After the latest round of indirect talks in Vienna, there is a draft deal currently on the table to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It was proposed by Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. The EU claims the last step is for both sides, Washington and Tehran, to say yes or no. While the Iranians dispute the idea that this proposal is finalized and say three issues remain that must be worked out, Washington refuses additional talks.
On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said there remained “three issues that if resolved, we can reach an agreement in the coming days.” He elaborated, saying “we have told them that our red lines should be respected … We have shown enough flexibility … We do not want to reach a deal that after 40 days, two months or three months fails to be materialized on the ground.”
The Joe Biden administration, however, says it will not negotiate any further, with State Department spokesman Ned Price insisting Tehran must drop its “extraneous” demands. “The only way to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is for Iran to drop further unacceptable demands that go beyond the scope of the JCPOA. We have long called these demands extraneous,” Price said. The US will provide its answer to Borrell privately, Price added, though Al Jazeera reported that Washington has already accepted the draft text.
It remains somewhat unclear what “extraneous” demands Price is referring to, as the lingering dispute has long been over the scope of sanctions relief for Iran and guarantees on economic benefits. A Politico report cites a senior western official saying “the Iranian answer was received by the EU on Monday evening Brussels time. The response is mostly focused on outstanding questions related to sanctions and guarantees around economic engagement. Over the last few months, Iran has continuously demanded assurance that it will be able to reap the economic benefits of a restored deal.”
Iran has indicated that one of its three red lines is an end to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) probe into some particles of unprocessed uranium discovered at “undeclared sites,” as Tehran says it provided full documentation to resolve the thorny issue after cutting a deal with the UN watchdog earlier this year.
The US, the E3 and the increasingly politicized IAEA chief Rafael Grossi have each accused the Islamic Republic of being uncooperative with the probe and have continually used the uranium traces as a way to pressure and censure Iran. Yet unconfirmed reports from last week said that European diplomats put forward an offer to possibly discontinue this investigation if Iran agrees “to address” and clarify “the IAEA’s concerns before the pact takes effect.” Iran sees ending the probe as a prerequisite for reimplementing the nuclear deal.
Previous problems arose when Biden refused to remove Iran’s elite military unit, the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization blacklist. This sweeping sanction was imposed under President Donald Trump and constitutes a significant brick in the neocons’ “sanctions wall” meant to preclude Biden from restoring American compliance with the deal. Earlier this month, European diplomats told Bloomberg that Iran dropped its delisting demand, seemingly confirming earlier reports that it had abandoned that condition.
Throughout this process, Iran has been steadfastly committed to diplomacy while Washington has regularly imposed additional sanctions, ramping up its economic war despite repeatedly stating a desire to return to the nuclear deal. Biden, moreover, has doubled down on his support for Tel Aviv despite Israel’s relentless bombings of Tehran’s key ally Syria, as well as several drone strikes and assassinations inside Iran this year.