The Iran nuclear deal is in play

March 2022
By Julia Masterson

The United States and Iran are “potentially days away” from reaching an agreement to restore mutual respect for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the White House spokeswoman said Feb. Jen Psaki. The negotiations in Vienna have made “significant progress”, but some problems remain. still pending and “there is very little time left to reach an agreement given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances”, she told a press briefing.

Negotiators produced a 20-page document with annexes on sanctions, nuclear commitments and implementation of the restored deal, including sequencing and verification, according to an unnamed Iranian source in Tehran. This source, quoted by the website on February 15, said the document reflected “the entire agreement”, but was still under negotiation.

Philippe Errera, France’s chief negotiator in Vienna, on February 23 tweeted a photo of the apparent plan under consideration with the words “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” written at the top of the page .

Disagreements between Iran and the other parties to the negotiations (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) continue to slow down the talks, which aim to restore respect by the United States and Iran of the agreement, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The two sides appear to remain divided on issues of scope and verification, as Tehran demands broader US sanctions relief than Washington is willing to offer, and a formal guarantee against future US withdrawal from the deal. Even so, pressure is mounting for a resolution due to Iran’s continued nuclear advances, which may soon make it impossible to recapture some of the nonproliferation benefits envisioned by the JCPOA.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price warned on February 14 that “at the current rate of Iran’s nuclear progress, we have little time left, and that is precisely because at a At some point, very soon, these nuclear advancements will eliminate the benefits that the JCPOA, as it was finalized in 2015 and implemented in 2016, originally conveyed. The deal imposed a series of limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities that reduced its nuclear program and lengthened the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium-235 for a nuclear bomb. “Time flies very quickly,” Price added, as Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium continues to grow.

Negotiations to restore the deal began in April 2021, nearly three years after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the OK. Iran began breaching the limits of the deal in May 2019, and now its nuclear program is larger and more sophisticated than it was before the nuclear deal was implemented. If the talks are successful in restoring the deal, Iran will return to the JCPOA boundaries in exchange for the US recommitting to the deal and lifting some sanctions.

The United States and Iran have yet to meet face to face in Vienna, but each has taken tentative steps toward abiding by the deal that could be seen as a tacit concession to the other side.

According to an unpublished report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran informed the agency on January 19 of its intention to close the Karaj centrifuge component workshop in favor of a different setup. The Karaj workshop, which was the subject of a months-long standoff over access between Iran and the IAEA that threatened to upend JCPOA negotiations, is now closed, according to the agency. (To see ACTJanuary/February 2022.)

The United States, for its part, decided on February 4 to reinstate non-proliferation waivers that were mandated by the JCPOA but were lifted after the United States withdrew from the agreement. As a result, cooperative non-proliferation projects can resume in Iran without sanction. The waivers “will facilitate discussions that will help reach an agreement on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and lay the groundwork for Iran’s return to implementing its JCPOA commitments,” the Department wrote. State in its report to Congress.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, coordinator of the JCPOA, said “I firmly believe that a deal is in sight” after a February 14 phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. “Now is the time to make a last ditch effort and reach a compromise,” he added.

But several challenges remain. Tehran has repeatedly called for the “total lifting” of US sanctions against Iran, including those imposed on its ballistic missile programs and other military activities. The Biden administration has said it is only willing to revoke sanctions that were lifted when the JCPOA was implemented and reimposed when the United States withdrew from the agreement.

Yet an anonymous congressional aide quoted by The Washington Post on February 23 remarked, “At this time, there are enough changes in the draft agreement for the administration to declare the new agreement subject to INARA,” the 2015 law on the review of the Iran nuclear deal, which cleared the US Treasury Department. to lift the sanctions when the agreement was first implemented. The aide’s assessment suggests lifting US sanctions on Iran beyond those mandated by the 2015 JCPOA could be considered.

A source close to Iran’s negotiating team told reporters on Feb. 8 that Tehran had likely made the political decision to return to compliance with the JCPOA and that Washington should follow suit. In a phone call to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Feb. 8, Amirabdollahian said the United States “needs to make a decision on lifting sanctions.” [and] show a significant distance from [the] failed policies” of the Trump administration.

Iran is insisting that the Biden administration verify that the sanctions are lifted by guaranteeing that the United States will no longer withdraw from the agreement under a future administration, as Trump did in 2018. Amirabdollahian said The Financial Times on February 16 that, “as a matter of principle, public opinion in Iran cannot accept the words of the head of state, let alone the United States, as a guarantee because of the withdrawal of the Americans from the JCPOA”.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on February 21 that if the United States cannot offer a political guarantee against the withdrawal, Iran will accept an “inherent guarantee”. He suggested that this means Iran would quickly start violating the JCPOA if the United States pulled out again and reimposed sanctions in the future.

Despite progress in Vienna, Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani tweeted on February 24: “No matter how close we get to the finish line, there is not necessarily a guarantee to cross it”.

Martin E. Berry