No Sign Of Extension To UN-Iran Deal On Nuclear Access, Ending Friday
As talks continue in Vienna between Iran and world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement (JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), an important deadline approaches this week with no word of a concrete outcome in the talks or of an attempt to extend the deadline.
The issue in question is a three-month arrangement Tehran reached in February with the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to allow continued inspections of its nuclear facilities beyond the level required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The deal ends on May 21.
The arrangement followed Tehran’s stated intention to end its implementation of its NPT Additional Protocol, which gives more intrusive access to IAEA inspectors, unless the United States lifted the draconian sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the JCPOA in 2018. Trump’s threat of sanctioning third parties restricted Iran’s oil exports and ability to access payments – sending the economy into nearly three years of recessions.
If the deadline on May 21 passes without an agreement in Vienna on reviving the JCPOA – and there is no indication this is likely by Friday - would Iran extend the three-month arrangement with the JCPOA? There is also no news of talks to that end, although they could be suddenly announced in the next few days.
An unsigned article in the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the official mouthpiece of the presidential administration, Tuesday headlined “The role of ‘time’ in the process of negotiations” draws attention to concerns of parties about spending too much time talking and losing time. The article quoted the European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saying that much remained to be done in few remaining “weeks.”
IRNA says Iran has the same concern of negotiations becoming “attritional.” It draws attention to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s demand in April not to drag out the talks – an approach it says is followed by Iran’s negotiators.
IRNA quotes unnamed analysts saying that prolongation of the talks results from US policies and demands, while Iran has a simple aim of seeing sanctions lifted. The news agency explains that when too many parties bring up too many issues in any talks, the result is longer negotiations. Here it cites examples of issues not related to nuclear proliferation, suggesting that the US and the ‘E3’ – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – pursue issues like Iran’s missile program and human rights record.
Interestingly, these are issues that the Biden administration has said should be dealt with once the JCPOA is revived, given the 2015 deal rested on separating nuclear proliferation – and imposing strict limits on Iran’s atomic program – from wider agreements on regional security and defense. Opponents of the deal argue that lifting Trump’s sanctions now for a return to the JCPOA will leave no incentive for Iran to negotiate on other issues, such as missiles.
IRNA also cites attempts by “some participants of the JCPOA” to involve Saudi Arabia and Israel in the nuclear talks. This was reportedly demanded by French President Emmanuel Macron on February 5, when he welcomed Biden’s intention to hold talks with Tehran, but called for the involvement of Saudi Arabia and Israel.
In the end, the IRNA article draws attention to the June 18 presidential elections in Iran as a concern for the West. Whoever is elected in Iran, it argues, the electoral process will further delay the outcome of the talks, as the new administration has to be sworn in and start work in August.