The European Union announced yesterday that it has put forward a “final” text to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal after conclusion of the latest round of indirect negotiations between the United States and Iranian in Austria.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
Efforts to revive the nuclear agreement have been described to TV7 by a Western diplomat as similar to a driver stepping down all the way on the gas paddle while the vehicle’s gear remains in neutral.
“The time has come for one last effort to talk about the most recent proposals from the representatives and to take clear, decisive political decisions in the capitals of countries which participate in the JCPOA,” emphasized High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell in the wake of four days of mediation while expressing that “the process that is underway in Vienna” will “lead to results very soon.”
“What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text. However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals,” the Foreign Policy Chief tweeted prior to the EU, Iranian and US departures from Vienna, adding, “If these answers are positive, then we can sign this deal,”
Earlier, a senior EU official told reporters that no more changes could be made to the text – which has been under negotiation for 15 months, and that a final decision from the parties is expected within a “very, very few weeks.”
“It is a package proposal… You cannot agree with page 20 and disagree with page 50. You have to say yes or no,” stressed the diplomat.
As coordinator of the talks between Iran and international community, the EU Foreign Policy Chief went on to say he has been “working hard during the last two months in order for making everybody go back (to) Vienna, bringing a positive answer from the consultations that all of them have been taking on their capitals.” He then reiterated his personal conviction that the 2018 withdrawal from the JCPOA by the administration of former US President Donald Trump is to blame for Iran’s defiant nuclear activities.
Iran and six major powers struck the original accord in 2015 under which it agreed to restrict its nuclear program to make it harder to use it to develop atomic weapons – an ambition it denies – in return for relief from US, EU and United Nations sanctions. After Trump pulled out of the pact and reimposed harsh American sanctions designed to choke off Iran’s oil exports, its major source of export income and government revenue; Tehran openly breached the agreement in several ways, including rebuilding stocks of enriched uranium. It has also enriched uranium to 60% purity – far above the 3.67% that is permitted under the deal but below the 90% that is regarded as weapons grade.
US President Joe Biden has sought to revive the agreement since he took office in January 2021 and negotiations – indirect because Iran refuses to deal directly with the United States on the issue – opened in Vienna in April 2021.
Despite the EU’s hopes, the Islamic Republic has so far refused to compromise on its non-nuclear demands over concern that doing so would be tantamount to ‘defeat.’ Such demands viewed by the US and other Western powers as exceeding the scope of the Vienna Talks include insistence the dropping of charges by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the Islamic Republic has failed to fully explain uranium traces at undeclared sites.
Iran has also sought to obtain guarantees that no future US president would ever renege on the deal if it was revived, which Washington cannot provide as the deal is a political understanding rather than a legally binding treaty. In apparent regard to this issue, state media reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told Borrell in a call yesterday that, “The final agreement must ensure the rights and interests of the Iranian people and guarantee the effective and stable removal of sanctions,” Strategic Coordinator for the US National Security Council Rear Admiral (Ret.) John Kirby stressed that Washington also has no intention of altering its own position.
“The negotiations are pretty much complete at this point,” he said, adding, “And you heard the President (Joe Biden) say we’re not going to wait forever for Iran to take this deal — the deal on the table. They ought to take it. I am not going to slap a label on it and say, “last ditch,” but clearly time does appear to be getting very short in terms of being able to get to a deal. And again, we urge Iran to take this deal on the table.”
Washington says it is ready to quickly reach an agreement to restore the JCPOA based on the EU proposals.
“They (the Iranians) repeatedly say they are prepared for a return to mutual implementation of the JCPOA,” said a US State Department spokesperson yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Let’s see if their actions match their words,” added the official.
Conversely – officials in Tehran have indicated that they do not consider the EU submission as final and intend to convey their “additional views and considerations” to the 27-member bloc after consultations with the Ayatollah regime.