The Corner

Iran Claims Side Deal in Geneva Agreement

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said in a Persian-language interview today that there are important details about the deal between Iran and the U.S. and major powers in a 30-page document that hasn’t been made public. This weekend, Iran and the P5+1 nations agreed to the final version of the deal (which commences next week) but haven’t released its actual text — and the Iranian official, Abbas Araqchi, said that they may never be released, amounting to what some are calling a “secret side deal.” The L.A. Times explains what’s at issue:

In the interview, Araqchi referred to the side agreement using the English word “nonpaper,” a diplomatic term used for an informal side agreement that doesn’t have to be disclosed publicly.

The nonpaper deals with such important details as the operation of a joint commission to oversee how the deal is implemented and Iran’s right to continue nuclear research and development during the next several months, he said.

Araqchi described the joint commission as an influential body that will have authority to decide disputes. U.S. officials have described it as a discussion forum rather than a venue for arbitrating major disputes.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the text of the implementing agreement would be released to lawmakers. He said the six parties were weighing how much of the text they could release publicly.

Hawkish American groups have called for the Obama administration to release the text of the agreement, but Araqchi’s claim about “nonpaper” text implies that Iran and the P5+1 powers have decided that certain elements of the deal to which they agreed should not be made public.

Araqchi says that text includes some of the restrictions on what kind of nuclear research Iran will be able to pursue: Western officials said on Sunday that existing projects could continue and research could go on, but that new physical projects can’t be begun. Araqchi may have suggested otherwise, saying, “No facility will be closed; enrichment will continue, and qualitative and nuclear research will be expanded. All research into a new generation of centrifuges will continue.”

The Iranian comments about the “side deal” could have been misinterpreted (literally or figuratively), but his description of the Iranian understanding of the nuclear-research portion of the deal seems to suggest that there may be a gap between what the West has claimed about the deal and what Iran says it allows. We’ll have to see whether that confusion is cleared up.

This isn’t the first dispute over what the agreement actually amounts to: When the deal was reached at the end of November, the White House only publicly released its own fact sheet, not deigning to release the unofficial text of the communique from the conference (which was obtained by the media). That allowed the Obama administration to downplay, for instance, various ways in which the agreement weakened the international sanctions regime against Iran (the “fact sheet,” for instance, claimed only repairs and inspections of Iranian airlines would be allowed, while the agreement refers to supplying spare parts, which are often diverted by the Revolutionary Guard). Iran claimed that the White House’s depiction of the agreement was “invalid,” though their most strident objection was semantic: American diplomats argued that the deal didn’t recognize an Iranian right to enrichment, while Iranian officials said it did.

Patrick Brennan was a senior communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration and is former opinion editor of National Review Online.


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Language, of course, is generally employed by human beings to distract or deceive. So there is much to be said for critical listening.