US and Iran assess ‘final’ EU nuclear offer

Seventeen months after the United States and Iran began negotiating a possible return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by President Donald J. Trump, the European Union has presented a “final “which both sides need to address before the talks collapse for good, Western officials said.

The negotiations have gone through many pauses, crises and threatened conclusions, and it is far from certain that the latest proposal represents a final chapter. But US and European officials say their patience is running out of steam as Iran steadily expands its nuclear program.

“What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it is now in a final text,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said on Twitter on Monday.

US officials have long warned that time is running out to reach a deal. A State Department spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations, said the United States was “ready to reach an agreement quickly” and that the EU proposal was “the only possible basis” for this.

US officials doubt Iran is willing to cancel its program in exchange for relief from sanctions that have weakened its economy. But some analysts say the parties have come closer than expected.

In a notable change, Iran withdrew from two key demands. One is the United States’ insistence on removing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its official list of foreign terrorist organizations, according to people briefed on the negotiations and two Iranians familiar with the talks.

This request has become one of the last roadblocks to reinstate the deal after President Biden refused to overthrow the Guard Corps terrorist designationpublished in 2019 by Mr. Trump.

The other is an insistence that the Biden administration provide guarantees that a future president will not walk away from the deal even if Iran sticks to its commitments, as Mr. Trump did in 2018. The Iranians have come to accept that such a promise is not possible, according to the two Iranians.

“We are closer than we have been since the deal was reached last May, before Iranian election talks were suspended,” said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear policy expert who has consulted closely with the government. administration during talks to strike the original nuclear. OK. “Bottom line: it could happen.”

Such a breakthrough would provide Mr Biden with a foreign policy success story as he heads into midterm elections in the fall, although some European officials say the US president may be wary of political criticism over the renewal of an Obama-era deal that Republicans almost uniformly denounce and that even some key Democrats opposed in its original form.

Another factor is a new Iranian demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, drop a three-year investigation into unexplained man-made uranium at various Iranian research sites, including some that Tehran refuses to allow IAEA inspectors to visit. Iran has vehemently denied having military intentions for enriched uranium.

“It’s their style: go for an agreement but when the agreement is reached say: ‘There is just one thing left’,” Mr Cirincione said.

The agency identified traces of uranium particles based on information discovered in 2018, when Israeli agents stole thousands of documents and CDs about Iran’s nuclear program from a warehouse in Tehran.

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The stolen documents said Iran had a military nuclear program until at least 2003, when the United States believes it ended. Israel is still not convinced that it has been closed.

Iran has made dropping the investigation key to its endorsement of the nuclear deal, even though the IAEA is not a signatory and was not involved in the negotiations.

The agency’s secretary general, Rafael M. Grossi, also said it would be difficult for the agency to confidently restore an assessment of Iran’s enrichment status, as the country has banned to the agency to replace complete memory cards and cameras for months, as part of its own efforts to pressure negotiators.

“Just like in 2015, it is very difficult to dissociate Iran’s past from its future,” said Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations, which is following the negotiations.

“Iran wants to end IAEA investigations into its past as part of the relaunch of the JCPOA,” she added, using the abbreviation from the original agreement. “The West is not willing to drop the investigation.”

Ali Vaez, the Iranian director of the International Crisis Group, said “what Iran is wrong about is that it cannot wish for UN inspections to do their job”.

“What he needs to do is clean himself up once and for all,” Mr Vaez said. “The parties managed to resolve several issues, which is a positive development. But the fact that only one disagreement remains does not guarantee success.

Even if eventually signed, the new agreement would take months to enact. Critics have noted that even if Iran agreed to enrichment limits in the original deal, the country had enough knowledge to build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so, making it a ‘threshold state’. .

Iran also does not accept that the current 35-page proposed agreement is a closing offer. Nour News, a news outlet of the Supreme National Security Council, said on Tuesday that “understandably, the Islamic Republic of Iran does not accept the current text as the final text.”

After Mr Biden refused in the spring to lift the US designation on the guardhouse, Iran installed new advanced centrifuges in places deep underground and enriched with 60% uranium, which is close to the quality military and is not required for any civilian use.

In Iran, many analysts doubt that a deal is within reach. Iran’s conservative government faces internal divisions and radical factions are wary of the West. Making key concessions also risks provoking political backlash. Some conservative lawmakers have said any deal leaving the Guard Corps designated as a terror group is unacceptable.

But if Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declines the current Western offer, Iran is unlikely to drop out of the talks. Iran sees itself as leverage on a West keen to strike a deal that would bring more Iranian oil into a global economy strained by high energy prices, analysts said. But Ayatollah Khamenei is also keen to remove binding sanctions.

Mr Vaez said that if this attempted deal fails, the West will have to start thinking about more limited alternatives.

“They are then likely to explore alternative options, such as an interim agreement, in the context of an intensified centrifuge sanctions race,” Vaez said.

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