WASHINGTON — Iran is currently enjoying a “window” of time before the six-month deal signed in Geneva early Sunday goes into effect, during which it is not bound to take any credible steps toward disabling its ability to produce a nuclear weapon, the State Department acknowledged Tuesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the six-month interim period, during which Iran would take steps to rein in its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, has not yet begun. Furthermore, there are still a number of details to be worked out, she said, without specifying what points had yet to be finalized.
Her comments created confusion as to whether the much-touted interim deal, supposedly reached by P5+1 powers and Iran in Geneva in the early hours of Sunday morning, had actually been completed as claimed. Iran on Tuesday accused the US of publishing an inaccurate account of what had been agreed. And its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an address to the Iranian parliament Wednesday that Iran would continue construction on the Arak heavy water plant, in an apparent breach of the ostensibly agreed terms.
“The next step here is a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement,” Psaki told reporters Tuesday. “Obviously, once that’s — those technical discussions are worked through, I guess the clock would start. Obviously, there’ll also be a reconvening of the political track with the P5+1, which Under Secretary Sherman will continue to be our lead negotiator on.”
Psaki said that she did not “have a specific timeline” for how long the window would be in place before the six-month period began, nor did there seem to be any mechanism in place to prevent Iran from stepping up nuclear production before the scale-down went into effect.
“In terms of what the Iranians are or aren’t doing, obviously our hope would be, given we are respecting the spirit of the agreement in pressing for sanctions not to be put in place and beginning the process of figuring out how to deliver on our end of the bargain, that the same would be coming from their end in the spirit of the agreement,” Psaki said.
Similarly, she did not know what the timetable would be on sanctions relief, saying that there would still “be technical discussions.”
“It’s also not a all-at-one-time or a spigot that’s turned all the way on. So it would be a slow process that obviously we control, and some of those details are still being worked out,” she explained.
Another field in which the deal seems not to be solidified yet is the question of how sanctions relief would be framed in response to nuclear slow-down on the part of the Iranians. Psaki said that the deal would not require Iran to complete all steps before sanctions relief is granted, nor would it grant the entire relief package — valued at between $4 and $7 billion — before Iran initiates a nuclear slow-down.
Instead, Psaki said, “it would be a progression,” but she acknowledged that they were still “working through” it.
“It’s not one month and it applies to all of the relief internationally,” she explained. “So there would be a progressive process over the course of the first set.”
Psaki also said that among the “technical details” yet to be worked out was the order in which sanctions would be relieved.
The US administration is engaged in a two-pronged campaign — against Congress, which is clamoring to increase sanctions against Iran and dismissive of the reported terms of the deal struck with Tehran, and against Tehran, which claims that the US has miscast the terms of a deal by making the agreement sound less lenient regarding Iran’s ability to continue enrichment than it actually is.
Psaki’s statements largely confirmed speculations by former State Department official and ambassador Elliott Abrams, who argued in his Council for Foreign Relations blog earlier Tuesday that the language used by the White House to discuss the Iran interim deal was largely “aspirational,” suggesting that much of the touted P5+1 deal with Iran had yet to be hammered out.
Abrams called on the Obama administration to “clarify whether that is or is not the case, because the entire “agreement can be hung up over that negotiation over implementation.”