The nuclear deal with Iran is on the brink

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As previously reported by MENA Research Center, the Iran nuclear deal remains shaky. The central point of contention is primarily the US sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The EU, main mediator, presented a draft that is intended to clarify the questions that are still open or disputed. After most recent talks, however, signing a new contract seems to be a long way off again.

The European text to revive the deal between Tehran and world powers would relax US sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – and pave the way for Tehran to bypass further controls on nuclear facilities.

The details of the design were finalized after 16 months of discussions. Accordingly, Europeans and other states are allowed to do business with Iranian companies that also have business relationships with the Revolutionary Guards, as long as their direct business partner is not on a US sanctions list.

The European draft drawn up by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell would not fundamentally lift the sanctions against the Guards, but it would greatly reduce their effectiveness. An EU spokesman declined to comment on the content of the proposal. A senior Biden administration official disagreed with this interpretation of the draft, saying the US would not change its standards for sanctions.

An expert on the mediation text says this wording would allow the Revolutionary Guards to bypass sanctions through proxies and shell companies — and that would make US restrictions on non-US companies and individuals toothless.

With the EU drafting the text in close consultation with the US administration, the terms at least suggest a willingness on the part of the Biden administration to make larger-than-expected concessions to reach an agreement. The US President has made reviving the 2015 nuclear deal a foreign policy priority. This is the best way to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

There is always the possibility of trying again later to revive the 2015 agreed plan of action (called the JCPOA). Its purpose was to strictly monitor and limit Iran’s nuclear program so that military use of the enriched uranium could be ruled out. In exchange, the sanctions imposed on secret and suspicious Iranian nuclear activities from before 2002 should be lifted. However, under former US President Donald Trump, the United States abandoned the agreements of the JCPOA and its bodies and unilaterally created a dense sanctions network. Iran then resumed its nuclear program with increasing intensity.

The EU, which sees Iran as an attractive market and energy supplier, is pursuing a softer stance on the mullahs in Tehran. Even by EU standards, the concessions made to Iran to revive the deal are extremely generous. Not only would the European draft effectively remove pressure on the Revolutionary Guards, but it would also allow Iran to settle a separate dispute with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

After uranium particles were discovered at three previously undeclared locations in Tehran, the IAEA, which oversees Iran’s nuclear program, demanded clarification from Tehran. So far, however, the country has refused to cooperate, thus obstructing the investigation by the agency. In June, the agency’s board reprimanded Iran for its resistance and expressed “significant concern”. As a condition for reviving the nuclear deal, Tehran is demanding the end of IAEA controls. However, both the US and the EU have rejected this.

According to the latest report from the agency, the country now has high stocks of enriched uranium, including more than 55 kilograms with a purity of around 60 percent. That is more than enough to build an atomic bomb after a further enrichment step to 90 percent. While the Tehran regime maintains that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes, such high levels of enrichment and quantity are not required for energy or other civilian purposes. In addition, Iran has significantly restricted cooperation with the IAEA. The organization has had no insight into the production of new centrifuges used to enrich uranium for three months.

Nevertheless, the European countries, which reprimanded Iran in June, initially proposed a further concession. They are now linking the end of IAEA controls to the resumption of the nuclear deal. The draft states that the US and Europeans “note Iran’s intention” to resolve outstanding issues by “Reinstatement Day” — that is, the date when the deal would come back into force , which is expected to be a few months after the official signing.

Experts say that the facilities examined are probably contaminated sites from earlier phases of Iran’s nuclear program and do not indicate new activities. Nevertheless, their discovery indicates that Tehran – which has long insisted on pursuing only a civilian nuclear program – has so far been anything but open.

Now, however, the negotiations appear to have reached a dead end. The mediation attempt worked out by the EU has been provided with new conditions by the Iranian side, which both the US and the European negotiators have rejected as unacceptable. There is no way in sight to get out of this muddled situation. A critical statement by the E-3 group (Germany, France, Great Britain) was dismissed as “unconstructive” by the mullahs’ regime.

A statement from the E-3 group said: “As an agreement neared, Iran reopened separate issues related to its legally binding obligations. This latest demand raises serious doubts about Iran’s intentions and commitment to a successful outcome regarding the JCPOA.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a similar statement. Iran countered that it was “surprising and feels regrettable” that the E3 made such an “unconstructive” statement while diplomatic contacts between the negotiating partners continued.

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