Iran and the United States return to Vienna today, but their delegates will not sit at the same table. The objective of these indirect talks, with the mediation of the EU, is to restore the nuclear agreement reached in 2015 and that the Trump Administration unilaterally abandoned three years later. Since then, Tehran has advanced its atomic program while ignoring the limits to which it had committed. The open gap is such that not only the possibility of success is questioned, but even if the pact continues to make sense.
The calculated trickle of violations to the agreement with which Iran has responded to the harsh US sanctions has been draining the content of the formally called Comprehensive Joint Action Pact (PIAC), which it signed with the great powers (the United States, China, Russia, the Kingdom). United and France, in addition to the EU). According to the latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (in charge of supervising the technical compliance of the agreement), Tehran returns to the negotiating table with 11 times more enriched uranium than allowed.
In addition, much of this fuel reaches up to 60% purity, a degree well above the 3.67% authorized by PIAC and closer to the 90% required for eventual military use. Ultimately, Trump’s decision to scrap a successful, albeit flawed, nuclear non-proliferation agreement has increased the risk of proliferation.
Political analyst Eldar Mamedov admits that “Iran’s nuclear advances could render PIAC obsolete.” However, he considers that “there is no other possible agreement.” “Any new pact will have to be based essentially on the same premises as PIAC: the reversal of the nuclear program in exchange for a relief from sanctions,” he believes. With the aggravation that, as a result of Trump’s withdrawal, “it will be worse than that because the Iranian program will be more advanced.”
According to Mamedov, who advises on foreign policy to the social democratic group in the European Parliament, but who spoke with EL PAÍS in a private capacity, “the alternative is to increase the maximum pressure [SOBRE IRÁN], that is, more economic isolation and sabotage and, finally, a military action that [el presidente de Estados Unidos] Biden clearly wants to avoid. ” But he notes that even that might not achieve the goal: “Iran is only one political decision away from building the bomb; he has enough knowledge to do it ”.
In a recent article in the Emirati newspaper The National, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, minimized the danger that this represents in the face of “the real problem of Iran’s meddling in the region.” The commentator questioned the political and diplomatic effort that is being invested in the nuclear issue when Tehran “does not have the bomb and even if it did, it would be unlikely that it would use it”, both because of the doctrine of mutual assured destruction and damage to your regional allies.
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In the opinion of Zogby, who did not respond to a request for an interview from this newspaper, the “obsessive preoccupation with Iran’s program is giving it more attention and an opportunity to brag about what it would get from having a bomb that it could not use.” The Islamic Republic supports armed groups from Lebanon to Yemen, through Syria and Iraq, whose activities the analyst considers most damaging to the region and most urgent to address.
Mamedov questions whether it is an alternative. “For Tehran, regional allies like Hezbollah are non-negotiable; he sees them as a deterrent against a possible Israeli military attack on its nuclear program, ”he says.
Biden’s arrival at the White House in January raised hopes of regaining PIAC. But after six rounds of meetings, the talks were suspended in June, when Iran elected ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi as president. The new Iranian negotiating team can only be more assertive (uncompromising, according to the Western perspective) than the old one.
The demands do not seem to have changed much: unconditional lifting of all sanctions reimposed by Trump. Only then will Tehran agree that the Washington representatives return to the negotiating table with the rest of the signatories. In addition, the Iranians demand guarantees that a future US president will not renege on the pact again.
The United States is working with the Europeans behind the scenes to offer Iran economic benefits, but it is unclear what margin Biden has with the constraints set by domestic politics. “Tehran needs some kind of long-term assurance that foreign companies will be able to do business without being attacked by the US Treasury, something that Biden can hardly compromise,” says Mamedov.
Leaks to the US press suggest that the White House is considering an interim agreement to curb uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting some sanctions. That is far from the minimum that Iranians say they are willing to accept. However, Iran also does not want to appear as the cause of a rupture, so they may agree to study proposals to keep the process going. Keeping talking is better than not talking, but it alone doesn’t guarantee results.