On January 20th, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran had been implementing its commitments as part of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) agreed with the so-called ‘E3+3’ in Geneva (also known as P5+1) on 24 November 2013. The forging of this interim deal, the successful start to its implementation and the temporary sanctions relief represent resounding success for international diplomacy but they should not be allowed to conceal the underlying issues. Reaching agreement on the JPA was achieved at the cost of clarity over what is to follow and it was decided to eschew a structured agreement in favour of a two-step process. The stated aim of the negotiating parties remains that of starting the implementation of a comprehensive solution by November 2014. If agreement is not reached on a comprehensive solution by the expiry of the JPA by July 20th, the action plan can be renewed by mutual consent. The latter might well be the likeliest outcome of the forthcoming negotiations. Apart from the large gap between the E3+3 and Iranian positions on the substance of a final deal, several domestic policy constraints will likely define the parameters of what is achievable in the future.
This CEPS Policy Brief argues that the best hope for success lies in continued engagement and consistent incremental progress in the negotiations, with structured concessions on both sides. This should occur, however, not in a two- but a three-step framework based on lengthening Iran’s ‘breakout’ period while re-engaging with the country both politically and economically. The EU is in a unique position to lead this process. Having greater flexibility than either the US or Iran, its main tasks will be that of maintaining the negotiating momentum and broadening dialogue with Iran.
Steven Blockmans is CEPS Senior Research Fellow and Head of the EU Foreign Policy unit. Luigi Scazzieri is an intern at CEPS.