A nuclear deal within reach, but obstacles remain
On Monday, the EU will officially circulate the draft outcome document to participants and ask the US and Iran to agree on it. If there is an agreement, foreign ministers are expected to return to Vienna to formally reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal.
“There is a real chance for a deal but there are still a number of uncertainties,” a senior Western official told POLITICO.
An official from the Iranian Foreign Ministry told Iran’s official IRNA news agency Monday that “given continued discussions on some remaining important issues, we are not yet at the stage of finalizing the text. Iran has presented its constructive views to other parties in order to move forward and the outcome depends on their political decision. We believe that #ViennaTalks can be closed soon provided the other party makes an appropriate decision. But we are not there yet. »
The EU has been negotiating recurring talks for 16 months between US special envoy Robert Malley and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Bagheri Kani.
The latest round of indirect talks between Washington and Tehran took place in Doha, Qatar, in late June. It ended without a major breakthrough.
Over the past five days, EU diplomats could be seen rushing frantically between two different hotels, all located along Vienna’s historic Ringstrasse, where the US and Iranian delegations are based, carrying folders with documents.
Tehran has refused to speak directly to the United States since former President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal four years ago and reimposed crippling economic sanctions.
Clandestine nuclear weapons program?
There remains a major sticking point preventing a breakthrough in the talks despite the finalization of the draft agreement by EU negotiators.
Iran has demanded that the UN’s nuclear watchdog close an investigation into the origins of multiple traces of man-made nuclear material that IAEA inspectors have found at various sites in Iran over the past few years. Tehran insists that the nuclear deal can only be reinstated if this IAEA investigation is closed once and for all.
The UN agency has identified traces of uranium particles based on information discovered by the Israeli Mossad during a covert operation in 2018. Israeli intelligence agents stole thousands of documents and CDs from a warehouse in Tehran that provided information on sites where nuclear activities may have taken place in Iran over the past decades.
Western officials suspect that traces of uranium discovered by the IAEA are proof that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program and that it had been actively working to develop an atomic weapon until at least 2003 .
Tehran continues to maintain that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. But, according to the IAEA, Iran has not provided credible and plausible answers on the origin of these uranium particles. This prompted the IAEA Board of Governors to censure Iran at its last meeting in Vienna in June. Western officials have urged Iran to provide answers and should not back down from this request.
A senior European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss this sensitive issue, gave one reason why Iran might obstruct the IAEA investigation: « The Iranian regime seems prefer to protect certain individuals involved in clandestine activities 20 years ago instead of freeing its economy and opening up the future to its people.
Seeking a solution, Western diplomats involved in the talks in Vienna said that over the past five days the parties had brokered a separate political deal with Iran that could help close the investigation, provided that Iran cooperates.
According to a senior Western official, this agreement will see the Board of Governors of the IAEA, composed of 35 members, adopt a resolution closing the investigation into nuclear materials, if Tehran provides answers on the origin of the traces of uranium found. credible by the IAEA.
This deal will essentially be an updated version of a similar deal that was struck with Iran and brokered by Britain, France and Germany in March.
Solutions to nuclear issues
Over the past five days, negotiators also hammered out solutions to « technical issues » that had been left open in the final draft text that will reinstate the JCPOA.
One concerns details of the reinstallation of cameras that were used to monitor Tehran’s compliance with the JCPOA and which Iran disabled in June in retaliation for censorship by the IAEA Board of Governors.
Another technical nuclear issue apparently relates to the small amount of 60% enriched uranium that has been converted and irradiated and cannot be shipped out of Iran due to high radioactivity. Under the JCPOA, all highly enriched uranium must be shipped out of the country.
According to a senior Western official familiar with the matter, the final draft text contains possible solutions to both problems.
Iran waives delisting for now
Another major obstacle that delayed a final agreement for many months was Iran’s request to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of the Iranian military, from the list of foreign terrorist organizations of the States. -United. President Joe Biden has insisted he will keep the IRGC under sanctions for now.
The terrorist designation was imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2019, in addition to numerous other terrorism and human rights sanctions against Iranian institutions and individuals unrelated to the nuclear program.
According to a senior EU diplomat, Tehran agreed to shelve the request and discuss the issue in future in direct talks with Washington.
Iran has also demanded legal guarantees from the United States that it will not back down from a future nuclear deal. The Biden administration has repeatedly stressed that it will meet its obligations under the deal but cannot provide guarantees to future administrations.
The negotiators have therefore drawn up economic guarantees that will give Iran the possibility of reaping financial benefits from the agreement – even if a new American administration were to withdraw from the pact again. One such assurance that negotiators are working out is the temporary continuation of contracts for companies doing business in Iran.
A renewed deal would allow Iran to freely sell its oil on world markets and regain access to its frozen assets, worth an estimated $100 billion.
While Iran has been able to sell some of its oil – mostly to China – despite sanctions, a revived nuclear pact would allow Iran to export about 1 million barrels a day above current exports, according to Henry Rome, Senior Analyst at Eurasia. Band.
« If oil is trading at $100 a barrel, that’s $3 billion in additional revenue per month on top of existing exports, » Rome said.