US responds to Iran’s latest demands for reviving nuclear deal

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The Biden administration has completed its review of the proposed “final” text of a revived Iran nuclear deal and Iran’s response to the proposal, and has sent its response to the European Union’s negotiations coordinators, it said. the State Department on Wednesday.

Iran said it had begun its own “detailed review” of the US response, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani.

The exchange of response documents marked the final stage of an apparent endgame after nearly a year and a half of negotiations over a return to the 2015 agreement — the lifting of sanctions against Iran in exchange for its submission to strict restrictions on its nuclear program and international monitoring — without any guarantee that a new agreement will be reached.

“We are closer now than just a few weeks ago,” National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby told reporters. “Gaps remain. We are not there yet.

The US move came as Israel, whose national security adviser consulted in Washington this week, renewed its opposition to the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, speaking to reporters Wednesday in Jerusalem, said his government was “not against any deal”. We are against this agreement because it is bad. Because it cannot be accepted as it is written at this time.

US officials said the terms of the new text are largely an update to the original agreement. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, reimposing the lifted sanctions and adding many more. In response, Iran resumed its pre-deal nuclear program and accelerated it, increasing the quantity and quality of its uranium enrichment well beyond the prescribed limits it had previously adhered to and blocking certain inspection measures.

Experts call for return to Iran nuclear deal as outlook darkens

Israel and opponents of a new deal in Congress have said lifting nuclear-related sanctions will provide Iran with hundreds of billions of dollars to fund terrorist activities, and the early expiration of some of its provisions will quickly allow Iran to revive plans to build a nuclear weapon. Administration officials dispute dollar calculations and say reinstating limits on Iran’s nuclear program, even with certain expiration dates, will provide years of relief from an imminent nuclear threat and room for further negotiations. .

Iran has said its program is for peaceful purposes only and does not intend to manufacture a weapon.

State Department spokesman Ned Price announced the sending of the U.S. response to Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, but did not provide any details about its contents. Borrell, responsible for orchestrating the negotiations, compiled the final text last month, saying all possible compromises had already been struck. Iran provided a response early last week that Borrell called “reasonable”, but with some “adjustments” offered.

Kirby also declined to provide details of the US response. “We’re not going to want to negotiate this thing in public,” he said. “I don’t have an answer to give today, and I don’t know if we ever will.”

Kirby acknowledged that Iran had previously “accessed certain concessions that got us to where we are in the process,” including dropping its demand that the United States withdraw a terrorist designation against Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpspart of the Iranian army.

Most of Iran’s proposed adjustments involve which of the thousands of U.S. sanctions the administration is prepared to lift and when, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomacy. That leaves the center of the dispute where it has been all along – between the US and Iran – with the other parties to the original deal including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, largely as spectators.

As in the original deal, the United States said it would only lift sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program. “It’s important for people to remember that what we’re talking about here is a return to the JCPOA,” short for the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Kirby said. Iran must “stop spinning the centrifuges” used to enrich uranium, “get rid of its enriched uranium” and accept inspections, he said.

“Yes, there is sanctions relief,” but “this deal is about their potential weapons capability. This is where it was in 2015, this is where it is today,” he said. As written, it does not eliminate or reduce “the many sanctions in place today that will remain in place…or prevent us from imposing others.”

Russia and China indicated that they would support the final text as drafted. Following a phone call between President Biden and his British, French and German counterparts last weekend, the administration said Europeans agree with the American response. Throughout the talks, Iran refused direct negotiations with the United States, and the Europeans acted as intermediaries.

Iran has also continued to demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency drop its investigation into radioactive traces found several years ago at several undeclared sites inside the country. Although this is a separate issue from the JCPOA, Iran has indicated that it will not implement a new nuclear deal unless the investigation is dropped. Iran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA investigation led to a no-confidence resolution by the agency’s board this year.

“No deal will be implemented until the IAEA Board of Directors PERMANENTLY closes the case of the false accusations. Iran’s nuclear program will not be dismantled,” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a member of the team, said on Tuesday. of Iranian negotiation, on Twitter.

Earlier in the week, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said the investigation would continue. “So far, Iran has not given us the technically credible explanations we need to explain the origin of many traces of uranium,” he told CNN. “Leave us an explanation. If there was nuclear material there, where is it now? »

Biden campaigned on a promise to revive the original deal. Start-and-stop negotiations began in April 2021, only to be halted after a few months for Iran’s elections, which brought the hardline President Ibrahim Raisi in the office. Amid lengthy haggling over which US sanctions would be lifted, the talks which resumed towards the end of the year included an Iranian demand that Biden guarantee that no subsequent US administration would back out of a renewed deal – which it was impossible for him to deliver.

Iran is still asking for some sort of guarantee, according to people familiar with the talks.

Shira Rubin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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