Iran’s response to Geneva deal under close scrutiny

Mohammad Zarif

Mohammad Zarif

Israeli and Western intelligence services are closely observing Iran’s nuclear development to see whether or not it will comply with the interim agreement signed with the world powers two weeks ago in Geneva.

Iran has committed to stopping work at its new plutonium reactor at Arak and limiting its uranium enrichment programme over the next six months in exchange for sanctions relief.

According to the rather convoluted phraseology of the interim agreement, Iran must not make “any further advances of its activities” at Arak. However, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last week that “construction will continue there”, even though “capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations.”

While construction without connection to the fuel cycle of the reactor is not forbidden by the agreement, some observers have voiced fears that Iran will continue to work on other key components of the reactor not mentioned.

Another crucial element of the deal is that Iran must convert its stockpile of 20 per cent-enriched uranium to gas. But Iranian officials continue to insist on their right to enrich to that level and have not yet set out schedules for the conversion.

In addition, Iranian ministers have announced major initiatives to renew wide-scale trading in oil, despite the sanctions relief in the interim deal amounting to only $7bn and the fact that the embargo on oil is still in place.

The easing of the sanctions is a major part of the Israeli government’s criticism of the interim agreement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week in closed meetings that “the sanctions are crumbling” and an Israeli official said: “The actual sum of sanctions relief is less important than the dynamic. For years, we have been working on applying pressure and now the momentum has changed. It will be extremely difficult to reverse this trend once we find out that the Iranians aren’t fulfilling their commitments.”

The Iranian announcements about kick-starting its oil trade are unsurprising given that the government of President Hassan Rouhani is trying to present the deal as a victory for Iran.

Next week, a team of Israeli security and intelligence officials headed by Israel’s new National Security Adviser, Yossi Cohen, will visit Washington to begin discussions with their US counterparts on the implementation of the interim deal and start preparing for the comprehensive agreement in six months’ time.

Despite political disagreements, Israeli officials have stressed that, on a practical level, the two countries are working together as well as ever.

Last updated: 9:45pm, December 5 2013