January 13, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1050

The Geneva Joint Plan Of Action: How Iran Sees It (1)

January 13, 2014 | By Yossi Mansharof, E. Kharrazi, and Y. Lahat*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1050

"The agreement is not yet implemented, but the anti-Iran atmosphere has [already] been defeated."
- Iranian FM Zarif, Fars, December 18, 2013.


The November 24, 2013 announcement of the Joint Plan of Action in Geneva by Iran and the 5+1 group has sparked a debate in Iranian political circles. The two main positions in this debate are criticism of the deal by the ideological camp, which includes Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the conservative daily newspaper Kayhan, and others, and defense of it by the rival camp, led by Expediency Council head Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Hassan Rohani, which had pushed for negotiating with the U.S.

The latter Iranian camp has been presenting the Geneva negotiations and their outcome in a way that is significantly and fundamentally different from the way in which they have been presented by the U.S. administration – and it should be noted that for the most part this Iranian reading of the agreement is more accurate and more reliable than the U.S.'s.

This review will present various aspects of the Iranian perceptions of the Geneva paper; most of those quoted below are architects of the paper.

The Essence Of The Geneva Deal: Not An Agreement, Just A Declaration

In a November 25, 2013 interview with Iranian TV, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, one of the chief nuclear negotiators at Geneva said: "We are now in the first step of the nuclear negotiations, which we call a joint plan of action... This agreement does not constitute a legal obligation and these steps are reversible... It is not a treaty, but a six-month joint plan of action. Do not call it more than that. It is not a treaty that needs to be interpreted, and it is also not in different languages. All the negotiations in Geneva were conducted in English, and even the French, Chinese, and Russian negotiating teams, whose languages are official UN languages, negotiated in English... There is always a way out [of the deal]... any time we decide to do so, we can get out of this agreement."[1]

In a November 30 interview on Iranian TV, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, another of the chief nuclear negotiators at Geneva, said: "The agreed text is not a legal and binding agreement, but is more like a political declaration that was agreed under the headline 'joint plan of action,' and both sides have prepared a table of the voluntary steps to be taken within a defined time frame."[2]

At a January 5, 2014 meeting with Italian MPs, Hashemi Rafsanjani referred to the Geneva deal as "the Geneva understandings."[3]

It should be noted that the sides have not signed this document. Likewise, no mechanism was established for implementing the deal and no date was set for implementation, as is usual with agreements. The date for implementation was set only after additional negotiations; regarding the mechanism of the implementation, no details are known.[4]

Iran's Achievements Under The Deal – Alongside Continued Attacks And Threats

In a December 18, 2013 speech at Tehran University, Foreign Minister Zarif said: "At the present time, the structure of the sanctions and the [hostile] atmosphere that existed have collapsed. [At the same time,] the structure of Iran's nuclear program is preserved, and we can resume enriching uranium to 20% within less than 24 hours...

"[In the negotiations,] we did not discuss human rights and other issues with the U.S... Right now, we have 19,000 centrifuges, of which 8,000 to 9,000 are spinning with uranium. The rest of them are either not spinning or are spinning without uranium. There is no change here... The right to enrich uranium and the right to nuclear [energy] is recognized in the NPT as rights that cannot be separated from each other, and as rights that need not be recognized and that must be honored. It is as if someone said: I recognize your right to live. What if it isn't recognized, have we no right to live?

"What has triumphed over time is the model of the Islamic Republic. If we set this model as the foundation [of our thought], we will understand our challenges, our capabilities, and our potential... The U.S. fears our culture of martyrdom. The greatest obstacle for the U.S. is the strength, the self-confidence, the resistance, and the culture of sacrifice and martyrdom of the Iranian people. We cannot replace these assets with [mere] weapons...

"I have read texts regarding U.S. strategic security. For 20 years, I have been studying international security. The U.S.'s concern stems from our culture of resistance, not from our weapons. If we don't understand the foundations of our strength, we will play into the hands of the other side...

