What are the main obstacles to the Iran nuclear deal?
A new round of nuclear talks between Iranian and American diplomats has begun with a series of questions clouding the future course of these negotiations.
US and Iranian diplomats met in the Austrian capital Vienna on Thursday in a bid to relaunch the stalled nuclear talks which have suffered multiple setbacks in recent months.
European Union officials mediate the indirect discussion within the framework of shuttle diplomacy. US and Iranian officials will avoid face-to-face talks and instead rely on European interlocutors to deliver their messages.
Talks to get the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) back on track began last year after the election of US President Joe Biden. But little progress has been made since then, as Washington and Tehran adjourn on multiple issues.
The talks are taking place against the backdrop of the Ukraine conflict, which has been the focus of the United States and its European allies since Russian troops began the assault in February 2022.
Europe is also facing energy shortages exacerbated by sanctions imposed on Russia, which is the main supplier of natural gas to EU members in addition to being a major exporter of oil to world markets.
In 2015, major world powers including the US, EU, France, UK, China, Russia and Germany agreed to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for substantial limits to its nuclear program.
Enrique Mora, the EU coordinator for the talks, is mediating between US and Iranian diplomats. While Ali Bagheri Kani heads the Iranian delegation, US special envoy Robert Malley represents Washington.
Here are some of the bottlenecks that impede a lasting resolution.
The question of the American guarantee
Under the JCPOA, Iran adhered to restrictions on its nuclear program, a fact verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global watchdog that oversaw Iran’s activity.
Tehran maintains that its program is for peaceful purposes. But Western and regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, fear that Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to such a level that it builds atomic bombs.
In 2018, the administration of former US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal and imposed stifling economic sanctions on Iran.
This move essentially nullified the entire deal as Iran restarted uranium enrichment. In 2016, Iran was enriching uranium to levels below 5%. Now that level has increased to 60%. At 90% enrichment, uranium becomes good for nuclear weapons.
Now Iranian leaders want the United States to guarantee that in the future no other administration will renege on a settlement and that it will get economic relief as provided for in the original agreement.
Maximum Pressure Doctrine
Just this week (August 1), the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions targeting Iran’s petrochemical exports.
Biden maintained his predecessor’s “maximum pressure” policy despite resuming dialogue with Iran in April 2021.
Fear of US secondary sanctions, which target foreign companies doing business with Iran, has discouraged European companies from doing business with the Islamic Republic.
EU efforts to circumvent US sanctions have not worked due to Washington’s considerable influence over global finance and trade.
Iran also wants the United States to remove its Revolutionary Guards from the list of designated terrorist organizations – a difficult proposition given that US officials blame it for fueling the proxy war in Syria and elsewhere.
Nevertheless, the EU kept up the pressure to bring both sides to the negotiating table. Today’s meeting is the result of a draft text prepared by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
“If the deal is rejected, we risk a dangerous nuclear crisis, against the prospect of further isolation of Iran and its people. It is our joint responsibility to get the deal done,” he wrote in a recent notice for FinancialTimes.
Iran’s attitude towards the IAEA
In June, the IAEA criticized Iran for not disclosing vital details related to the nuclear program. The IAEA has detected nuclear material at certain sites and has demanded an explanation from Tehran.
In response to this public rebuke, Iran removed surveillance cameras from its nuclear sites, making it difficult for the IAEA to ensure compliance with restrictions on the nuclear program.
Iran has also started injecting hexafluoride gas into hundreds of advanced centrifuges – a uranium enrichment process – in response to US sanctions against its petrochemical industry.
Diplomats fear – as Borrell has pointed out – that the upcoming midterm elections in the United States will tip the balance in favor of Republicans who do not favor economic aid to Iran.
“We’re not going to wait forever” for Iran to join the nuclear deal, Biden said in remarks last month.
Source: World TRT