WASHINGTON, DC: The ongoing parley in Vienna between Iran and five signatories of the 2015 nuclear accord has begun to look like the proverbial game of chicken. The hawk — Tehran — has no compelling reason to yield to demands that it abide by the limits set by the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It is playing for time while the dove wants to avoid the humiliation of looking like a chicken for as long as possible.
But Tehran also runs the risk of overplaying its hand and ending up with nothing to show for its single-minded pursuit of getting the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration removed, analysts say.
Thus, it may make sense for Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf to voice his opposition to further renewal of the deal allowing inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites, but there is no proof so far that such bargaining tactics are working.
That said, Tehran must be pleased to hear the warning just sounded by Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is “very concerning” as the radioactive metal used to power nuclear reactors is being processed to purity levels that “only countries making bombs are reaching.”
“Iran often plays hardball in negotiations, and I suspect that it’s testing the limits to see what it can get away with,” Matt Kroenig, a professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
“In the end, however, I suspect we’ll see a return to the nuclear deal with the terms as formulated in 2015. Iran needs the sanctions relief, and the Biden administration wants (what it will portray back home as) an early diplomatic victory.”
But some experts fear that a return to the JCPOA — from which the US unilaterally pulled out in May 2019 — could end up offering Iran an eventual pathway toward developing nuclear weapons. Additionally, they say, if Iran is allowed to continue to violate IAEA safeguards, a dangerous precedent would be set.
“Tehran could be overplaying its hand regarding an issue that Washington and its European allies view as separate from the JCPOA — the IAEA’s ongoing safeguards investigation,” Andrea Sticker, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Arab News.
“Iran has extorted the IAEA in three key ways since February. First, Tehran forced the agency into a terrible position of negotiating a bridge monitoring agreement, something it should never do with any state.
“As members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, states sign up to an IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreement and can add an additional protocol, but they don’t get to pick and choose which elements of those agreements they’ll comply with. By letting Iran do this, the IAEA set a very dangerous precedent for other proliferate states.”
One of the JCPOA’s more controversial conditions was to halt any further public revelations and inspections of Iran’s military research and tests related to nuclear weapons. Six years later, there is a sense that the revelations by a 2018 Israeli spy agency raid — which yielded tons of classified Iranian documents detailing various past covert nuclear weapons work — should prompt a comprehensive IAEA investigation into the military dimensions of Tehran’s nuclear program.
“There’s a fundamental incompatibility with how the JCPOA was used from 2015 to 2018 to shelve the IAEA’s investigation, and the fact that new information about Iran’s nuclear weapons activities has since come to light,” Stricker said.
“This underscores that the IAEA can’t perfunctorily close an open safeguards investigation. It must first methodically determine whether Iran’s nuclear program has military dimensions and seek to ensure any such activities have ended.
“From 2002 until 2015, the IAEA investigated the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. However, the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 pushed the IAEA into another devastating compromise: Closing its investigation and issuing an incomplete, final report.”
Jason Brodsky, a Middle East analyst and senior editor at Iran International, says Tehran has yet to be held accountable by the P4+1 — the UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany — for its uranium-enrichment escalation and stockpiling because of their determination to preserve the JCPOA, so it may have calculated that resistance will produce even more concessions.
“It’s worth noting that the international community merely issued strongly worded demarches while continuing to negotiate following Iran’s announcement that it was enriching uranium up to 60 percent in April,” he told Arab News.
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