After intense negotiations, an Iran nuclear deal is on the cards
he Iran-European Union dialogue to revive the US-Iran nuclear deal has met another roadblock. On August 8, the EU negotiation team forwarded its “final offer” to Iran after the four-day-long behind-the-doors informal negotiations, primarily between officials from the US and Iran, concluded. The EU officials said that the proposal must be accepted as a whole.
On August 24, the US responded to the EU by expressing its willingness to go ahead and accept the proposal. Iran, however, asked for time to consult the leadership in Tehran and convey its “additional views and considerations” to the European Union. There was a positive ambience across the board, however, in the anticipation that the 15-month long negotiations were finally going to produce something constructive.
On August 16, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian indicated the possibility of further negotiations by mentioning that there were still three issues – a guarantee that no future US president would unliterally end the deal as former president Trump did in 2018; that the UN nuclear watchdog must shut down a probe into unexplained uranium traces in Iran; and that the new deal will revive economic benefits such as international trade, financial links and the lifting of sanctions – to be resolved.
On September 1, Iran submitted its final response to the EU, mentioning these issues. The US government was quick to show its disappointment over these demands as “extraneous.” In particular, the US negotiating team said that it was unable to deliver any guarantee of no termination by the future presidents of the United States since it was simply impossible for the Biden Administration to handcuff any future president of the country.
Meanwhile, regional players are looking at the negotiations quite anxiously. Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata met with his US counterpart Jake Sullivan in Washington a day before the US sent its response to the EU. On August 24, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid reiterated its opposition to the nuclear deal, mentioning in a press conference in Jerusalem that, “We have made it clear to everyone: if a deal is signed, it does not obligate Israel. We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have long opposed such a deal and are anxious about the possibility of its revival. Though regional countries are adopting a pragmatic policy of containment and engagement with Iran by restoring their diplomatic relations with Tehran, downgraded in the wake of 2019 attack of a mob on Saudi embassy in Tehran, there still are stronger reservations given the fact that during the recent years, the US government has failed to take any tangible pro-Arab or anti-Iran approach in direct Iran-Arab conflicts.
For its part, domestic politics is playing a vital role and an intervening variable. A visibly large and bipartisan group of US lawmakers has written a letter to the Biden Administration, asking it to take Congress into confidence before final terms and conditions of a new deal are agreed with Tehran.
The Biden Administration is trying to capitalise on the recent surge in its support evident through Democratic victories in recent special elections. A resounding deal, with multilateral guarantees to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power will help the Biden Administration and Democratic Party in the upcoming mid-term elections in November. The Iranian leadership faces a huge challenge of reviving the nuclear deal with some additional gains such as sustainable diplomatic guarantees, lifting of the economic and financial sanctions, and an ability to reintegrate into world economy to reduce pressure on its currency. Continuity of the negotiations is in the interest of all the concerned parties including China and Russia.
Iranian ambition to develop nuclear weapons is seen embedded in Tehran’s desire to attain a meaningful defence against its regional and extra-regional security threats, primarily Israel, and the United States. Because of zero-sum nature of regional conflicts and historical mutual suspicions, Iran and the United States are unwilling to trust each other. This provides an impetus to Saudi Arabia and other regional countries to cast doubts about the durability of any deal in the region.
In 2018, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had started investigating about Iranian failure to declare all nuclear materials and activities from its pre-2003 programme. Iran has yet to satisfy the IAEA about the traces of undeclared uranium found at three sites outside of its declared nuclear programme. Iran wants the IAEA to drop these investigations, and the United States is willing to allow that if the EU and P4+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) agree.
According to an IAEA report on August 3, Iran has just completed the installation of three IR-6 cascades at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant. The report mentions that Iran began feeding uranium into two additional cascades of IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant on August 2.
Iran has also shown its intention to produce uranium-235 enriched to 5 percent, meaning that it is planning to produce nuclear fuel. Iran has also verified its plan to install six more cascades of IR-2 centrifuges, bringing their total number to about 2,000. These are worrisome developments for Israel, which has expressed its willingness to go to any length to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
For the moment, the negotiations are expected to continue. A final resolution may enable Iran to gain some more concessions in terms of lifting of the sanctions and a meaningful reengagement with international trade system. If negotiations collapse, regional security will be in jeopardy.
The writer is a lecturer at Texas A&M University, USA. He can be approached at email@example.com