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The Iranian nuclear deal is deliberately vague, but parts are not hard to decode

Reuters/Brendan Smialowski
Different interpretations.
By Steve LeVine
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Disputes have broken out over just what each side agreed to in the nuclear deal between six leading nations and Iran, with one of the chief topics when exactly sanctions will be lifted: Iran has said the restrictions on its sale of oil and its banking system will terminate as soon as the deal is signed in June; the so-called P5+1 group says the sanctions will come off in stages.

One reason the discrepancy is important is that once sanctions are lifted, an additional million barrels a day of Iranian oil could flood the already-glutted oil market:

Part of the problem is that the April 2 accord is deliberately ambiguous in an effort to confound the no-deal-at-almost-any-price critics on both sides. The idea seems to be to reveal a concrete and transparent written account only on or around June 30, when all the details have been hashed out.

But scrutiny of the rhetoric from both sides appears to reveal what, at this point any way, the sides mean the final deal to say, at least on the subject of sanctions.

It is that as soon as the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has complied with all the provisions (such as reducing its stock of enriched uranium to 300 kilos from the current 10 tons; and the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges to 5,060 from the current 19,000), the oil and financial sanctions will be lifted.

This interpretation—buttressed by President Obama in an interview April 4 (paywall) with the New York Times—allows both sides to say it is right: sanctions termination is “immediate,” if “immediate” means when Iran is in compliance; and it is “gradual” if that means that compliance will come gradually.

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