"During these 100 days [since President Rohani took office], there has been an earthquake in international relations: All the plans of the enemies and of the seekers of evil aimed at depicting Iran as a threat have been defeated. The Iranophobic atmosphere has dissipated...[5]

The day after the Geneva paper was released, FM Zarif said: "Our friends must not think that the U.S. and Israel are strong powers. They are crumbling powers."[6]

In a November 11, 2013 television interview, Deputy FM Araghchi said: "[Under the deal,] the structure of [our] nuclear program is preserved, and it will only not expand a little... As far as we are concerned, we possess the right [to enrich uranium], and we wait for no one to officially recognize or not recognize it, because we have this right, and we expect it to be honored. Mr. John Kerry can interpret [the enrichment issue] however he likes. [But] what matters is that the Iranian people are coming out of the Geneva agreement with this statement [about its right], and with the enrichment. As far as we are concerned, the issue of the heavy water reactor at Arak is clear: It must remain as a heavy water reactor. Iran's nuclear program has not been set back at allits expansion has only been stopped for a little while. Under this agreement, the system of Iran's nuclear program is absolutely preserved – but in the sanctions system, there are cracks."[7]

In a November 25 interview with Iranian television, Zarif said:[8] "What will be carried out in the framework of this plan is that we will continue to enrich uranium and we will talk with the U.S. about it. We want the world to understand that our nuclear [program] is civilian. The enrichment on Iranian soil will continue, and will not be stopped. The enrichment will continue. The enrichment to 20% that was carried out at Fordo will continue to the level of 5%... According to the Joint Plan of Action, Iran enjoys the right to enrich [uranium], and all the sanctions against it will be lifted. For the first time, six countries have agreed that enrichment is part of the solution...

"For two weeks, the Americans tried to add to the agreement the provisions 'in practice' and 'if agreed,' but we omitted both of them, and did not let this happen. [Over the years] many have tried to take the enrichment program away from Iran, by means of pressure, [but] eventually they agreed [to Iran's uranium enrichment]. We must appreciate this achievement...

"You surely know that this outcome is an historic achievement for the [Iranian] people... The West sits at the negotiating table because it has [already] tried sanctions, coercion, and threats, but these had no effect. With its resistance, the Iranian people has brought the world to the negotiating table. We must trust ourselves and not worry.

"We are advancing with our eyes open. We are a great country with a great people. No one can deceive us... this agreement was not forced on us. We were the ones that forced the world to stop the sanctions and the threats.

"On this page [i.e. the Geneva paper] there are no sanctions and no threats. This page shows that after many years, they are [now] talking with the [Iranian] people on an equal footing. They have realized that they have no other way but logical and just dialogue with this [Iranian] people...

"We planned this, so that the ministers [of the 5+1] would realize that if they did not come [to negotiate] there would be a regression. Within the space of two weeks, the six ministers [of the 5+1] came to Geneva, with no prior planning, in order to talk with Iran's representatives. This shows Iran's capability. We can."

At a November 24 press conference in Tehran, hours after the end of the Geneva talks, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said: "We are not halting any nuclear activity, but only voluntarily reducing enrichment for six months, so that there can be comprehensive negotiations to determine what will happen with enrichment above 5%. If they see any concession [on our part], it is voluntary. The activity at Arak, the enrichment to 5%, all the activity to discover [uranium ore deposits], the research, and the development will continue. No activity will be halted."[9]

In a December 22, 2013 interview with Iran's broadcasting authority IRIB, Araghchi said: "Since the [November 24] Geneva agreement, some of the positions taken by U.S. officials have been improper, and have [even] often been against the agreement – under which it was agreed that the next step in the negotiations will be based on good will... The U.S. administration was forced [to step up the sanctions] because it was under criticism and protest by various Members of Congress [who oppose the agreement] and by its friends in the region, among them the Zionist regime and others, for providing incentives to Iran. The Americans were criticized for consenting to Iranian [uranium] enrichment, for their debate on the sanctions, for striking a deal with Iran, and for helping increase [Iran's] regional and international strength. [These new U.S. sanctions] were meant as a response these criticisms.

"We told the American officials: Do not [try to] solve your internal problems and your problems with your friends at the expense of the rights of the Iranian nation. This is not a good idea at all, and we will oppose it. Some of the actions of the U.S. administration, as well as the ambivalent policy within it, attest to its confusion... The Treasury Department does one thing and the State Department does another; some seek to increase the sanctions while Obama says he will veto new Congressional sanctions. This shows that they need to justify the incentives that they gave Iran – but they are not entitled to do this at Iran's expense and by doing so to endanger the Geneva agreement."[10]

Obama will veto Congress's anti-Iran sanctions. Source: Shargh, December 22, 2013.

