- The nuclear deal with Iran appears to be on the verge of collapse.
- Experts warn that if negotiations aimed at reviving the deal fail, there is no “Plan B” for Biden.
- If the negotiations fail, experts say it could also increase the risk of conflict between Iran and Israel.
Revival of Iran’s nuclear deal was one of the key foreign policy goals of President Joe Biden when he took office. But the landmark agreement appears to be on the verge of an irreversible collapse as Western leaders become more and more impatient with Tehran over the halted Vienna negotiations to restore the pact.
If negotiators are unable to pump life back into the deal, experts warn that there is no viable “Plan B” for Biden and the prospect of conflict in the Middle East could rise. Iran violates agreement limits on uranium and hawk enrichment warn the breaking time for an Iranian nuclear weapon is getting shorter.
Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told Insider that she has not given up all hope that the deal can be salvaged, and stresses that the Iranian economy is in “a fragile enough state” for the government to see virtue in a return to the agreement.
“A few factors will be key: how much pressure China is exerting on convincing Iran that it will benefit from even short-term sanctions, and whether the Biden administration can devise a language … which will give confidence that the United States will adhere to the agreement during Biden’s presidency, “Slavin added.
Biden recently promised that the United States would only break from a revived agreement if there is clear evidence that Iran violated its terms.
“There is no ‘Plan B’, there is only a continuation of ‘Plan A’: diplomacy plus the incentive to ease sanctions,” Slavin said. “There is no military solution to the Iranian nuclear program, and previous Israeli efforts to curb things through sabotage and assassinations have only encouraged Iran to speed up.”
“Iran is already a threshold state with all the expertise and materials needed to build bombs if it decides to do so,” Slavin added. “Iran has not done so because it has always calculated that it could protect its territorial integrity without nuclear weapons, and that going that route would only trigger a dangerous new nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
Joseph Cirincione, Prominent Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, i a tweet stressed on Monday that diplomacy is the best and “only way” to “contain Iran’s nuclear program and prevent a new Middle East war.”
Israeli officials have signaled that a military response to Iran will be necessary if negotiations fail. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken did not rule out military options against Iran if the negotiations fail.
“Should the Vienna negotiations fail, the prospects for a military escalation between Iran and Israel increase,” Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told Insider.
With still high tensions, the United States over the weekend flew a B1-B bomber over the Middle East along with fighter jets from Israel, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
—Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) October 31, 2021
The uncertain future of Iran’s nuclear deal
The 2015 nuclear deal, orchestrated under the Obama administration and formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in return for easing economic sanctions.
President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement in May 2018, sparking a series of events that raised tensions between Washington and Tehran to historic heights – leading to a series of skirmishes in the Persian Gulf and triggering fears of war. In the midst of all this, Trump engaged in a “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran, using crippling economic sanctions with the aim of forcing it to negotiate a more stringent version of the pact – a goal that failed.
Although Iran initially remained in line with the JCPOA, it gradually took steps away from the agreement and actually abandoned it altogether after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed the country’s supreme general, Qassem Soleimani, in January 2020. This has included uranium enrichment up to 60% (the agreement limits enrichment to 3.67%, even though weapon quality levels are closer to 90%) and reduces access to international inspectors.
Iran’s nuclear program has evolved to a point where the Biden administration has warned that resuscitation of JCPOA may soon be meaningless.
Back in April, indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran began in Vienna with the aim of bringing both back together. The United States has refused to impose sanctions on Iran until it shows that it is again complying with the JCPOA’s restrictions, while Iran has demanded that the Biden administration ease the sanctions in order to return to compliance.
Initially, the negotiations showed positive signs. But Iran suspended talks in June following the election of its new tough president, Ebrahim Raisi, and has set foot in the process of restarting negotiations. Iran announced last week that it was ready to return to negotiations by the end of November, but a date has not yet been set. The Biden administration tentatively welcomed this development.
Raisi – a protégé of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – is a strong critic of the United States and the West, who have raised concerns that the Vienna negotiations will not be able to revive the agreement.
A series of attacks by Iran-backed militias on US troops in Iraq and Syria have not helped the case. Following a recent drone attack on US forces in Syria, the Biden administration last week issued new sanctions against Iran related to its drone program.
In this way, Biden told reporters at the G20 in Rome on Sunday that the United States “continues to suffer from the very bad decisions taken by President Trump to withdraw from the JCPOA.” The president warned Iran that the United States will continue to respond to any aggressive action against U.S. troops in the region.
Biden and the leaders of Britain, France and Germany (all parties to the JCPOA) on Saturday issued a joint statement rejecting the “provocative nuclear steps” that Iran has taken.
The statement called on Iran to “change course” and pleaded with Raisi to “seize this opportunity and return to good faith efforts to conclude our negotiations.”
Iran has long maintained that it has no desire to develop a nuclear weapon, but Western powers remain deeply skeptical.
But the United States is not without its critics either, as negotiations are still at a standstill, and a number of advocacy groups have called on Biden to offer Iran humanitarian aid to strengthen nuclear negotiations. In a statement to Insider, MIANN Group Director Mani Mostofi called on Biden to ease sanctions against Iran – especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the country.
“The welfare of the Iranian people should not be held hostage to the toxic policy between Tehran and Washington,” Mostofi wrote. “The Biden administration has a chance to step in and act beyond the same old rhetoric.”