Iranian nuclear talks resume. Here is the stake: NPR
Vahid Salemi / AP
Talks to relaunch the Iran nuclear deal resume Monday in Vienna. This will be the seventh round of meetings between the United States, Iran, European powers and China, but the first in nearly six months.
And a lot has happened since the last round to raise the ante for any deal.
As a reminder, the 2015 agreement granted Iran economic sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. President Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, reimposing the sanctions the United States had lifted. Iran has responded with a step-by-step rise to public power in the machines used to enrich uranium – the nuclear fuel needed for a bomb.
Iran and the United States – along with the other world powers involved in the deal – say they want to restore it. But they have been blocked on who takes the first steps.
Since talks have stalled, Iran has elected a new hardline president who has stepped up his country’s demands for any new deal. And in the background there has been a series of attacks against Iran’s nuclear program, suspected of being from Israel, including the assassination of a leading Iranian scientist a year ago. This increases the risk of conflict at the bargaining table.
U.S., Iran disregarding deal at the moment
The Trump administration argued that the deal crafted by the Obama White House was too short – some parts expire in 2025 – and should have required fundamental changes in Iran’s policies. When Trump reimposed the sanctions, he halted most sales of Iranian oil. When other partners in the deal – the European Union, China, Russia – protested, the United States threatened that any company doing business with Iran would also be cut off from doing business with the United States. . Most of those sanctions are still in place and the Iranians feel the economy hurts. It is now leverage for Biden negotiators.
In response to the US exit, Iran methodically shattered the boundaries of the deal – its conservative parliament even passed a law demanding such violations. The country has since stored more enriched uranium than the deal allows. And it has enriched its offering well beyond the levels stipulated in the agreement, which is closer to the enrichment levels needed for a weapon.
Back when the United States was in the deal and Iran was complying with it, analysts said its program was frozen and at least a year away from producing enough enriched uranium for a bomb. Now experts say it could be in a month if Iran wanted to go. (But making a real bomb, testing it, and loading it onto missiles could take a year or two.) Perhaps most troubling, Iran has restricted access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. , an atomic watchdog that monitors its nuclear sites. They might be miss vital information.
To get back into the deal, the United States would need to unwind the complicated web of sanctions. Iran should open up again to inspectors, dismantle equipment and ship uranium or reduce its enrichment levels. Regardless, Iran has already learned more about how to build a nuclear weapon in the process.
Iran has new leadership which sounds like a more difficult negotiating position
Amid resentment over the country’s poor economy and disappointment over the failure of the deal, the Iranians elected President Ibrahim Raisi in June. He’s more of a hard-line supporter than his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, who agreed to the deal in 2015. Raisi seems determined to show he can get a better deal for his people.
The man who should lead the negotiations for Iran recently said they shouldn’t even be called “nuclear talks.” He claims that these are sanctions. “We don’t have nuclear talks,” Iranian deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani said state media, “because the nuclear issue was fully agreed in 2015”.
Iranian officials are basically saying that since it was the United States that broke the deal first, it should be the United States that should take the first steps to revive it by lifting all sanctions. And, burnt by Trump’s withdrawal, they say they want a guarantee that the deal will remain in effect even after the next US presidential election – a promise that is probably impossible in the US system.
Biden administration wants deal, but won’t wait any longer
US officials see the new posture on the other side and say it is up to Iran to prove that it is interested in a deal. Speaking to NPR last week, US negotiator Robert Malley tempered expectations. “Yes [Iran is] dragging their feet at the negotiating table, stepping up the pace of their nuclear program, that will be their answer to whether they want to get back into the deal, ”said Malley. “And that will be a negative response if that is what they choose to do.”
He urged Iran to at least meet directly with the United States, which he refuses. He and European leaders have called on Iran to stop breaking the terms of the deal. Malley told NPR that if Iran did not return to the deal, the United States would need “other efforts, diplomatic and otherwise, to try to meet Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” He said Iran’s nuclear advances may soon make it too late for a deal. “We don’t have much time before we have to conclude that Iran has chosen a different path,” he said.
Sometimes the United States has also raised the idea of adding new conditions to the agreement – including the possibility of extending the term of the agreement or trying to include limits on the ballistic missile program of Iran. Iran says they are not newbies.
Supporters of a deal say it would curb Iran’s nuclear weapons. Opponents say he would let Iran skate on missiles and militants
Supporters of a new deal say it keeps Iran from getting close to building a bomb. Even Trump the defense secretary said Iran was in compliance at the time the agreement was in force. Supporters of a deal say other issues with Iran – like its support for activists, human rights abuses, threats against Israel and Saudi Arabia – can be handled separately and more easily if the country does not. does not constitute a nuclear threat.
Opponents of the deal say the Iranian regime is fragile and suffers from sanctions. They argue that Iran would make more concessions to get out of sanctions or could even possibly be overthrown. The sanctions relief would give the Iranian government access to vast oil revenues that it could use to destabilize the Middle East. Some Israeli officials suggest sabotage or even military strikes are preferable to prevent Iran’s nuclear program from progressing.
But this is seen as a risky approach that could lead to war. The Biden administration is seeking to remove Iran from the list of possible global hot spots. And Iran wants to start doing business with the world. That might be enough to drive the two countries to a new deal, whether it’s a return to the old deal or a half-step towards easing tensions. The latter could mean a partial agreement – the lifting of some US sanctions in exchange for Iran’s reduction in some of the measures it has taken.