At a conference of government circles, Expediency Council head Hashemi Rafsanjani said: "The White House stands fast against the Senate, saying, 'We will veto your sanctions'... We [Iran] have made no concessions... Israel says to America: Iran made a mockery of five or six countries. This shows that the first step [of the Geneva deal] was good. If Western countries show good will, there will be no need to draw out the negotiations.

"[I say to the West:] We have no trust in your because you did not operate transparently. You say that we strove for a nuclear bomb via the International Atomic Energy Agency, while the leader of the revolution [Khamenei] issued a fatwa on this matter.[11] It was repeatedly suggested that this this proposal [i.e. the fatwa] be registered as a UN document. In the six months to come, we must see from you intentions that are good and commitments [that are fulfilled]... You [i.e. the West] must carry out confidence-building measures. The Iranian government and its leader do not shy away from building confidence, and the path is open."[12]

At a December 17, 2013 ceremony honoring martyrs, Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan said: "The fact that we have a nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment [capabilities] is not to be taken lightly, because this nuclear know-how brings arrogant countries to their knees."[13]

In a December 26 speech, Majlis speaker Ali Larijani said, addressing the West and the U.S.: "I warn [you] – do not even think of deceiving us. Sometimes this mistaken notion that Iran agreed to negotiations because of the sanctions' impact is brought up by the American president, and also by some Westerners. If this is really what they think, they will undoubtedly suffer for it and regret it... We warn [you] – do not misjudge and do not think the sanctions pressured us. If you misjudge again, you will deal with a newer phenomenon [apparently a reference to the Majlis proposal for 60%, see below]. Now is the time for rational discussion. Put the [military] options in your pocket and your intellect on the [negotiating] table."[14]

Majlis Proposal: We'll Enrich Uranium To 60%

By late December, 230 Majlis delegates, out of 270, had signed a bill that would require the government to enrich uranium to 60% should the 5+1 step up the sanctions on Iran or harm its nuclear rights.[15] One of the signatories, Mehdi Mousavinejad, said that it also requires the government to activate the Arak reactor.[16]

Majlis National Security Committee spokesman Hossein Naqavi Hosseini told the Majlis website that the Majlis proposal to enrich uranium to 60% was "backup for the negotiating team" as well as a move to counter the U.S.'s intention to increase the sanctions. He added, "The Majlis will not abandon the negotiating team."[17]

Referring to this Majlis proposal, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said at a January 5, 2014 ceremony honoring Iran's "nuclear martyrs," that is, Iranian nuclear scientists who were assassinated in recent years: "We will obey any decision made by the state's current sources of legislation [i.e. the Majlis]."[18] Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi also said regarding the bill, "Any law passed by the Majlis is obviously binding for us."[19]

It should be noted that hours after the Geneva paper was released, official Iranian spokesmen said that Iran had had $8 billion of its assets unfrozen. Other statements mentioned smaller amounts, and later these statements were denied. It is possible that this move, which the U.S. undertook mere hours after the paper was released, had not been intended for publication (see Appendix).

The Permanent Arrangement According To Iran

In a December 28 interview on Iranian television, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said: "After the first step, which will last six months, there will be a period of confidence building, the essence of which is bilateral steps. Its time frame is undetermined, but will last for several years, during which many actions will be taken. When it is done, Iran's nuclear dossier will be regularized, with no restrictions on our nuclear activity. During this time, [further] bilateral steps will gradually take place; enrichment to 5% as well as research and development will continue; and, if necessary, we will also produce uranium [enriched to] 20%...

"We cannot accept their setting of our level of enrichment. Clearly we do not want to enrich 10,000 tons of uranium a year. We must see the level to which we want to enrich – that is, for our reactors. If we were certain that they would give us fuel for our reactors, perhaps we would not have produced nuclear fuel at all, but we have no confidence in them...

