, with no other clandestine activities continuing for military purposes.
This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.
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.