With President Joe Biden hotly pursuing a “not if, when” policy on the United States again becoming part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, the window of opportunity appears to be closing. In 2018, when former President Trump withdrew America’s support for this international treaty that attempted to impose limits on Iran’s ability to build up and process nuclear materials, the international community gasped — none more so than Iran itself. The Iranian government has extended the deadline for a new deal to be reached in the hopes that the U.S. will become a full partner and lift sanctions that have damaged the parliament’s credibility, but will the agreement be worth the paper it is written on? And why is there such a clamor for global community access to photographs that could very well be just stage dressing from the recalcitrant nation?
While Trump took the U.S. out of the JCPOA, European nations continued to stand by the Obama-era agreement. However, according to German news outlet Deutsche Welle, “Iran’s parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities under a 2015 nuclear deal, if European signatories to the deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by February 23.”
According to Bloomberg’s Golnar Motevalli:
“For the past six weeks, Iran and the U.S. have been engaged in indirect talks in the Austrian capital. World powers — including the European Union, Russia, and China — have to achieve two aims: a deal that lifts U.S. sanctions on Iran and brings Iran back into compliance with limits set on its atomic program by the 2015 accord.”
As part of the Obama administration’s original 2015 JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted periodic inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. The agency installed remote cameras in the country’s nuclear materials refining plants to monitor compliance. But recently Iran warned that it will suspend the IAEA inspections if U.S. and European economic sanctions are not lifted. As reported by the BBC, in February, the Iranians threatened to discontinue complying with the “Additional Protocol” to the IAEA “Safeguards Agreement,” which enabled inspectors to retrieve images from the cameras when violations were suspected. The concern is that Iran has continued to enhance its nuclear capability with modern uranium enrichment centrifuges. Just prior to Iran’s February deadline, the IAEA inked a deal that would extend that for three months, setting a new target of May 22.
When May 22 arrived, the negotiators had not reached an agreement, so Tehran announced that it would extend the time an additional month before removing the surveillance at its nuclear facilities and deleting stored images. Now, according to the BBC, “IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told reporters that the deal would end on 24 June.” The BBC report characterized the willingness of the Iranian to push that date as “a gesture of ‘good faith’ while talks on lifting the sanctions continue in Vienna.”
Seizing the chance to boast of Iran’s willingness to be a good global citizen, Kazem Gharibabadi, the nation’s representative on the IAEA, explained that “world powers involved should ‘seize the extra opportunity provided by Iran in good faith for the complete lifting of sanctions in a practical and verifiable manner.'”
Striking a more guarded tone, Grossi responded that “[t]he temporary understanding is a sort of stop-gap measure. It is to avoid flying completely blind.”
The extension does not provide much time to close on several challenging issues. Furthermore, as Motevalli pointed out, “Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani — who championed the original agreement and is several months away from leaving office — is under pressure from a hardline parliament that’s hostile to the nuclear deal.” The conservative faction in the Iran government is against any slowdown in the country’s nuclear program, as long as the United States is not part of the follow-on nuclear agreement.
However, Iran must be concerned with prolonging the nuclear talks with or without the United States. As Liberty Nation reported, the sanctions are crippling Iran’s economy, and the government is feeling the strain. If Tehran yields to the conservative elements in the government and expands the nuclear program, it risks the retention of those financial restrictions and penalties.
Yonah Jeremy Bob, in The Jerusalem Post, raised a good point regarding the timing of any economic relief for Iran, explaining:
“Israel mostly opposes the U.S.’s return to the 2015 nuclear deal but returning has been a goal of the Biden administration. Even if a ‘deal’ is reached before June, it will still be months before Washington removes its sanctions and Tehran wraps up and ends its nuclear violations due to technical issues like needing to ship enriched uranium out of the country.”
Many fear that President Joe Biden and his negotiating team will still consider a nuclear agreement with Iran a “must-have.” And in that case, the United States will be stuck with JCPOA redux, with little or nothing substantial in return – like Iran phasing back its ballistic missile program. A lingering question is what happens in June after Iran’s elections?
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.