"We need fuel for five reactors [with a total output of] 1,000 megawatts [it should be emphasized that Iran has no nuclear reactors besides the one in Bushehr]. In order to equip the enrichment site at Natanz with 50,000 centrifuges that would produce fuel for one reactor, we need seven or eight years. Currently, the Bushehr reactor requires 30 tons of fuel every year [note: this fuel is provided by Russia, under a signed agreement]. Therefore, we must be certain that the required fuel for our reactors will be provided, and we have no confidence that they will provide it to us...

"Iran will not back down from any right provided in the NPT and the IAEA charter. At the same time, it also has its own commitments. Therefore, enrichment is our right and we can enrich in any style and to any level and quantity. On the basis of the Geneva agreement, we will willingly freeze enrichment to 20% for the six months during which the first step is meant to be carried out...

"They know that we have not deviated from the civilian path [in our nuclear program] and that, based on the fatwa by Supreme Leader [Khamenei] and our religious and moral positions, we are not moving towards the production, storing, and use of nuclear weapons. They are frustrated by the fact that as an independent country in the region, Iran could influence reciprocal relations in the region by virtue of its independent nuclear technological capability... Iran is a strong country in the region and in the international arena, and their [i.e. the West's] massive pressure on us to join their axis had no effect. Ultimately, they were forced to talk with us...

"In the final step, Iran's nuclear activity will be like that of Japan and Germany.[20] This is something the 5+1 has acknowledged. At the end of the game that they began, the Iranian nuclear issue will be regularized, and Iran will enjoy its rights according to the NPT."[21]

Salehi added: "The IAEA has no authority to investigate the West's false claim that we conducted a nuclear warhead test. We have stopped our laser enrichment experiments, but there are five or six different ways to enrich [uranium] and no one will force us to choose a particular method. Our goal is to develop nuclear technology according to the Japanese model."[22]

National Security Committee chairman Alaa Al-Din Boroujerdi said: "The final [goal] of the Geneva paper is to take Iran's [nuclear] dossier from the UN Security Council, end all the sanctions, and regularize Iran's status regarding its peaceful nuclear program."[23]

In a December 22 interview with the Hamshahri Diplomatic journal, Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi discussed what would happen after the six-month period ended: "At the end of the [Geneva] agreement, it says that after the final step is carried out within the time frame set for it, and after we pass that, Iran's nuclear program will be like the nuclear program of every other country that has no nuclear weapons. This means a normalization of all conditions, with no restrictions of any kind [on Iran] in this matter... If Iran requires [uranium] enriched to 20%, it will [enrich it,] with the agreement of both sides. It is possible that during this period we will build new reactors for which we will need nuclear fuel [enriched to] 20%, and we will produce [it] accordingly."

In response to the journal's question about whether there is consensus regarding the final step of the deal, he said: "As the [Geneva] agreement states, we have agreed on the first step and on the final step. Regarding the first step, the steps have been given in full detail, but regarding the final step, the details are noted only [in general] terms. For example, in the final step there are no sanctions at all. All sanctions will be lifted, or in the final step there will be enrichment, within, of course, restrictions that we will choose in accordance with our needs.

"In this context, the word 'involve' was used, that is, that the final step will undoubtedly involve an enrichment program. An interesting point is that at Geneva, we negotiated for hours on the word 'involve' alone."[24]

Appendix: Did The U.S. Unfreeze Iranian Assets Before Geneva Deal Came Into Force?

On November 24, 2013 at 8:00 AM Iran time, about three and a half hours after the press conference at which the Geneva paper was released, Iran's IRNA news agency published an interview with Ali Naqi Khamushi, head of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce and former head of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, titled "America Unfreezes $8 Billion In Iranian Assets." Accompanying the interview was a report by IRNA that "the former head of Iran's Chamber of Commerce announced today that some $8 billion in Iranian assets were unfrozen by the U.S."[25]

It should be noted that this report gained immediate traction in the Iranian media and was widely quoted by leading Iranian websites such as that of Iran's broadcasting authority IRIB,[26] Asr-e Iran,[27] Khabar Online,[28] and others.

