Washington – It took seven years from a senior US diplomat meeting with his Iranian counterpart one day in the summer of 2008 until the two sides concluded the nuclear deal nearly seven years ago, aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
No one expects the same long period of time to pass to ensure the two sides are able to revive the agreement from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew, but US and European officials believe that the road will be long and arduous if the two sides begin to walk on it.
The administration of President Joe Biden took the initiative to follow this thorny path, and last Thursday it said it was ready to send its special envoy, Rob Mali, to meet with Iranian officials and discuss ways to return to the agreement reached by Tehran and six world powers, whose official name is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Although Iran issued mixed signals at first, its Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, took a hard-line approach last Sunday, saying that “the United States will not be able to return to the nuclear agreement before the sanctions are lifted.”
The whole point of the agreement is for Iran to reduce its uranium enrichment program, as it becomes more difficult to store a quantity of fissile material sufficient to produce a nuclear weapon in exchange for easing the burden of US economic sanctions and other sanctions applied to it.
Henry Rom: Iran’s dialogue with the International Atomic Energy Agency did not get us out of the impasse
In theory, it will be difficult to determine the path of reviving the agreement, whose details are in 110 pages representing its provisions and annexes, even as the Iranians insist on asserting that the visit of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, made a “significant achievement”, before the entry into force of a parliamentary law limiting inspections. Into effect.
“The Iranians have agreed more than meets the eye at this stage, but if the IAEA is to be fully satisfied, there must be continuity of knowledge,” said Ali Fayez, director of Iran at the International Crisis Group.
On the ground, this will represent a challenge for two reasons, the first of which is the dozens of sanctions that Trump imposed on Iran after withdrawing from the agreement in May 2018, and the second is the steps that Tehran implemented and violated the agreement in response to Trump’s decisions, after waiting for more than a year.
Although the two sides have so far focused publicly on the issue of who has taken the first step towards reviving the agreement, as each insists that the other side be the initiator, a source in the Biden administration confirmed that it is possible to coordinate arrangements for the steps and told Reuters: “I don’t think the issue of who starts will be. It is the most difficult issue. ”
Instead, the difficulty lies in determining how each side sees compliance with the agreement, which centers on determining the American sanctions that can be lifted, as well as the issue of the steps that Iran has taken, and here the source asks, can they be reversed?
Henry Rom, an expert on Iranian affairs at the Eurasia Research Group, believes that the recent announcement on Iran’s dialogue with the International Atomic Energy Agency represents an opportunity “but we are not out of the impasse yet.” Tehran has continued to intensify uranium enrichment and a new, more advanced test of centrifuges for fuel production.
The nuclear agreement concluded by Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States in July 2015 required that Washington lift only sanctions related to the nuclear issue on Tehran. After withdrawing from the deal, Trump imposed dozens of new sanctions for other reasons, including accusing Iran of supporting terrorism.
Observers are convinced that Biden will face political risks and may find it impossible to meet Tehran’s demands to lift these sanctions in light of criticism from Republicans and perhaps some of his party members.
Rom says that this is a very politically sensitive issue in the United States because a number of them have been deliberately applied by the terrorism powers, and now the negotiation teams will have to go through an extensive process to determine what will remain and what will be lifted.
Another challenge is Iran’s support for factions in the Middle East that it works for, including militias accused of launching attacks on US forces.
In the most dangerous of these attacks since a year, a missile attack on US-led forces in northern Iraq last Monday killed a civilian contractor and wounded an American soldier, which makes it more difficult for Washington to appear as concessions to Iran.
Ali Fayez: The Iranians agreed to more than meets the eye at this point
Another difficulty is the US desire to release US citizens imprisoned in Iran, an issue that White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that Washington had begun discussions about with Iranian officials.
While it is possible to reverse some of the steps taken by Iran in violation of the nuclear agreement, such as enriching uranium by more than 3.67 percent and increasing its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, it may not be easy to reverse other steps.
Among those steps are the experiences gained from research and development activities using advanced centrifuges, which would help Iran raise the level of uranium enrichment to 90 percent, which is the necessary degree to manufacture a nuclear weapon if it decides to do so. Here, Robert Einhorn of the Brookings Institution asks, “How can the knowledge that they have acquired be reversed?”
The authorities in Tehran face a delicate choice in terms of responding to any initiative from the Biden administration, at a time when Iran is preparing for a presidential election in June, and the turnout in which the vote is likely to represent a referendum on the religious establishment amid growing feelings of discontent over economic difficulties.
The fragile Iranian economy, which has been increased by US sanctions and the Coronavirus pandemic, has left the ruling elite with little choice but to negotiate, but the final decision is the decision of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but it is not clear until now whether the two sides can return to the negotiating table.
Last Tuesday, Iran threatened more steps to reduce its commitment to the nuclear agreement, especially stopping some surprise inspections carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This may not necessarily spoil the opportunities for negotiation, but it increases the challenges. A French diplomatic source said that “despite everything, we are still in a precarious situation, and its risks will increase in the coming days.” It is important to quickly revive the diplomatic efforts. ”
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