Patience with the negotiations to revive the nuclear deal with Iran has long been exhausted. But the need for cheap fuel is urgent and European diplomacy, charged with coordinating those talks on behalf of the UN, is pushing to revive the pact that former US President Donald Trump unilaterally broke in 2018. The latest proposal by the community negotiators to Iran and the United States capitulated days ago and the conclusions must come soon. “If we don’t get it this week, I’m afraid the negotiations will be suspended until after the US elections in November,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell told EL PAÍS. Borrell writes of this round of talks in his blog: “If it fails, we face a nuclear crisis.” Just as the same risk is looming on another flank: the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
The EU’s final proposal to reactivate the nuclear pact, signed in 2015 between the parties along with China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Union, “may be acceptable if it offers guarantees” for the core demands Tehran has about” Protective measures and sanctions,” the state news agency IRNA reported on Friday, citing an unnamed high-ranking diplomat. Hours later, however, the attempted assassination of Salman Rushdie again stood in the way of the successful conclusion of the 15-month talks. The stabbing of the British writer of Indian descent has cast new shadows on the Iranian regime, which sentenced the author of the Satanic Verses to blasphemy in 1989 sentenced to death. The perpetrator of the attack, Hadi Matar, believed to be of Lebanese origin, is believed to be a supporter of the Shiite militia party Hezbollah, which circles around Tehran.
“The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie should be a wake-up call to the West, and Iran’s response strengthens the case for a ban on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” British Prime Minister hopeful Rishi Sunak said a day after the attack. The UK, one of the signatories to the agreement, has maintained a reluctant position this round, driven by the replacement of Boris Johnson at the helm of Downing Street, led by Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary and favorite in the race for the title succession to consolidate his position.
Above all, Iran is demanding a guarantee that is very difficult to deliver: that no future US presidential administration can distance itself from the nuclear deal, as Republican Trump did in 2018 to what his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, had signed. But the government of Joe Biden, vice president, when in 2015 the agreement between Tehran and the major powers to stop Iran’s nuclear program was sealed, leading to the lifting of sanctions later reactivated by Trump, it already told the mediators that it was a political agreement at stake and not an international treaty. The current President believes that the diplomatic route remains the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
In recent weeks, Tehran has not demanded that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, which has been one of its most repeated demands when adopting a pact. Washington has now returned to mark distances to this point. The Justice Department on Wednesday charged Shahram Poursafi, a member of Iran’s elite corps, with attempting to kill John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser.
Sources from the talks admit that Washington would have agreed to make some concessions on the matter. Although his chief negotiator, Robert Malley, tried to brush off the idea in a recent interview: “The sanctions are very well defined. The Treasury provides very clear rules about what companies must do […]. And any report that says otherwise, that we’re going to lower those standards, that we’re going to negotiate those standards, is just wrong.”
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After the final round in Vienna, European envoys, led by Spaniard Enrique Mora, sent a final draft to Iran and the United States last Wednesday. Borrell himself announced it on Twitter: “What is negotiable has been negotiated and is already available in a final text. However, behind every technical question and every paragraph there is a political decision that has to be made in the capitals. If those reactions are positive, we can sign this agreement.” They’re waiting for that this week, although it’s not the first time deadlines have been missed, several sources familiar with the negotiations point out.
Negotiators have used these days of discussions and rapprochement talks between the US and Iran to fine-tune and address – with technical adjustments – a handful of remaining points in the text I drafted last July 21 as coordinator of the #JCPOA nuclear deal.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) August 8, 2022
Now, however, there is one element that can completely change the scenario: the United States general election in November. President Biden is now in a position of greater strength after winning Congressional approval of his flagship plan, the Inflation Reduction Act. But that could change radically at the end of the year.
There could be an opportune moment in Iran too, as lifting sanctions would bring it almost immediate benefits to be able to return to markets and sell its oil: hundreds of millions of dollars a month, negotiating sources point out. Although Tehran has threatened that one more condition could be included in the European proposal: the cancellation of the investigation launched by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the Iranian government regarding the discovery of uranium remains in several places in Iran that had not been declared to the inspectors of the organization overseeing the nuclear program.
The European interest is clear given the ongoing war in Ukraine. Iran’s return to the markets would add millions of barrels of oil to the market, which on paper would put pressure on the price. Venezuela and Iran are the two countries that still have room to produce and sell more crude oil, according to the reinforced framework of pacts that OPEC producer countries have, as well as others like Russia or Mexico. The invasion of Ukraine has inflated fossil fuel prices and ratcheted up prices, pushing inflation to levels not seen in the West in decades.
In addition, Borrell fears a nuclear crisis will erupt if no deal is reached: “Iran says the breach of the agreement caused by the United States has cost them tens of billions of dollars. And it’s true. And it is also true that Iran has recently come closer to its nuclear goals and that if the deal goes any further it will no longer make sense because it was made to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power. So time is running very fast.”
In the Middle East, meanwhile, Israel and US-allied Sunni Arab countries are watching with concern the steps taken to revive the nuclear deal. Diplomacy chiefs from Israel, the US, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco met in March to create a “new regional architecture” for security in the Negev desert in Israel’s far south. The conclave served to lay the groundwork for the embryo of a regional NATO against Iran and its satellite militias, in fact already coordinated by the Pentagon Central Command, fighting Iranian drones and at the base of the US V Fleet, in Persian Gulf, against the naval piracy actions attributed to Revolutionary Guard ships.
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