Sanctions and an increasingly constrictive global nuclear supply regime have left Iran little other option but to buy nuclear materials in the shadow. The country has built a clandestine global network of front companies and used it to purchase the key goods Tehran needs to keep its centrifuges running and reactor construction progressing along.
This may all change with the framework agreement agreed in Lausanne recently. According to the State Department, one of the agreement’s provisions creates a dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s nuclear program.
The approved channel will "monitor and approve, on a case-by-case basis, the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual-use materials and technology," a press release on the agreement says. President Obama has described it as being run by a "procurement committee."
This is perhaps the most notable aspect of the agreement as the provision will open a legal trade line to most aspects of Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in years.
Iranian nuclear procurement is finally going legitimate. That's a huge shift and potential opportunity that have already raised several questions. How will this channel function and who will oversee it?
The most interesting of these questions is just who will supply Iran the goods it needs to keep its nuclear program running.
Russia seems interested. They built Iran’s nuclear power plant at Bushehr, and Tehran inked a deal recently to add 2 more power units. Russia’s first-mover advantage may not last as the lengthy delays and safety concerns associated with Moscow's work at Bushehr will make Iran think twice if other options become available to it.
Iran is going to need all sorts of materials and know-how from the market in order to advance its civilian nuclear program. Now that it has the choice, it will no longer have to rely on second or third best products - it can shop the market.
And surprisingly, it might even be American companies that will fill the role of seller.