The European Union-hosted indirect talks on the nuclear deal between Iran and the US have been wrapped up in Vienna on 8 August. The delegations returned back to their capitals awaiting political decisions to be made, that will –to a large extent– define the possible paths for the talks that have been taking place for the past 18 months without an outcome.
The reactions of the involved parties, especially the main two, Iran and the US, show that it is now up to Iran, whether it will accept or reject the draft proposed by the EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, and which has been the core of this recent round of talks, or will demand additional talks to come to a compromise on some lingering points.
At this point, Iran seems to be facing a tough impasse. The US confirmed that it would sign a deal based on Borrell’s draft, which means that the text contains terms that are sufficient to finalize the deal. The US seemed to be hinting that Iran is to decide the destiny of the talks. Moreover, Russia, Iran’s closest global power, has approved the draft and awaiting other parties’ decisions.
Conflict of Agreement
The limited choices that are available for Iran create a conflict, meaning that if it approves the proposed draft, it automatically approves the American approach, as the US has already endorsed the European draft, and did not express any opposition or reservations.
Even though no details have been released from the draft except for the two main points; the American sanctions and the Iranian nuclear commitments; a couple of indicators show that it does not fulfill Iran’s preconditions with regard to removing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the terrorist organizations list, as well as assurances for US non-withdrawal from the deal again, in addition to closing investigations over some Iranian nuclear activities that have been observed at three locations, and which have not been explained to the IAEA by the Iranian authorities:
First: The US approval of the European draft, which means that it does not contain any of the above mentioned preconditions, especially that Biden’s administration has assured that it will neither remove the Revolutionary Guard from the terrorist list, nor give assurances for non-withdrawal from the deal.
Second: The European countries have stressed that Iran must not lay demands that are outside the nuclear deal frame, specifically, the closing of investigations on suspicious nuclear activities.
The Europeans insist on carrying out the investigations and getting clear answers from the Iranian side for the queries raised by the IAEA, in addition to committing to the deal’s terms of strict supervision on Iran’s entire nuclear activities through reactivating the surveillance cameras, and handing their memory cards to the IAEA.
Needless to say that in case Iran agrees on that draft and all its included terms, beside economic and nuclear multiple consequences, huge pressures will be exerted on President Ibrahim Raisi’s administration domestically by its allies who adopted –from the beginning- its perspective based on altering the nuclear deal to make it more stable and credible, i.e., more durable than the current one which has been hardly hit by the American withdrawal on 8 May 2018. Pressures have been previously exerted on President Hassan Rouhani’s administration together with accusations that it has caused what has happened to the current deal, while –in fact- it could not achieve more than what had been achieved by previous governments.
Risk of Rejection
On the other hand, in case Iran rejects the draft, it is going to face huge pressures and strong criticism from the west, as it will bear the responsibility of the failure of the negotiations. The US has conveyed to the other powers involved in the negotiations that it supports a deal based on that draft. Hence, holding Iran responsible for the failure will make it face more consequences which do not seem to be minor, especially with the approach of the midterm congressional elections in the US this coming November. Such rejection will encourage the US to upgrade the sanctions, and perhaps apply stricter measures, after easing them during the past period of time, especially with regards to exporting Iran’s crude oil, as an incentive for it to pursue a new deal.
In addition, the western countries that became closer to the American policy towards Iran, may activate what is called “Snapback” strategy within the UN Security Council, which converts all US sanctions into global sanctions that will inflate pressures on Iran who is already suffering a harsh economic crisis which the government failed to contain.
Even though Iran did not exclude such scenario in the past period of time, which appeared in its pursuing of the “Looking East” policy through upgrading its mutual relations with Russia and China, in addition to some regional states, beside turning around the US sanctions. This path’s consequences may be disastrous to it, concurrently with the Israeli intelligence operations inside Iran that target nuclear infrastructure, military locations, prominent scientists in both nuclear as well as missile projects, in addition to Revolutionary Guard leaders, and which may resume during the coming period of time.
Predicament of Procrastination
Finally, there is the probability of Iran’s inclination to extend talks to reach consonance about some points of dispute. Some Iranian officials and media platforms already started this path. This may be referred to the consequences that the two previous paths impose on it.
The first does not fulfill all its requirements, while the second may develop facts that need to be avoided, at least for the present time.
Despite the statement by global powers involved in the talks that they are looking forward to Iran’s response, it does not mean that they will easily tolerate its demands. Even though, if they do agree on more negotiations, which is very possible, there is no guarantee that they will eventually agree on Iran’s terms, or at least reach a compromise on some. Meanwhile, Iran is putting pressure on them by making progress with its nuclear project, and assuring over and over that it possesses the technical capabilities needed to develop a nuclear weapon, but a political decision needs to be made.
Conclusion: It can be said that Iran has limited choices in the nuclear negotiations, which is worrisome to Tehran, as it permanently seeks larger degrees of freedom and maneuverability on both the regional and international stages.
However, whatever the path negotiations take based on Tehran’s decision, the impasse will have direct impact on the balance of powers in the region and Iran’s weight in it, in addition to the escalation with Israel which will –most probably– continue its confrontation regardless the outcomes of Vienna talks.