Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (2-R) attending an event during the “Nuclear Technology Day” in Tehran on April 9, 2022. (AFP)

By Track Persia

August 30, 2022

The prospects for reviving Iran nuclear deal appeared to take a step backward as the Biden administration has said Tehran’s latest proposals  which were submitted through the European Union, were “not constructive.”

US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said in a statement: “We can confirm that we have received Iran’s response,” adding that: “we are studying it and will respond … but unfortunately it is not constructive.”

The 2015 agreement appeared on the verge of revival in March after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and US President Joe Biden’s administration in Vienna. However, the talks broke down over obstacles such as Tehran’s demand that Washington provides guarantees that no US president would abandon the deal as Trump did. President Joe Biden cannot provide such assurances because the deal is a political understanding rather than a legally binding treaty.

Last week, Tehran responded to the EU’s text with “additional views and considerations” and called on Washington to show flexibility to resolve three remaining issues. For its part, the United States said it was studying Iran’s response.

Tehran’s response came as written text on Friday in negotiations over a final draft of a roadmap for the world powers to return to its stumbled nuclear deal. It pointed out that it needed stronger guarantees from Washington for the revival of its 2015 nuclear deal in order to have a “sustainable deal,” asking the UN atomic watchdog to drop the inspections of its nuclear sites.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a statement that “the sent text has a constructive approach with the aim of finalizing the negotiations.” US State Department confirmed it received the Iranian response through the European Union.

Tehran accuses the United States of dithering, while Washington accuses Tehran of having frittered any goodwill over months of intransigence. This led that both sides are struggling to present any return to the nuclear deal as a victory.

Speaking from Moscow, the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Wednesday that the UN atomic watchdog should drop its “politically motivated probes” of Tehran’s nuclear work claiming that Tehran was carefully reviewing Washington’s response that it had received in a text last week by the EU, the coordinator of the nuclear talks.

Two weeks earlier, the Biden administration sent its response to the text and to Iran’s requests for changes. The U.S. statement came after Iran had submitted its latest response. Interestingly, neither Iran nor the United States had made public its submissions, but the exchanges had raised optimism that the negotiations had reached an endgame and there had been momentum for a settlement.

World powers have spent nearly 18 months trying to negotiate a deal that would restore strict limits on Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for the United States easing some of its sanctions on the Persian republic’s economy, including on its oil exports.

The United States and Iran have gone back and forth for many weeks, with replies and counter-replies to supposedly a final text offered in July by the European Union, which has coordinated nearly a year and a half of negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement signed between world powers and Iran. E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell deemed an initial Iranian response to the text last month “reasonable”, but said Tehran had requested some “adjustments.”

Borrell hoped that an agreement could be reached “in the coming days.” This came as French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech to ambassadors Wednesday in Paris that he hoped an agreement would be concluded “in the next few days.”

It is worth noting that, the U.S. and international sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for submission to strict curbs on its nuclear program and international monitoring under the terms of the original deal. Former US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement which was signed by Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China along with the United States and Iran in 2018, re-imposing lifted sanctions and adding many more.

However, Iran resumed its pre-deal nuclear programme and speeded it up, increasing the quantity and quality of its uranium enrichment far beyond the prescribed limits, and blocked some inspection measures despite it always claims that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. Nonetheless, President Biden before coming to office had pledged to restore the original agreement, saying it was the best way to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

Interestingly, Tehran offered no public acknowledgement of what it claimed. In the meantime, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the highest authority in Iran and has the final say on state matters including the nuclear negotiations largely, has been silent on Iran’s nuclear negotiations in the past few weeks.

Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement which was forged during the administration of US President Barack Obama was abandoned in 2018 by former U.S. President Donald Trump who upped sanctions and pressure on Tehran. Iran responded by slowly expanding its nuclear programme pasting the limits set by the agreement. It has also reduced its cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA within the Safeguards Agreement and shut down nearly 20 surveillance cameras that the Agency had installed in nuclear and other facilities.

What does the agreement draft comprise?

It became known that Iran nuclear agreement could comprise four phases “to cement confidence between the parties” and would enter fully into force 165 days after its signature. Tehran would release several prisoners and return to the terms of the pact in exchange for maintaining its current uranium ‘stockpile’ and the lifting of sanctions, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would remain on the list of terrorist organizations.

The contents of the draft were partially disseminated by the ‘Haaretz’ newspaper which revealed that this draft could be changed with a view to the final agreement since Iran was reviewing the response submitted by the United States to an initial agreement text presented by the European Union.

On Monday, Iran accused the United States of “procrastinating” in indirect talks aimed at reinstating Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal and said a prisoner swap with Washington was not linked to the negotiations. “The Americans are procrastinating and there is inaction from the European sides…America and Europe need an agreement more than Iran,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said at a news conference. Kanaani said that Tehran wanted a sustainable deal that would preserve Tehran’s legitimate rights,” adding: “Until we agree on all issues, we cannot say that we have reached a complete agreement.”

Meanwhile, the United States has repeatedly called on Tehran to release several Iranian-Americans held in Iran on security charges. For its part, Iran has demanded that several Iranians who were detained on charges linked to US sanctions be freed. Kanaani said: “We emphasize that the exchange of prisoners with Washington is a separate issue and it has nothing to do with the process of negotiations to revive the 2015 pact,” adding that Tehran was ready to swap prisoners. “We seek a good agreement which would guarantee Iran’s national interests and would be long-lasting…We won’t be bitten twice,” Kanaani said.

Any success prospects?

So far, Tehran has not shown serious interest in abandoning its nuclear ambition.  Many American bipartisan officials suspect that the Iranian clerical regime’s actions are hindering the signing of any imminent deal.

Some American officials have warned the Iranians of using force if they do not return to the negotiation table and others, warning Iran of harsh consequences. The US Iran envoy Rob Malley at testifying in the Senate. Malley told lawmakers that “nothing is off the table” regarding ensuring Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, including military action.

Similarly, Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was not optimistic that there would be any agreement with the Iranian regime. He suspected that accepting a new accord was a divisive proposition within Iran’s political establishment, making it difficult to revive the agreement.

The Biden administration’s approach towards negotiating to restore the 2015 deal with the Iranians is being under tremendous criticism by the majority of American politicians, in particular. Specifically, the administration’s policy that is focusing on keeping open offers on the table for the Iranians. These politicians do not see a pathway forward and think that the prospects for an agreement are not encouraging, especially since a new agreement is a divisive proposition within Iran’s political establishment, making it difficult to revive the agreement. Moreover, the Biden administration has been accused by some politicians of failing to keep its promise of refusing any deal after the end of February.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.