WASHINGTON – Key elements of a new nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers are contained in an informal, 30-page text not yet publicly acknowledged by Western officials, Iran's chief negotiator said Monday.
Abbas Araqchi disclosed the existence of the document in a Persian-language interview with the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.
The new agreement, announced over the weekend, sets out a timetable for how Iran and the six nations, led by the United States, will implement a deal reached in November that is aimed at restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions.
When officials from Iran and the world powers announced that they had completed the implementing agreement, they didn't release the text of the deal, nor did they acknowledge the existence of an informal addendum.
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.
Asked late Monday about the existence of the informal nonpaper, White House officials referred the question to the State Department. A State Department comment wasn't immediately available.
[Updated 8:45 p.m. Jan. 13: A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, denied later Monday that there was any secret agreement.
"Any documentation associated with implementation tracks completely with what we've described," she said. "These are technical plans submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency," the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency.
"We will make information available to Congress and the public as it becomes available," Harf said.]
Ray Takeyh, an Iran specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Iran and the other six countries may have written the nonpaper to record understandings that they didn't want to release publicly. The governments may plan to release "just a short text, with broad principles and broad strokes," Takeyh said.
The Nov. 24 deal between Iran and the six powers – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany -- aims to freeze Iran's nuclear progress for six months. During that period, the two sides will try to negotiate a longer-term deal aimed at ensuring that Tehran's nuclear program remains peaceful. The agreement has come under fire in Iran and the United States from critics who contend it is harmful to their side.
In his interview, Araqchi touched on the sensitive issue of how much latitude Iran will have to continue its nuclear research and development.
U.S. officials said Sunday that Iran would be allowed to continue existing research and development projects and with pencil-and-paper design work, but not to advance research with new projects. Araqchi, however, implied that the program would have wide latitude.
"No facility will be closed; enrichment will continue, and qualitative and nuclear research will be expanded," he said. "All research into a new generation of centrifuges will continue."
The research and development issue has been an important one for many U.S. lawmakers, who fear that Iran will try to forge ahead with its nuclear program while the negotiations are underway. At an administration briefing for senators Monday, members of both parties raised concerns about the centrifuge research issue, aides said.
President Obama on Monday again hailed the implementing agreement and appealed to Congress not to impose new sanctions on Iran, for fear of driving the country from the bargaining table.
"My preference is for peace and diplomacy, and this is one of the reasons why I've sent the message to Congress that now is not the time for us to impose new sanctions; now is the time for us to allow the diplomats and technical experts to do their work," Obama said. "What we want to do is give diplomacy a chance and give peace a chance."