A last-minute deal between Iran and the UN atomic watchdog on instant inspections opened a narrow diplomatic window to revive the historic nuclear treaty between international powers and Tehran.
The Islamic Republic had planned to stop abrupt inspections of its nuclear sites from Tuesday but an agreement announced Sunday evening allows some “verification and surveillance”, reducing tensions. While access to the International Atomic Energy Agency will always be more limited than before, the UN body hailed the three-month compromise as a “good result”.
The deal leaves room for face-to-face talks between Washington and Tehran on the revival of an agreement that the administration of former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. Last week, the United States made clear its will. to sit down with Iran and other signatories to the agreement. to discuss the return to the pact. Iran, which has committed a growing series of violations of the agreement since 2019, has yet to say yes.
Diplomats and analysts warn that such negotiations are still far from guaranteed, and big disputes remain over the sequence of a possible U.S. return to the deal and the scope of what the renewed pact would require. Iran. The situation is further complicated by pressure from extremists in Washington, Tehran and some other Middle Eastern capitals, as well as by the impending elections in Iran.
Still, Sunday night’s deal between the IAEA and Tehran came across as a “major diplomatic victory” that made room for talks valuable, said Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iranian expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“He should preserve the political space in the weeks and months to come to set in motion some kind of real path for the United States to join the nuclear deal and for Iran to retrace its steps,” he said. she declared. “This is an important opening, but to make it sustainable will take time and a lot of effort.”
Last week’s compromises by the United States and Iran present the first indications that both sides may be ready to relax absolutist positions on the re-entry of the 2015 nuclear deal, which lifted some sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program.
But both sides have said the other must first return to honoring the deal before doing the same, and Tehran does not want to discuss three changes that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has promised Congress to continue: strengthen and extend the agreement, reduce Iran’s missile program and support for regional militias.
A US State Department official said late last week that the sequence of steps required for re-entry was not “predetermined,” and said the United States was open to requests from China and from Russia – two signatories to the multi-party agreement, as well as France, Germany and the United Kingdom – that the United States should “take certain steps in advance.” The Joint Commission, which oversees the implementation of the deal and is chaired by the EU, could theoretically be tasked with sequencing mutual steps.
Already, Biden’s team has canceled some elements of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran – such as removing some travel restrictions for UN diplomats from Tehran to New York. It has set a softer tone and is supported by European powers who have sought to keep the deal alive as the Trump administration tried to destroy it.
“We are making decisions that we believe will help get diplomacy back on track,” a US official told the Financial Times. “And we hope [Iran] will not move in a negative direction. “
Iran insists the United States should return unconditionally to the 2015 accord. Centrist President Hassan Rouhani reiterated last week that the Islamic Republic’s policy was “if the Americans take a step, we let’s also take a step, and if the Americans take all the measures together, we will also take all the measures together ”.
The only question Iran is willing to discuss, and even that only after the US lifting of sanctions, was “how we can avoid and ensure that US actions do not happen again,” said Sunday Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. While Iran has been hit hard by the sanctions, many regime members point out that the country also survived. “They have no influence on Iran. They made us count on an economy without oil, without oil, ”Zarif added.
The spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the compromise was with the IAEA and not with the United States. Sign of the conflict between Rohani and a radical parliament, the latter called on the courts to revoke the agreement with the IAEA.
The elections scheduled for June could bring back a more conservative government that could make it more difficult to reach a deal. A regime insider described the US offer to attend joint talks as insignificant. “It’s an empty spoon,” the person said.
One MP, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh, scoffed at American sweeteners as far from “candy”.
The Biden team also faces national opposition, including among pro-Israel Democrats in Congress, 23 of whom opposed the original deal. “This will be. . . laborious and difficult, ”said a State Department official.
To anticipate criticism leveled at Obama’s White House, Biden’s team is also consulting widely with partners ahead of official talks and is open to a regional lead that could include the contribution of Iranian enemies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. tackle broader issues.
Failure to expand the deal could spark tensions. Mike Singh, who led Middle East policy at George W. Bush’s White House, said that simply re-entering a deal without taking advantage of Trump-era sanctions could make it difficult obtaining a “serious and stronger agreement”.
“It could be this return to [deal] is a bit of a dead end, ”he said.
Jon Wolfsthal, Obama’s former senior arms control official, said Biden officials have made it clear they are in no rush. “We are trying to put the pieces in place so that Iran has no choice but to come back to the deal.”