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Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif April 27, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif April 27, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif April 27, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll May 1, 2015

Do Iran and the United States disagree on the nuclear deal framework?

How can the United States and Iran come to a deal on Iran’s nuclear program when the two countries can’t even agree on what they supposedly agreed to?

That’s the point presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. -- a vocal critic of the negotiations -- made on National Public Radio April 13.

"I still have tremendous questions about whether this deal's even viable," he said. "The Iranians are now saying that what we're saying the deal is and what they understand it to be are two different things."

President Barack Obama and the other negotiating parties -- Iran, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany -- hit a milestone in early April. They established a framework agreement that lays the foundations for a final deal, to be reached in the summer. So we wondered: Are the United States and Iran’s descriptions of what the deal will entail so different?

It’s important to keep in mind that the agreement reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, was a framework, not a final deal. The framework itself isn’t publicly available, and the parties still have plenty of details to hammer out. For these reasons, there’s room for the negotiating parties to fill in the blanks with details that appeal to constituents.

Even so, some of the differences between the United States’ and Iran’s descriptions of the agreement are significant -- such as the timeline for sanctions relief and how much access international inspectors will have to Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Back in April, Iran and the United States decided to set these differences aside, hoping to successfully address them later, said Matthew Kroenig, a professor at Georgetown University and an expert in nuclear weapons policy.

"These differences are important, however, and could very well kill the deal," Kroenig said.

Officials in both countries have said the other’s descriptions run counter to what was decided in Lausanne, and if they can’t agree, the potential for a deal might die.

Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted and said on Iranian television that the American factsheet was "in contradiction" to the framework agreement, according to the New York Times.

Responding to a question about Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s pushback against the deal, Obama told reporters April 11, "If that is his understanding and his position -- in ways that can't be squared with our concern about being able to embark on vigorous inspections to assure that Iran isn't cheating under any program, and that we don't have the capacity to snap back sanctions when we see a potential violation -- then we're probably not going to get a deal."

Significant discrepancies

We reached out to Rubio’s team and didn’t hear back. But Iran and the United States have each produced factsheets about the agreement, in addition to a joint statement from the negotiating parties. If you want to look at the details yourself, Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs put together a side-by-side comparison of all three fact sheets and relevant political statements.

A major discrepancy between Iran and the United States is the timeline and conditions for pulling back sanctions against Iran.

According to the American factsheet, the United States and European Union will "suspend" sanctions against Iran after it has been verified that Iran is complying with the deal. The sanctions can "snap back" into place if it is discovered that Iran is not complying.

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Iran’s summary, on the other hand, says the sanctions will be "revoked" as soon as the deal is implemented -- distinguishing a permanent change from the ability to reinstate sanctions. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said April 4, "During the talks we (both sides) always talked about lifting economic, financial, and banking sanctions. We never talked about the suspension of the sanctions, and if that were the case, no agreement would form."

Additionally, Obama said the sanctions relief would be "phased in," while Rouhani said the sanctions would be canceled on the "very first day of the implementation of the deal."

Another point of contention is the level of access international inspectors will have to Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The American factsheet has several bullet points emphasizing that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors will have near universal access to Iranian nuclear facilities. Obama called it "unprecedented," noting that Iran will also be required to grant access to the material supply chain in addition to the facilities themselves.  

Iran’s summary of the framework says much less about verification processes. It says Iran will comply with some of the agency’s protocols "on a voluntary and temporary basis." Additionally, Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said international inspectors will not have unlimited access to nuclear facilities.

"It must absolutely not be allowed for them to infiltrate into the country’s defense and security domain under the pretext of inspections," Khamenei said, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

While the discrepancies over sanctions and levels of verification are important, others are a just matter of spin, said Graham Allison, director of Harvard’s Belfer Center and a nuclear weapons analyst.

For example, regarding one of Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities, the United States factsheet says, "Almost two-thirds of Fordow’s centrifuges and infrastructure will be removed." Iran’s factsheet, on the other hand says, "More than 1,000 centrifuge machines and all related infrastructure in Fordow will be preserved and maintained."

Both descriptions are accurate -- Fordow currently has 2,710 centrifuges, and the deal will lower that number to 1,044.

While the differences in the public descriptions may be striking, Allison said people should not pass judgment on the final deal yet, given that the real negotiations are conducted in private, meaning the real contents of the deal are private, too.

"Poisonous political divides in both Washington and Tehran mean that a host of commentators and even journalists seize on, and even exaggerate, these differences for their own political ends," Allison said.

Our ruling

Rubio said, "The Iranians are now saying that what we're saying the deal is and what they understand it to be are two different things."

Leaders in Iran and the United States are both accusing the other of distorting the framework agreement reached in April -- and there are some dramatic and significant differences in the way the two countries are describing aspects of the agreement.

It’s important to keep in mind that the agreement is not the final deal, and many details have yet to be solidified. But Obama and experts have said some of the differences that have surfaced, if unresolved, could kill the final deal.

We rate Rubio’s claim True.

Note: This claim was fact-checked as part of a reward to our Kickstarter campaign to live fact-check the 2015 State of the Union. Thanks to all who contributed.

Our Sources

NPR, "Transcript: NPR's Full Interview With Sen. Marco Rubio," April 13, 2015

Harvard Belfer Center, "Comparing US and Iranian Positions on Nuclear Framework," April 7, 2015

New York Times, "Outline of Iran Nuclear Deal Sounds Different From Each Side," April 4, 2015

Al-Monitor, "Differences emerge in US, Iran interpretations of nuclear deal," April 8, 2015

Wall Street Journal, "Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Blasts Terms of Nuclear Framework Deal," April 9, 2015

Fox News, "Nuclear ‘deal’ critics worried about ‘dueling’ fact sheets from US, Iran," April 7, 2015

Reuters, "Kerry says he stands by presentation of Iran nuclear deal," April 12, 2015

The Hill, "White House: Iran 'cannot change the facts' of nuclear deal," April 10, 2015

Email interview, State Department spokesman Sam Werberg, April 15, 2015

Email interview, Belfer Center Director Graham Allison, April 20, 2015

Email interview, Matt Kroenig, April 27, 2015

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