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Would Borrell’s New Draft Save JCPOA, or Buys More Time for Iran’s Regime?

On Tuesday, July 26, the European Union’s foreign policy chief announced that he had introduced a new draft text for the re-implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. An earlier draft had apparently been on the table in Vienna when negotiations among signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action were suspended in March and remained on the table when those negotiations briefly resumed in Doha earlier this month. At both negotiations and in a number of intervening statements, the Iranian regime rejected that draft while demanding additional concessions, primarily from the United States.

It was not immediately clear what new concessions had been included in the new draft, but they were presented to Tehran and the international community as the last available compromise on outstanding issues. “I have now put on the table a text that addresses, in precise detail, the sanctions lifting as well as the nuclear steps needed to restore the JCPOA,” Josep Borrell said in an essay published by the Financial Times. He added: “After 15 months of intense, constructive negotiations in Vienna and countless interactions with the JCPOA participants and the US, I have concluded that the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted.”

Despite the implication that Tehran cannot hope to squeeze any further concessions out of its negotiating partners, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator appeared to immediately reject the new draft. “We, too, have our own ideas, both in substance and form, to conclude the negotiations which would be shared,” Ali Bagheri Kani wrote on Twitter after confirming the existence of a new draft, but without clarifying whether his negotiating team had actually reviewed it in detail.

The apparently reflexive dismissal of Borrell’s proposal is further evidence that the Iranian regime has no intention of reviving the JCPOA. This conclusion was presented last week by a number of international media outlets, citing comments from British intelligence chief Richard Moore. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, he pointed to the existence of a draft agreement and the absence of blocking measures by Iran’s allies Russia and China, in order to suggest that the nuclear deal would have been revived by now if Tehran were committed to it.

Moore went on to say that the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had likely settled upon an alternative strategy for dealing with international pressure on Iran’s nuclear program, though he recognized other Iranian authorities as being hesitant to walk away from it. These dual trends allow Tehran to play for time and keep the negotiations on life support to prevent the automatic re-implementation and potential expansion of European Union sanctions and United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The regime’s Foreign Ministry substantiated this perception of the regime’s approach on Monday when spokesman Nasser Kanani used his weekly press conference to emphasize that Iran’s ruling theocracy would not submit to a “rushed process” or make a “quick decision” on the future of the JCPOA. Kanani rejected Western claims that “time is limited,” calling it “psychological pressure and unilateral expectations” which aimed to make the regime “sacrifice the country’s fundamental interests.”

But on the same day as that press conference, Mohammad Eslami, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, underscored one of the ways in which indefinite delays to the negotiating process promised to benefit Tehran at the expense of Western powers. Furthermore, his statements turned Kanani’s description of the negotiations on their head by conveying a narrative clearly designed to rush the US, Britain, France, and Germany toward capitulation to the regime’s outstanding demands.

After the regime’s ongoing refusal to cooperate drew formal censure from the International Atomic Energy Agency in June, nuclear facilities in Iran began dismantling surveillance cameras that were meant to aid in the IAEA’s monitoring of the regime’s activities and compliance with the terms of the JCPOA.

The move resulted in predictable criticism and requests for the regime to reverse course in the wake of the Doha talks. But Eslami dismissed those requests this week and said, “Those cameras are related to the nuclear deal. If Westerners return to this pact and we are certain they will not commit any mischief, we will make a decision on these cameras.”

In this way, Eslami confirmed that the regime planned to maintain a situation that would allow it to accelerate its nuclear activity in relative secrecy, for as long as negotiations with the P5+1 persist. This gives the Iranian regime a clear incentive to draw out those negotiations for as long as possible, especially if its ultimate goal is to minimize the window of time for its “breakout” to nuclear weapons capability.

The threat of any further narrowing of that window was underscored last week by Kamal Kharrazi, the regime’s former foreign minister and senior advisor to Khamenei when he said that it is “no secret” the regime already has the technical ability to build a nuclear weapon.

He specified that existing nuclear facilities could quickly and easily enrich uranium to weapons grade, having already surpassed the benchmark of 60 percent enrichment.

Many of the regime’s apologists have attempted to mitigate alarmism by saying that Iran would have to separately develop delivery systems for such a weapon before posing a serious threat to the world community. But this, too, is an area in which Iranian authorities have been steadily pursuing relevant advancements while simply denying their intention to apply them to a nuclear weapons program.

Iranian state media recently reported that the country has imminent plans to place another satellite in orbit and that the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), intends to have a role in the launch. In 2020, the Iranian Resistance revealed that the IRGC had its own space program, and the accompanying rocket launches prompted renewed speculation that satellite deployments provided cover for the development of nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Given the regime’s aggressive approach and its race toward acquiring a nuclear bomb, it is safe to reject Borrell’s description of the futile nuclear talks with Iran as “constructive.” The regime has been dragging its feet with the negotiations to pursue its evil objectives. Tehran will continue inching toward both the development of a nuclear warhead and the refinement of a missile capable of carrying it until the threat of a nuclear-armed terrorist regime is no longer avoidable. Would any text and negotiation be effective at that time?