The Iran nuclear deal, six years on

World powers party to the nuclear deal hope to restore it soon as the best option available to ensure non-proliferation.

Officials wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria on June 20 [Handout via Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Signatories of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers have seen their hopes of restoring the landmark accord by its signing anniversary on Wednesday dashed as multiple factors complicated the process.

A clear date has yet to be decided for the start of the seventh – and likely final – round of talks in Vienna to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal that was signed by Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States on July 14, 2015.

This is while all sides have emphasised the necessity of re-establishing the full terms of the accord in order to verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and ensure it benefits from the economic gains it was promised under the deal.

The US, which abandoned the deal in 2018 and unilaterally imposed harsh sanctions on Iran – which has led Iran to refuse to negotiate with it directly in Vienna – has said it is ready for another round of talks, facilitated by the European Union, whenever Iran agrees to a date.

The Iranian foreign ministry’s latest quarterly report to parliament on Monday appeared to confirm that politics at play in Tehran have led to the gap between the sixth and seventh round of talks.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in the report, which was for the first time made public in its entirety of more than 200 pages, that much has been achieved in the Vienna talks  so far, but he hopes the process can be “completed” in the next administration.

Hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, who won the presidency after a controversial vote on June 18, will take the reins from moderate two-term President Hassan Rouhani, who had championed the accord despite harsh criticism by his political opponents.

Raisi will take office in early August, after which coming to an agreement on restoring the deal seems more likely.

This is while Zarif himself, and diplomats of other JCPOA signatories, previously expressed hope that an agreement could be reached before Raisi becomes president.

“Achieving an agreement requires courage and readiness to sacrifice reputation and prioritise national interests over personal interests,” Zarif wrote on Monday in an apparent last note to his hardline critics who have now seized power in the government, the parliament, and the judiciary.

Lifting of US sanctions

Other factors complicating the talks are the layers of sanctions imposed by the US, and the multiple steps Iran has taken to advance its nuclear programme in response to the sanctions or sabotage attacks on its soil.

The endless waves of sanctions imposed, reimposed or re-labeled by the Donald Trump administration entailed some 1,600 designations, including those relating to “terrorism” and human rights violations.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has insisted they all must be lifted, after which Iran will “verify” their effective lifting and then scale back its nuclear steps. It is unclear how long the verification process will take.

Iran has also insisted on a commitment by the US to not renege on the accord again in future as many Republicans and Israeli lobbying groups in Washington, in addition to a number of Arab states, still vehemently oppose the deal. A commitment of an official nature by the US appears unlikely.

But the Iranian foreign minister has sent an optimistic signal on the lifting of sanctions.

In his report to parliament, Zarif said if an agreement is reached in Vienna, in addition to the sectoral sanctions on banking, petrochemicals, and shipping, designations on the supreme leader’s office and the “Foreign Terrorist Organisation” designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will be rescinded.

In addition to new sanctions imposed by Trump – on metals, mines, and textiles – Zarif wrote that a number of executive orders issued by the former president and a number of Congress laws such as the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) will be revoked.

The US has not confirmed the Iranian foreign minister’s claims yet.

Limiting Iran’s nuclear programme

Since May 2019, one year after Trump left the JCPOA, Iran has taken several steps to boost its nuclear activities.

It is now enriching uranium to higher than 60 percent, its highest ever rate, in response to a sabotage attack on its main nuclear facilities in Natanz earlier this year.

Blamed on Israel, the attack was the second such sabotage on Natanz in a year. It also followed the November assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near Tehran, which Iran also accused Israel of orchestrating.

The nuclear deal capped Iran’s nuclear enrichment at 3.67 percent while also limiting its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

After the assassination, Iran’s hardline parliament passed a law that obligated Rouhani’s government to limit inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The government is continuing to record its nuclear facilities with agency cameras but has said it will destroy the tapes if the sanctions are not lifted.

Iran is also utilising more advanced centrifuges and has achieved significant technical knowledge in the past year.

Last week, the US and European powers condemned Iran’s decision to produce uranium metal enriched to 20 percent purity.

In an interview on Monday, Russia’s top negotiator in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said there are now “reasons for concern” rather than “regret” about Iran stepping away from the nuclear deal’s provisions.

Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear programme is strictly peaceful, and the production of uranium metal will help it boost the quality and quantity of its radiopharmaceuticals and industrial radioisotopes.

“Instead of complaining about Iran’s steps, which were the result of lack of adhering to commitments by others, the other sides should quickly return to their own commitments,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Tuesday.

Source: Al Jazeera