The road to renewed Iranian nuclear deal could be long and arduous
Seven years have passed since the summer of 2008, when a prominent American diplomat first met with his Iranian counterpart, until both sides signed the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
No one expects it to take that long to determine if they can resurrect the treaty canceled by former US President Donald Trump, but US and European officials say the journey will be long and arduous if they do start it.
US President Joe Biden’s administration said Thursday it is ready to dispatch its special envoy, Rob Malley, to meet with Iranian officials and find a way to return to a deal negotiated by Tehran and the six major powers, and called a Joint Comprehensive Action Plan. (JCPOA).
While Tehran initially sent mixed signals, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took a tough line on Sunday, saying, “The United States cannot join the nuclear deal until sanctions are lifted.”
The gist of the deal was that Iran would limit its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to build up fissile material for nuclear weapons – an ambition it has long denied – in exchange for relief from states. United States and other economic sanctions.
In theory, it shouldn’t be difficult to decide how to renew the deal, the terms of which are detailed in 110 pages of text and attachments.
This will actually be a problem for two reasons: the dozens of sanctions Trump has imposed on Iran after he backed out of the deal in May 2018, and the steps Iran has taken, after more than a year of waiting, to break the pact in retaliation. …
While both sides have so far publicly focused on who will be the first to reopen the deal – each insisting that the other should do so – a US official told Reuters that “sequencing” could be sanctioned.
“The question of who will go first… I don’t think it will be the most difficult,” he said.
“This defines how each side views compliance,” the official added, instead pointing out which US sanctions could be lifted and “is the question of … the steps taken by Iran reversible?”
The JCPOA, endorsed by Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, requires the United States to lift only “nuclear” sanctions against Iran.
Following the cancellation of the deal, Trump imposed dozens of new sanctions for other reasons, including Iran’s alleged support for terrorism.
Experts say Biden would find it politically tense and perhaps impossible to comply with Tehran’s demands for their withdrawal, given the likely criticism of the Republicans and perhaps some of his fellow Democrats.
“This is a very sensitive politically sensitive issue in the United States because some of them … were deliberately committed by the terrorist authorities,” said Henry Rome of the Eurasia Group.
“The two negotiating groups have to go through a fairly broad process to decide what remains and what leaves.”
Another problem is Iran’s support for regional delegates, including those suspected of attacking US troops. In the deadliest incident of its kind in nearly a year, a missile strike on US-led troops in northern Iraq on Monday killed a civilian contractor and wounded a US soldier, making it harder for Washington to pretend it is offering concessions to Iran. …
Another complication is the desire of the Americans to release the US citizens detained in Iran. On the issue, Washington began talks with Iranian officials and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday.
And although some of Tehran’s steps to violate the JCPOA may be reversible, for example, its uranium enrichment by more than 3.67% and an increase in the supply of low-enriched uranium, others cannot. This includes lessons learned from research and development of advanced centrifuges that will help Iran enrich uranium to 90% weapons-grade, if it so desires.
“How is the knowledge gained turned upside down?” Asked Robert Einhorn of the Brookings Institution think tank.
Tehran authorities also face delicate choices about how to respond to any revelations from the Biden administration, as Iran prepares for the presidential elections in June, when voter turnout is likely to be seen as an establishment referendum amid growing discontent with economic difficulties.
Iran’s fragile economy, weakened by U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, has left the ruling elite with few options but negotiations, but the decision ultimately rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
However, it is unclear whether both sides will be able to return to the negotiating table at all.
Since Tuesday, Iran has threatened to further reduce its compliance with the agreement, in particular by ending some surprise inspections by the UN nuclear oversight body.
The experts said that this does not necessarily condemn the possibility of negotiations, but it exacerbates the problems.
“In spite of everything, we remain in a dangerous situation, which will get worse in the coming days,” said a French diplomatic source. “It is important to resume diplomacy as soon as possible.”