Issues include the use of ballistic missiles, the Islamic Republic’s destabilization of the Middle East and potentially extending nuclear limitations beyond 2030.
Some major events have happened in the last week of the nuclear talks’ standoff between Iran, the US and other world powers, which give some additional insights into what to expect next.
Following a background briefing to the media by a senior US State Department official, here are six interim conclusions:
- Follow-on negotiations: A major reason there has been no deal so far is that the Biden administration has stood firm on insisting that there be a follow-on round of negotiations to address issues that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal of 2015 did not address.
These include: ballistic missiles, the Islamic Republic’s destabilization of the Middle East and potentially extending nuclear limits beyond 2030.
Israel opposes a return to the JCPOA, partially because it believes a US attempt to get new concessions after lifting sanctions is foolhardy. Jerusalem might be slightly heartened to hear that Washington may be taking this issue seriously even if it will not meet all of Israel’s concerns. The US also seems to be taking Tehran’s advanced centrifuge and higher enrichment levels seriously.
- Iran saving face during the follow-on negotiations: It has now been formally suggested that one way the US might bridge differences with Iran on new concessions is that aspects of the follow-on deal after the JCPOA deal (if any of this happens) might be informal and not written into the signed agreement. This will greatly concern Jerusalem, whose experience is that Iran ignores anything it has not signed up to formally and that can be enforced; even those commitments are often not honored completely.
If the US takes this approach, Israeli intelligence to monitor if the Islamic Republic is, for example, continuing ballistic-missile development on weapons with a range to threaten Israel but not the US will be as crucial as ever.
- Sanctions against Ebrahim Raisi will likely be lifted: The senior US official explicitly did not say whether Washington will remove sanctions on Raisi over human-rights violations now that he is Iran’s president-elect. But in this case, a noncommitment is likely a commitment to lift sanctions because it would make negotiations with Tehran extraordinarily difficult if the Biden administration did not lift them.
This is probably what Israel is pushing for to block a return to the JCPOA. Biden is committed to the return, however, and this means he will likely lift sanctions on Raisi as part of a package deal. If Washington was going to do otherwise, it would have sent a clear signal from the start.
- No date set for seventh round of negotiations: After past rounds of talks, there seemed to be a hurry to start the next to maintain momentum. But a US official said no return date has been scheduled. Although critics of the JCPOA may be excited by this, it is more likely to be a sign that negotiations next time will be more serious as they reach a conclusion.
Probably, negotiations were dragged out until now so that a deal could be struck during the Raisi era to allow Iran’s hardliner camp to take credit for bringing about positive economic trends in the Islamic Republic. A longer pause probably reflects confidence for a deal and that the difficult final decisions are at last being debated so that the process can be sealed with a deal.
- No IAEA extension yet, but no crisis: The third deadline for lifting sanctions on Iran, or an end to IAEA-Iranian cooperation, passed last Thursday with a whimper. There was some concern expressed that Tehran would follow through and end inspections. But it seems that everyone is now used to hearing Iran’s meaningless deadlines on this issue.
The bigger question is how long Tehran will extend cooperation this time before the next deadline and whether some small changes will be made over cooperation.
- No talk about the blown-up Karaj nuclear facility: No one even asked, and the US official did not address, the sabotage of Iran’s major centrifuge production facility at Karaj, reportedly by Israel. This was big news in Israel, but it was much less reported in America.
Clearly, the Biden administration and the Iranians – who still are lying about the damage being minor – want to move on from this and not allow it to undermine their joint push for a deal.
The attack certainly benefited all countries worried about Iran’s advance toward a nuclear weapon, but it will not slow down work toward a renewed JCPOA.