The Irish Times view on the Iran nuclear deal: undoing Trump’s damage

President Hassan Rouhani, who supports renewing the deal but leaves office in June, is under considerable pressure from hardliners opposed to concessions to the US

A handout photo made available by the Iranian supreme leader’s office shows Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking during a meeting with members of an Iranian expert general assembly, in Tehran on Monday.  Khamenei was quoted as saying that if the US and the West lifted the sanctions, Iran would also return to its obligations of the nuclear deal. Photograph: EPA

A handout photo made available by the Iranian supreme leader’s office shows Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking during a meeting with members of an Iranian expert general assembly, in Tehran on Monday. Khamenei was quoted as saying that if the US and the West lifted the sanctions, Iran would also return to its obligations of the nuclear deal. Photograph: EPA

 

Undoing the damage done to America’s international relationships by Donald Trump was never going to be done with a stroke of a pen. Nothing stands still in the swirl of global politics and Trump, like it or not, changed the narrative. Even the restoration of the status quo ante in the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) is problematic, let alone the idea of “compliance or compliance-plus”, the adding of new conditions suggested by Washington.

“Compliance-plus” would include limits on Iran’s non-nuclear activities, including missile development and support for regional rebel groups and militias. Such ambitions are supported by the EU, but separately – it argues that they cannot be realistically tied to reactivation of the JCPOA.

Biden took office pledging to reverse Trump’s pullout from the 2015 deal which gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme. Last week, partly to defuse an impasse over which country would move first, Biden pledged to return to the multilateral talks on the deal, reversed Trump’s attempts to toughen UN sanctions, and eased some travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats.

But all the US sanctions are still in place and Iran insists it will not return to compliance until all sanctions are lifted, while the US return to the treaty depends on Tehran’s prior “strict compliance”. Iran now has 12 times the enriched uranium permitted by the accord. It has installed advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium faster and is enriching to a higher purity – up from the 3.67 per cent allowed to 20 per cent.

Tehran is accusing Biden of prevaricating and being no different to Trump and claims that it has lost access to $250 billion in revenue since 2018.

President Hassan Rouhani, who supports renewing the deal but leaves office in June, is under considerable pressure from hardliners opposed to concessions to the US. The great challenge for Biden and international partners like the EU is to demonstrate more flexibility and move fast enough to get a deal approved before Rouhani departs.

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