Iran-US Diplomacy Trudges On as Hopes of Nuclear Understandings Grow

Iran-US Diplomacy Trudges On as Hopes of Nuclear Understandings Grow
Iran-US Diplomacy Trudges On as Hopes of Nuclear Understandings Grow

EU mediator for reviving the Iran nuclear deal Enrique Mora met with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Baqeri Kani earlier this week, as Washington and Tehran are reportedly discussing new agreements to de-escalate tensions.
While US President Joe Biden has contended that the Iran nuclear deal is “dead”, a new agreement of sorts appears in the making.
“Long live the Iran deal” is not a cheer raised by anybody in the Biden administration. Nor would Biden’s political opponents, who never liked the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, ever compliment his foreign policy achievements. But anyone concerned about the prospects for nuclear proliferation and conflict in the Middle East should be pleased by recent events, Al-Monitor wrote in a recent article.
On the record, the Biden team insist that there is no new nuclear deal. Off the record, however, officials from various nations have sketched the outlines of an impending ceasefire in the escalation with Iran. An unwritten agreement is in play for release of three dual US-Iranian citizens imprisoned in Iran, indirectly coupled with the US release of Iranian oil sale revenues.
The United States has already given Iraq permission to use 2.5 billion euros of frozen Iranian funds to pay off a gas and electricity debt, to be used for purchase of food and medicine. Iran will also be able to use $7 billion held in South Korea for similar purchases. Humanitarian trade has long been exempted from US sanctions. Under a new arrangement, however, the US Treasury will give explicit assurances to South Korean banks indemnifying them over release of the funds. 
The arrangements also reportedly will cap Iran’s uranium enrichment level at 60% and slow down new US sanctions.
US Republican lawmakers are predictably unhappy. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has resolutely opposed any resumption of the JCPOA, appears to be more sanguine about what he described as a “mini-deal.” His acquiescence is important, because Israel can be a spoiler. An Israeli sabotage attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities could scupper talks.  
While never officially claiming responsibility, Israel has repeatedly sought to impede Iran’s nuclear progress by assassinating scientists, disrupting computer controls at enrichment plants, and causing explosions. Most recently, in April 2021, a centrifuge facility at Natanz was blacked out by an attack attributed to Israel. However, none of Israel’s attacks has ever significantly set the nuclear program back.  


Clear Need 

Instead, Iran always responded by ratcheting up its nuclear program, including its response to US-led sanctions. Following former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, Iran has turned the dial up. Raising to higher levels of enrichment would be its next logical step in response to another sabotage attack. 
Enriching to 90% could trigger Britain, France and probably Germany to snapback UN sanctions that were lifted under the JCPOA, and Iran has threatened that in response it would pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This, in turn, would be interpreted by Iran’s adversaries as a sign of nuclear weapons intent (an objective Tehran says will never pursue) that might have to be halted by military means. 
Even limited air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities could escalate into a larger conflict. Iran’s response would likely involve asymmetric attacks and the use of borderless cyber warfare. Iran would expel inspectors, build new facilities, and move as quickly to ramp up its nuclear work. 
The need for de-escalation is clear. When the effort led by the European Union last August to revive the JCPOA failed to produce results, and then domestic protests emerged in Iran, the United States decreed that the JCPOA was no longer on the agenda. Iran then was accused of supplying Russia with drones used to attack Ukraine (Tehran has rejected such allegations). 
However, the United States and its partners never ceased pushing for release of the three American prisoners. Those plans, and the broader arrangements, deserve unqualified applause. While the ceasefire will do little to roll back Iran’s nuclear program, it will stop matters from getting worse, preserving future prospects for peaceful solutions.

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