Is the Iran nuclear deal worth saving?

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After nearly 17 months of diplomatic wrangling, there may be glimmers of hope for a nuclear deal with Iran. On Wednesday, US officials said they had returned a response to Iranian comments on a draft EU-led deal that would salvage the 2015 deal on Tehran’s nuclear program. The exchange of response documents could precede another round of talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the terms of the original deal, which severely limited Iran’s ability to enrich fissile material to weapons-grade levels in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

Those terms were unilaterally broken in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, who rejected the pact forged by the Obama administration and other international powers even as Iran was supposed to abide by its restrictions. The move was opposed by the accord’s European, Chinese and Russian signatories, but encouraged by a group of regional powers united in their animosity towards Iran – including Israel, then led by right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Arab monarchies in Saudi Arabia. Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Trump administration, at the time, asserted that Iran would not dare to restart its prohibited nuclear activity. But in 2019, deprived of incentives not to do so, Iran installed faster centrifuges at its facilities and began enrichment activities that violated the restrictions of the agreement. Under the 2015 deal, the so-called “getaway” time for Iran to create enough fuel for a possible nuclear bomb was measured in months, if not nearly a year. Now it’s a matter of weeks, according to officials and analysts.

Biden came to power in 2021 promising to revert to the deal and curb Iran’s enrichment push. But domestic politics intervened in both countries – an immediate deal with sanctions relief for Iran was a no-start in Washington, while hardliners in Tehran, who had long opposed the initial agreement and doubted the value of any diplomacy with the Americans, swept away the so-called “reformist-pragmatist” camp of the regime during the elections. A poll of Iranian attitudes this summer found that less than half of Iranians polled believe the deal will be reinstated, while more than two-thirds expressed doubts that the United States would honor its commitments.

Robert Malley, Biden’s special envoy for Iran, warned late last year in an interview with The New Yorker that the Iranians were “emptying the deal of the nonproliferation benefits we negotiated for. “. He acknowledged that at some point, diplomacy on this issue “would be like trying to revive a corpse”.

US responds to Iran’s latest demands for reviving nuclear deal

Clearly, the Biden administration doesn’t think we’ve reached that point yet. But the prospect of the deal being restored has reignited heated debates around its original brokerage. Republican lawmakers have expressed outrage at any deal that is not controlled by Congress. David Barnea, head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, was quoted by Israeli media on Thursday as warning that an imminent deal would be “a strategic disaster”. A flurry of comments from Israeli political elites, including Prime Minister Yair Lapid, urged the United States to withdraw from the negotiating table.

There is no small irony in their current objections. Trump broke the deal in 2018 with Netanyahu’s sting even amid “a clear consensus within Israel’s security and defense establishment at the time that leaving the deal was a mistake. giant,” wrote Haaretz journalist Amir Tibon. Now, he added, it could be replaced by an agreement that “some experts warn … it will be worse for Israel and create a more dangerous Middle East.”

“Israel and opponents of a new deal in Congress have said lifting nuclear-related sanctions would provide Iran with hundreds of billions of dollars to fund terrorist activities, and the early expiration of some of its provisions will quickly Iran to reinvigorate plans to build a nuclear weapon,” reported my colleague Karen DeYoung.

“Administration officials dispute the dollar calculations and say that restoring limits to Iran’s nuclear program, even with certain expiration dates, will provide years of relief from an imminent nuclear threat and room for new ones.” negotiations,” she added.

Iran nuclear talks resume in last-ditch effort to seal deal

The Trump administration and fellow travelers who put a hammer to the deal are reaping what they sow. “Their actions not only nearly caused a war, but due to poor decision-making by the Trump administration, Iran has expanded its nuclear program in an unprecedented way,” researcher Holly Dagres told me. Principal at the Atlantic Council. “Love or hate the JCPOA” – the acronym for the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers – “is the best way forward to prevent Iran from potentially developing nuclear weapons.”

Had Trump not pulled out of the deal, Dagres added, the “confidence-building exercise” inherent in the JCPOA would have continued, perhaps leading to negotiations on other fronts. “It is not clear whether these discussions would have been constructive, but it is safe to say that Iran would not be considered a nuclear threshold state as it is by some today,” he said. she declared.

Yet there is a parallel sense that the Washington hawks got exactly what they wanted. “In his own words, [the Trump administration’s decision to leave the deal] was a great success,” said John Ghazvinian, director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

He dropped any prospect of a rapprochement between Tehran and Washington, tightened cooperation between Israel and US allies in the Gulf, and increased the likelihood of future covert Israeli or even US action against Iran. New tensions have emerged and defined a turbulent state of affairs – from Iran’s violent plots abroad and militancy by its Middle Eastern proxies to US retaliation, including strikes this week against factions backed by Iran in northeast Syria.

Now the Iranian regime and the Biden administration are “just trying to secure their most basic and immediate needs.” Ghazvinian told me. The Biden administration wants to curb Iran’s march toward nuclear-weapon capability, while Iran would welcome an easing of sanctions on its economy and oil exports.

Ghazvinian, author of “America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present,” noted that the world is in a different place from 2015 or 2009 – when the Obama administration entered into a diplomatic process with European partners and Russia and China on Iranian nuclear. program. “We became engrossed in the details of the nuclear issue, defended this thing to the death and forgot what was the most important point” – that is, he said, that the Obama administration thought the nuclear deal could lay the groundwork for a broader strategic deal. a dialogue that would address concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities.

That dialogue is nowhere in sight, as strategists in both countries have long shifted their priorities – in Washington, away from the Middle East; in Tehran, towards a better compromise with some of its neighbors and closer ties with China. It is difficult “to solve an exceptionally complex technical problem against the backdrop of an exceptionally dysfunctional political atmosphere,” Ghazvinian said, referring to the nuclear deal and the larger chasm between the United States and Iran. “We have to go beyond the JCPOA, we have to go beyond it.”

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