The United States and the European Union both announced through spokespersons that they were “studying” the response to what has been called the “final text” of an agreement to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The relevant statements immediately cast doubt upon the prospect of a successful resolution to the negotiating process that has taken place, off and on, for over 17 months.
The European Union’s coordinator for those negotiations, Enrique Mora, presented the draft proposal last week with instructions for the US and Iran to respond by Monday and indicate whether they would accept the agreement in its current form. US officials responded immediately and in public by saying that the US was prepared to implement the agreement based on the EU’s proposals, but Tehran made a point of signaling its intention to review the draft and then respond with comments.
That response came, quite literally, at the last minute, with Iranian officials declaring in advance that they would make their comments available at midnight on Monday, thereby pushing the limits of the deadline imposed by the EU. Nabila Massrali, a spokesperson for the EU on foreign affairs and security policy, specifically cautioned against reading into the timing, but other persons familiar with the negotiating process have argued for weeks that the Iranian regime is following a deliberate strategy of extending the process as much as possible.
This interpretation of the regime’s actions is further supported by the contents of the Iranian regime’s response. Few details of that response were given on Tuesday, either by Western parties or by Tehran itself, but it was immediately clear that it conveyed the expectation of additional talks. This intention appears to disregard prior comments from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who stated that all avenues for compromise had been exhausted in previous rounds of negotiations and that the existing draft would undergo no further changes.
An anonymous European source with connections to those negotiations even went so far as to tell reporters earlier this month: “We are not going to change a single word or add a single comma in the current draft.” But the public statements from Iranian officials surrounding Tehran’s response to that draft indicate that the regime does not expect either the EU or the US to actually adhere to that commitment. In fact, a report by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency boasted that the US had already shown “verbal flexibility” on two of three outstanding issues and that Iranian negotiators were demanding that similar flexibility be written into the actual text of the agreement.
Prior to the delivery of the Iranian regime’s response, Reuters and other outlets reported that three likely points of contention were the persistence of an International Atomic Energy Agency probe into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear activities, the question of whether and how long-term adherence to the agreement could be guaranteed, and the status of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
According to media reports, the Iranian regime’s response to the draft agreement did not mention the regime’s preexisting demands for the probe to be closed as a prerequisite for re-implementing the nuclear deal. Yet the European Union signaled openness to that outcome, noting in its draft that it would not oppose the probe’s closure as long as Iran provided credible answers to outstanding questions about the origin of nuclear traces that the IAEA has found at four sites where Tehran did not disclose the nuclear activity.
On its surface, this seems to open the door for this singular outstanding issue to be resolved. But that door has always been open, while Tehran has been credibly accused of refusing to walk through it. In June, the IAEA’s board of governors voted to formally censure the Iranian regime for refusing to cooperate with the probe while also obstructing the work of inspectors from the agency. Tehran has repeatedly insisted that it has already provided all relevant information, but experts counter that the only information available is that which supports explanations for the nuclear traces, which are not credible.
— Ali Safavi (@amsafavi) August 18, 2022
Issues concerning the IAEA probe would evidently not be difficult to resolve if Tehran were earnestly committed to cooperating with it. This is ironic considering that a senior advisor to the Iranian regime’s negotiating team used that same language in an interview with Al Jazeera. As well as claiming that Iran’s expressed concerns are “not difficult to resolve”, Mohammad Morandi described those concerns as being “founded upon past US and EU violations.”
Regime officials argued that once that response is given, an agreement could be accepted after two or three additional days of negotiations. “If Americans and the Europeans are able to satisfy the concerns of Iranian lawyers and negotiators, it is finished,” Morandi said, adding that “they just need to make a small political decision.” Tehran has used that phrase many times amidst many delays to the negotiating process, but now as then, it appears as if the “small political decision” in question is the decision to simply capitulate to Iran’s demands.
So far, the Western signatories have ruled such capitulation out, and on Monday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price once again condemned Tehran for “unacceptable demands” and reiterated that “what could be negotiated over the course of these past 16, 17 months has been negotiated.” Furthermore, Price emphasized that the Iranian regime has continued to accelerate its nuclear activities in provocative directions, employing a strategy that, in fact, is nuclear blackmail to force the lifting of financial penalties without associated compromise.
“If Iran wants these sanctions lifted,” he said, “they will need to alter their underlying conduct. They will need to change the dangerous activities that gave rise to these sanctions in the first place.”
But Tehran will never “alter its underlying conduct,” so long as the West’s approach to the Iranian regime is submission and not firmness.