Iran nuclear talks progress, but is it enough to save the deal?

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American and Iranian nuclear negotiators are returning to their capitals with a document offering a glimmer of hope for the embattled 2015 Iran nuclear deal, after the sudden resumption late last week of negotiations that had been deadlocked for months.

Details of the new text remain secret and must be approved by the U.S., Iran, and the other five signatories. EU officials said in Vienna the 25-page final document was the “best possible offer” and a “very good compromise.”

Why We Wrote This

Announcing the first Iran nuclear deal in 2015, President Obama said it was built on verification, not trust. As governments examine the latest document agreed to by negotiators, the main obstacle to a renewed deal remains distrust.

“What can be negotiated has been negotiated,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted Monday. “Behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals,” he wrote. “If these answers are positive, then we can sign this deal.”

Yet if the nuclear deal is restored, it will have overcome soaring levels of mutual distrust triggered by then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 unilateral withdrawal, his campaign of renewed sanctions, and Iran’s expansion of its nuclear program well beyond the deal’s limits.

Nasser Hadian, a professor at Tehran University, last year presented bridging proposals to senior Iranian officials, who calculate that a restored deal won’t outlast the Biden administration. “There is no trust here at all,” he says.

LONDON

American and Iranian nuclear negotiators are returning to their capitals with the final text of a document to restore the embattled 2015 Iran nuclear deal, after more than 15 months of European Union-brokered diplomacy in Vienna concluded with a final four-day round of talks.

The sudden resumption late last week of negotiations, which had appeared hopelessly deadlocked after a five-month delay, rekindled a glimmer of hope of a return to the landmark deal.

Under the original deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran agreed to strict limits on its nuclear program and forswore pursuing an atomic bomb in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Why We Wrote This

Announcing the first Iran nuclear deal in 2015, President Obama said it was built on verification, not trust. As governments examine the latest document agreed to by negotiators, the main obstacle to a renewed deal remains distrust.

Yet if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, as the nuclear deal is formally called, is restored, it will have overcome soaring, perhaps unsurpassed, levels of mutual distrust.

The negative feedback cycle was triggered by then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 unilateral withdrawal of the United States, and his “maximum pressure” campaign of renewed and expanded sanctions, followed by Iran’s expansion of its nuclear program well beyond the limits of the deal.

If the parties fail to agree now on restoring the deal, analysts say the best result may be a hard-to-sustain cold peace, in which neither side chooses to escalate. Even if that balance is achieved, it would be vulnerable to enduring distrust and potential provocations – compounded by the actions of third parties like Israel, which continues to conduct high-profile assassinations and sabotage inside Iran – that could spark renewed escalation that risks war.

Waiting for answers

Details of the new text remain secret and must be approved by the U.S. and Iran, as well as by China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. EU officials said in Vienna the 25-page final document was the “best possible offer” and a “very good compromise.”



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