West grapples with dilemma over Iran nuclear talks

For months, the west has been hardening its rhetoric towards Iran because the Islamic republic has cracked down on protesters and offered drones to Moscow that Russian forces have used within the conflict towards Ukraine.

The US, UK and EU this week imposed new sanctions on dozens of Iranian officers and entities of their newest try to extend the strain on Tehran. The UK can also be reviewing whether or not to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp as a terrorist organisation, whereas the European parliament has known as for the blacklisting of essentially the most highly effective wing of the republic’s state safety forces.

But whilst relations contact new lows, US and European officers are maintaining the door open to diplomacy to save lots of what’s left of the moribund 2015 nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers.

That’s not as a result of they’re optimistic a couple of breakthrough — there have been no nuclear talks since Iran rejected a draft proposal to revive the deal agreed by the accord’s different signatories in August. As an alternative, it’s a reflection of the dilemma western powers face as they contemplate their restricted choices to cease Iran from increasing its aggressive nuclear programme.

On the one hand, they worry that pulling the plug on the nuclear diplomacy would hand Iran a propaganda victory by enabling it guilty the west for the collapse. They’re additionally cautious of triggering a broader disaster by ending all avenues of diplomacy with Tehran, diplomats and analysts say.

Then again, western nations don’t wish to interact with Iran whereas it sells drones to Moscow and makes use of repression to crush civil unrest at house, together with executing demonstrators. Additionally they fear that there aren’t any credible alternate options to the accord, identified by its acronym JCPOA, that may forestall Iran from buying the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

“We all know that [Iran] are following a gradual path of development on their nuclear programme,” mentioned a senior US official. “It’s one which’s extraordinarily regarding and that we nonetheless imagine is much better tackled via diplomacy than any of the alternate options.”

Different choices embody in search of a extra restricted deal, navy motion, or a return to former US president Donald Trump’s “most strain” technique towards Iran that elevated tensions throughout the area.

Trump sparked the nuclear stand-off with Iran by unilaterally withdrawing from the accord in 2018 and imposing waves of sanctions on the republic. Tehran responded by aggressively increasing its nuclear programme. It’s now enriching uranium at 60 per cent purity — its highest stage and near weapons grade. It has additionally been accused of attacking tankers and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

President Joe Biden pledged to rejoin the deal and elevate many sanctions if Tehran returned to compliance with the accord. However greater than a yr of EU-brokered oblique talks between Washington and Tehran did not safe an settlement, with either side blaming the opposite for the impasse.

The US official described the accord as now in “the deep freeze”. Analysts say each the US and Iran are sticking with a “no deal, no disaster” established order through which neither crosses crimson strains that might result in an escalation.

Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, right, at a press conference with the EU’s Josep Borell in Tehran last June
Iran’s international minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, proper, at a press convention with the EU’s Josep Borrell in Tehran final June © Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Photographs

“The Iranians usually are not pushing for a deal. They perceive even when there’s an settlement that gives sanctions reduction, it’s going to be minimal, so it’s change into even more durable for anybody to stay their neck out for a deal,” mentioned Ellie Geranmayeh, an analyst on the European Council on Overseas Relations. “It’s the identical for the US. Biden doesn’t need a disaster with Iran, nor does he need a deal, so everyone seems to be simply hoping this example can simmer alongside.”

However analysts say such an strategy is unsustainable and dangers a miscalculation by one social gathering that triggers an escalation. Diplomats and analysts say one choice may very well be to hunt an interim settlement that retains a lid on Iran’s nuclear exercise in return for restricted sanctions reduction.

“There’s now curiosity in what kind of different deal may very well be achieved,” mentioned a western official. “If we do nothing, Iran will get nearer and nearer to 90 per cent purity uranium enrichment and there’s the true threat of confusion and escalation.”

Ali Vaez, Iran venture director on the Disaster Group think-tank, mentioned there was “no different choice out there, as a result of assist for the JCPOA, even amongst Democrats, is now questionable”. However he added: “Even a restricted deal is difficult to think about within the present circumstances.”

That might change into much less probably ought to the UK, one in every of three European signatories to the accord, or the EU push forward with the designation of the Revolutionary Guards. Iranian officers have mentioned the nation would reply, whereas analysts say would threat a severing of diplomatic relations.

“The European parliament shot itself within the foot,” Iran’s international minister Hossein Amirabdollahian mentioned on Sunday, including the parliament in Tehran would put European armies by itself terrorist listing.

EU international coverage chief Josep Borrell mentioned this week that the bloc couldn’t formally designate the Revolutionary Guards till a nationwide authorities’s judiciary dominated that the power was a terrorist group. However officers mentioned that would come after a political choice to maneuver forward on designating the organisation, which might require the backing of France and Germany, the opposite European signatories to the accord.

“Nobody desires the JCPOA to die like this,” mentioned a senior EU official, warning that it will be troublesome for the nuclear talks to outlive a designation. “What we’re left with at that time is a return to ‘most strain’,” the official added. “And we all know how nicely that labored final time.”

Further reporting by Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

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