Five years after the US unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 agreement which limits Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, efforts to restore the deal have gained momentum over the last month.
Talks on a text drafted by European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell were suspended in August when Tehran demanded guarantees of US compliance, which Washington refused.
Although Iran has long rejected interim arrangements, US news website Axios reported in April that the Biden administration had consulted with the EU, Britain, France, and Germany (which along with Russia and China have been involved in negotiations) on the freezing of parts of Iran’s programme in return for partial sanctions relief.
On May 4th Mohammed Mirandi, a dual Iranian-US academic who advises the Iranian negotiations team, told Beirut’s al-Mayadeen television that Iran is ready to reach an agreement based on Mr Borrell’s text.
On May 8th, US president Joe Biden’s regional adviser Brett McGurk travelled to Oman to request that it mediate between Iran and the US. On May 28th-29th, Oman’s ruler Sultan Haitham bin Tariq held talks in Tehran with president Ebrahim Raisi and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iran deal was on the agenda.
On the 30th, US Iran negotiator Robert Malley told US National Public Radio the talks were not dead as Mr Biden had declared in December.
Mr Malley said: “Our goal is to reach a diplomatic outcome with Iran that would verifiably ensure that Iran can’t acquire a nuclear weapon.” He said the US “intelligence community has made the assessment public that we believe that at this point, [the Iranians] have not made the decision to pursue a bomb.”
Mr Malley’s interview coincided with discussions between Washington and Seoul for the release of $7 billion in Iranian oil revenues blocked by sanctions in South Korean banks.
Also, in its quarterly report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran has provided information on the presence of enriched uranium particles at one of three disused sites and a satisfactory explanation for the discovery at an IAEA monitored plant of uranium which was enriched to 83.7 per cent purity, approaching 90 per cent weapons grade.
Although there are numerous outstanding issues with Iran’s compliance with the safeguards agreement on nuclear material, IAEA director Rafael Grossi told CNN “progress” has been made.
Regional tensions have eased since March when China brokered a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore relations after seven years of estrangement. This has prompted Iran to court the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain while Saudi Arabia reopened relations with Iran’s ally Syria, ending its isolation. This has encouraged Iran to re-engage over its nuclear programme to secure sanctions relief to rescue its crisis-ridden economy.
By returning to the deal, the US could regain influence at a time the Arabs have distanced themselves from Washington’s confrontation with China and involvement in the Russia-Ukraine war.