Status: 11/29/2021 5:00 a.m.
After a month-long hiatus, talks to rescue the nuclear deal with Iran are set to continue today. The expectations of Washington and Tehran hardly seem compatible.
What is the nuclear deal with Iran about?
The nuclear agreement (JCPoA) was concluded in 2015 between the UN veto powers USA, China, Russia, France, Great Britain as well as Germany and Iran. It should dissuade Tehran from becoming a nuclear force by adhering to certain upper limits on uranium enrichment and production, compliance with which is controlled internationally. In return, sanctions against Iran should be lifted.
But as early as 2018, under the then President Donald Trump, the United States left the agreement. Since then, the Islamic Republic has not kept its promises and has gradually increased its nuclear program. In addition, the access of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Iranian nuclear facilities has been severely restricted, as IAEA Director Rafael Grossi confirmed just a few days ago.
How has the return to the agreement failed so far?
Since spring 2021, shortly after US President Joe Biden took office, diplomats have been in the starting blocks to negotiate the new edition or the continuation in Vienna. But so far neither the USA nor Iran wants to take the first step: Iran demands that the US sanctions must first be lifted. The US, on the other hand, is demanding that Iran abide by the agreements in the agreement for the time being, for example with regard to its uranium enrichment, and would like to add a few points to the treaty, such as the Iranian missile program, which threatens Israel in particular. This is not only rejected by the hardliners in Tehran, they have recently steadily expanded their nuclear program – in order to build up pressure at the negotiating table, observers believe.
What are the chances that it will work this time?
In economic terms, the Iranian leadership needs the agreement. The country’s economy is in very bad shape, the currency is deteriorating, and inflation is rising steadily. According to official figures, 30 percent of the Iranian population live below the poverty line.
Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who has been in office since August, promised during the election campaign to change that. To do this, his government would have to export oil and trade with foreign countries. Both of these are only possible to a very limited extent due to the US sanctions.
The US also wants to reinstate the agreement as they are nervous about the Iranian nuclear program, over which there is little control. The same is true of the other signatory states, including Germany. The coalition agreement of the future federal government says: “We are committed to a speedy conclusion of the nuclear negotiations with Iran (JCPoA).” The precarious human rights situation is also emphasized in the coalition agreement. So far, however, it has not played a role in the agreement. It is unlikely that Iran will be willing to make concessions here.
What could a compromise look like?
US Secretary of State Blinken recently announced that Vienna would concentrate mainly on the nuclear program and leave long-term issues such as the missile program out of the picture for the time being. In return, Tehran would have to take significant steps back to its obligations – above all, to allow the IAEA to regain control of all plants. Above all, European diplomats and politicians see the agreement as a lever to be able to exert greater pressure on the leadership in Tehran in the future – especially when it comes to human rights, political prisoners and security issues in the region.
What do the Iranians think of the nuclear deal?
When the treaty was signed in the summer of 2015, there were dances of joy on the streets of Tehran: Many Iranians suddenly saw the chance within their grasp that their country would come out of its international isolation. Today, many Iranians are disillusioned with all the back and forth about the agreement and angry about international politics – but even more so about their own leadership, which does not act in the interests of the people, as many say.
For economic reasons, many people want a return to the agreement as they associate it with an improvement in their own situation. But there are also Iranians who hope that there will be no agreement: because they fear that this will also strengthen the regime.