Tehran, Iran – Unofficial talks between Iran and the world powers that signed a troubled nuclear deal in 2015 appear to be the only way forward, as neither side appears willing to take the first step.
Iran says the United States, which unilaterally abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018, must first return to full compliance with the deal by lifting all economic sanctions it has imposed .
President Joe Biden has said that former US leader Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has failed, but insists Iran must first retrace its steps to reduce its commitments under the framework. of the agreement in response to the sanctions.
This week Iran said it was considering an offer from European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to hold unofficial talks with the P4 + 1 – China, Russia, UK, France and Germany minus the United States – which would also include the United States. as a guest “.
Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, said officials from Tehran and Washington are likely to sit together at an informal meeting hosted by the EU in the coming weeks.
“There they are likely to agree on a package of interim measures to gain more time to negotiate a timetable for a mutual return to full respect for the JCPOA,” he told Al Jazeera.
The meeting was called in light of Iran’s latest move on Tuesday voluntarily stop the implementation the Additional Protocol – a document that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) broad powers to inspect Iranian nuclear sites.
In a statement after Iran stopped providing the UN nuclear watchdog with short-notice inspection capabilities, the three European signatories to the nuclear deal called the move “dangerous.”
“This will severely limit the IAEA’s access to safeguards sites and information,” E3 foreign ministers said. “It will also limit the IAEA’s ability to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear program and nuclear-related activities.”
Three month window
But an agreement reached on Sunday by the Iranian government with the IAEA appears to have saved diplomacy more time.
After IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi visited Tehran, the two sides agreed that Iran would continue to monitor the activities of its nuclear sites, but would not hand over the camera recordings.
The Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has announced that if the United States does not lift sanctions on Iran within these three months, the data will be permanently deleted, leaving a gap in IAEA monitoring of nuclear activities from the country.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said earlier this week that the United States has imposed 1,600 sanctions on Iran, all of which must be lifted to restore the nuclear deal.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said this week that Iran could increase its uranium enrichment to 60% purity from the current 20% if the country needed it, but stressed that its country was not looking for nuclear weapons.
Iran’s ambassador in Geneva told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament on Wednesday that it was up to the United States to take the first step.
“It is the responsibility of the offending party to come back, restart and compensate the damage as well as make sure that they do not give up again,” Ambassador Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh said.
Vaez said the IAEA deal “postponed a crisis that could have derailed diplomacy before it even had a chance to take off.”
Barbara Slavin, director of the Initiative for the Future of Iran at the Atlantic Council, said the time bought up by the deal could pave the way for all parties to negotiate – and implement – a roadmap towards compliance with the JCPOA.
She told Al Jazeera “it will not be the end of the world but it will not be good” if the signatories to the nuclear deal fail to reach an agreement within those three months.
“Iran will continue to take action outside the JCPOA and reduce cooperation with the IAEA, increasing suspicion that it is working on weapons,” Slavin said of ramifications of a no-deal scenario .
“The Iranians will continue to suffer from the impact of the sanctions. Iranian politicians opposed to the deal and any relaxation of tensions with the West will grow stronger, and Iran will likely be more difficult to deal with in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, et cetera, too.
Presidential elections looming
The fact that the June presidential elections in Iran are fast approaching only adds to the pressure to find a solution to the dilemma of the nuclear deal.
President Hassan Rouhani, who won office by promising to engage with the West and improve Iran’s economy by ending isolation, is nearing the end of his second term.
It is widely believed that a conservative or an extremist – who could come from a military background – will win an election.
Iran’s last large-scale elections were held in February 2020, when the lowest voter turnout in the country’s 40-year history gave way to the current extremist parliament whose December law forced it to be. Rouhani administration to step up uranium enrichment and restrict IAEA inspections.
“It’s obviously much easier to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal with individuals who negotiated it in the first place than it is to work with a new cast of characters – or former characters from Ahmadinejad’s time -” much more antagonistic in the United States. Slavin said in reference to the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Vaez confirmed: “It will be a risky bet for Washington not to completely restore the JCPOA before its main supporters in Iran leave power.”
But he added that it would be unlikely that the next Iranian president would overturn what has been the state’s policy because the supreme leader is still the ultimate decision-maker.
In the meantime, however, Rouhani’s opponents are likely to mount more opposition to his relations with international stakeholders.
On Monday, angry lawmakers declared Iran’s deal with the IAEA “illegal” and called for the president to be brought to justice for legal sanction.
The heated confrontation even prompted the Supreme Leader to intervene, saying they must resolve their differences so that one voice is communicated from Iran to the world.