IRNA report: "America Unfreezes $8 Billion In Iranian Assets"

Three hours later, Iran's Mehr news agency also published an interview with Khamushi titled "America Unfreezes $4.3 Billion In Iranian Assets." The Mehr report states: "The head of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce reported that $4.3 billion in assets of the Islamic Republic of Iran were unfrozen after the recent nuclear agreement between Iran and the 5+1 group in Geneva. In a short interview with Mehr, Ali Naqi Khamushi announced that $4.3 billion in Iranian assets in America were unfrozen in the first step. This came as a confidence-building move between Iran and the 5+1 group."[29]

Mehr report: "American unfroze $4.3 billion in Iranian assets today"

In a November 25 interview with IRNA, government spokesman and presidential advisor for supervision and strategic affairs Mohammad Bagher Nobakht confirmed that assets had been unfrozen. The report states that Nobakht said "that the recent nuclear agreement has a significant impact on Iran's economy and added that some Iranian assets frozen by America have been unfrozen. It is true."[30]

Nobakht to IRNA: "Some Iranian assets frozen by American have been unfrozen."

However, in a November 27 interview, Nobakht backed down from his statements, and refused to confirm that $8 billion in Iranian assets had been unfrozen. A Mehr news agency report stated: "On the margins of the government meeting today, Wednesday, in response to the Mehr correspondent's question regarding the exact figure of [unfrozen Iranian] assets and regarding the sum that would be unfrozen within six months, with attention to the fact that several different figures are being mentioned in the matter of the unfreezing of Iranian assets, such as 8 billion, 4.3 billion, etc., [Nobakht said]: I do not confirm the figure of $8 billion that was mentioned in the media. He added: 'The unfrozen assets that Iran will receive during the next six months are much higher than the figures you just mentioned.'"[31]

Mehr report: Nobakht denies that $8 billion in Iranian assets have been unfrozen.

* Y. Mansharof, E. Kharrazi, and Y. Lahat* are research fellows at MEMRI.


[1] Fars (Iran), November 25, 2013.

[2] Fars (Iran), December 1, 2013.

[3] Fars (Iran), January 5, 2014.

[4] Araghchi commented on the proposed January 20 date for putting the Geneva deal into effect to be finalized: "If we can reach a consensus on these issues by the end of this week, the [proposed] January 20 date may be agreed upon, but for the moment, we cannot confirm whether the date would be January 20 or later." PressTV, Iran, Jan 6, 2014. Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said at a January 5 ceremony honoring Iran's "nuclear martyrs," that is, nuclear scientists assassinated in recent years: "I hope that the first steps towards implementing the Joint Plan of Action will be possible very soon, by a particular date that apparently will be the third or fourth week in January..." ISNA, Iran, January 5, 2014.

[5] Fars (Iran), December 18, 2013.

[6] Fars (Iran), November 25, 2013.

[7] Fars (Iran), December 1, 2013.

[8] Fars (Iran), November 25, 2013.

[9] Fars (Iran), November 24, 2013.

[10], December 22, 2013.

[11] For more on this alleged fatwa, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5461, President Obama Endorses The Lie About Khamenei's 'Fatwa' Against Nuclear Arms, September 29, 2013.

[12] Shargh (Iran), January 5, 2014.

[13] Fars (Iran), December 17, 2013.

[14] ISNA (Iran), December 27, 2013.

[15] Press TV (Iran), December 30, 2013.

[16] Fars (Iran), December 25, 2013.

[17], December 25, 2013.

[18] ISNA (Iran), January 5, 2014.

[19] Press TV (Iran), December 30, 2013.

[20] For more on Iran and the Japanese/German model, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 513, Iran Foreign Minister: The Japanese Nuclear Model Applies To Us Too, May 7, 2009, and Inquiry & Analysis No. 209, Iran Seeks EU Consent for Modeling Its Nuclear Program on the 'Japanese/German Model' – i.e. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Capabilities Three Months Short of a Bomb, February 23, 2005.

[21] Fars (Iran), December 28. 2013.

[22] Fars (Iran), November 25, 2013.

[23] Mehr (Iran), January 5, 2014.

[24] IRNA (Iran), December 22, 2013.

[25] IRNA (Iran), November 24, 2013.

[26], November 24, 2013.

[27], November 24, 2013.

[28], November 24, 2013.

[29] Mehr (Iran), November 24, 2013.

[30] IRNA (Iran), November 25, 2013.

[31] Mehr (Iran), November 27, 2013.

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