Iran nuclear negotiations extended, but don’t forget about illicit procurement

Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries (US, UK, France, Russia, China, Germany) concluded on Monday without a comprehensive deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme being reached, but the negotiating parties have agreed to extend their discussions into 2015. No change to existing sanctions measures were announced, meaning that businesses will need to continue to exercise caution in dealings related to Iran.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday in Vienna, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the sides hope to reach a political agreement within the next four months. “We have developed a clearer understanding of what that kind of deal could look like,” Kerry said, “but there are still some significant points of disagreement, and they have to be worked through.” Sticking points between the sides are not clear, but probably relate to Iran’s long-term enrichment capacity and the pace of sanctions relief. 

An emerging issue is the means by which Iran will obtain supplies for its nuclear programme if an agreement is reached. David Albright and Olli Heinonen at ISIS have argued for the establishment of an externally-monitored procurement architecture with oversight by the IAEA and UN Panel of Experts in order to help ensure that illicit procurement does not continue.

Others have noted that even Iran’s legacy procurements may present problems for a final agreement. Leonard S. Spector of the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies has argued that Iran must disgorge all of the nuclear-related items it has obtained in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Spector states that nuclear-related goods obtained in violation of sanctions “are not rightly in Iran and cannot ultimately remain there, but must be destroyed or returned to their proper owners.”

That is a big ask. It would mean, amongst other things, the wholesale dismantling of Iran’s enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, which are filled with centrifuges built using foreign-supplied materials and electronic equipment procured from outside Iran. No party to the negotiations has asked for as much from Iran.

Still, authorities should be considering how best to deal with the procurement issue. Iran’s reliance on foreign-sourced components for its nuclear programme means that its foreign nuclear supply chain, which has largely operated in the shadows and in violation of international law, is something that cannot be ignored.