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Response to EU’s ‘final’ nuclear text by Monday midnight: Iranian MFA

After months of struggle to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the EU’s brokerage seems to yield results as Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that Teheran would respond to the EU’s “final” text by midnight on Monday.

In as much as the official called on the US to show flexibility for the revival of a 2015 nuclear pact, he stressed that failure to bring the deal back “will not be the end of the world.”

We will need more talks if Washington does not show flexibility for resolving the remaining issues… Like Washington, we have our own plan B if the talks fail,” FM Amirabdollahian said, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.

The EU said last week it had put forward a “final” text following four days of indirect talks between US and Iranian officials in Vienna. The US has expressed readiness to quickly reach an agreement to restore the nuclear deal on the basis of the EU-brokered proposals.

For their part, Iranian officials said last week that they would convey their “additional views and considerations” to the EU.

Also on Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said there was still a possibility to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“There is an opportunity to reach a nuclear deal if Iran’s red lines are respected,” Mr Kanani said at a news conference in Tehran.

#Iran MFA spox: There’ve been relative progress in #ViennaTalks but the progress has not fully met the legal demands of Iran…Serious consultations were made at highest levels in Tehran & are yet underway…An agreement is possible in very near future if Iran’s red lines observed.

— Abas Aslani (@AbasAslani) August 15, 2022

In indirect talks mediated by the EU in Vienna, Iran and the United States have been struggling to build bridges over gaping divisions, namely, uranium traces, binding guarantees, and Iran’s blackguard.

Specifically, there are three issues,” Mr Amirabdollahian said.

Iran’s demand no.1: IAEA drops its claims about Teheran’s nuclear work

Washington and other Western powers have been giving Iran suspicious glances owning to the country’s inclination at ramping up Uranium enrichment levels and outright declarations by Mohammad Eslami, head of the country’s atomic energy organisation, that it had the means to create an atomic bomb.

But Iran insists the nuclear pact can only be salvaged if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) drops its claims about Tehran’s nuclear work.

To recall, Iran was criticised in June via a resolution passed by the IAEA Board of Governors for failing to explain uranium traces found at three undeclared sites.

In a bout of defiant reactionism, Iran further expanded its underground uranium enrichment by installing cascades of more efficient advanced centrifuges coupled with removing nearly all IAEA monitoring equipment installed under the 2015 deal. A potentially “fatal blow” to reviving the agreement is how the IAEA chief Rafael Grossi described the move.

It has been over a year since the IAEA had access to the data collected by its cameras. Iran has been holding on to the footage. Mr Grossi said more than 40 IAEA cameras would keep operating as part of the core monitoring in Iran that predates the 2015 deal.

Iran’s demand no. 2: No US administration will renege on the pact

Next, Tehran demands guarantees that “no US administration” would go back on a revived deal.

Not being a binding political understanding or a legally-binding treaty in the eyes of President Joe Biden and some US lawmakers, the US cannot vouchsafe for the deal’s durability.

Iran’s concern is over history’s tendency of repeating itself. Teheran would like to avoid the 2018 events when then-President Donald Trump not only withdrew Washington from the deal but also reimposed sanctions, which in 2015 had agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for relief from US, EU and UN punishments.

The pact, negotiated under former US President Barack Obama, was not a treaty because there was no way the Democratic president could have secured the approval of the US Senate.

Even today, the deal does not win unanimous favour from US lawmakers with even some Democrats opposing the pact’s potential revival, not to mention many Republican senators recoiling from it.

Iran has proposed a safety valve that would allow it to impose financial penalties for Western companies that may end their contracts with Tehran if Washington ditches the deal again.

Iran’s demand no. 3: Revolutionary Guard Corps to be removed from terror list

In March, it seemed that the revival of the deal was at hand after 11 months of onerous talks in Vienna. This prospect was jeopardised by Tehran’s demand that Washington removes the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list. Washington refused to comply.

A supreme force having its own elite armed and intelligence assets separate from Iran’s regular army, the IRGC is a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces. According to the Iranian constitution, its purpose is to protect the country’s Islamic republic political system. With its industrial empire, the IRGC has been used throughout history as the Islamic republic’s iron fist crashing down on the Ayatollahs’ enemies. It reports directly to Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Washington accuses IRGC of a global terrorist campaign and the Biden administration has made clear it has no plan to drop the IRGC from the list, a step that would have limited practical effect but which would anger many US lawmakers.

June brought about a breakthrough in the matter with one Iranian and one European official saying the demand had been taken off the table to give diplomacy a chance. Iran, according to Reuters, had agreed to revisit the matter once the 2015 pact is revived. In return, it has asked for the removal of sanctions on some economic units of the Guards.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) military personnel stand guard on an avenue in downtown Tehran. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hardwired to benefit

Even if the EU’s “final” offer is not accepted, neither Tehran nor Washington is likely to throw in the towel on the pact because, as analysts, diplomats and officials cited by Reuters argue, keeping it alive serves both sides’ interests.

For the Biden administration, the agreement seems like the only way to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check as economic pressure, which has been in use since Donald Trump’s presidency, has shown few positive results, especially now that countries such as China and India continue to buy Iranian oil.

The oil demand and price hike triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s public support for Tehran have convinced Iran that it can afford to wait.

Both sides are happy to endure the status quo,” said a European diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A senior Iranian official said, for his part: “We are in no rush.”

We are selling our oil, we have reasonable trade with many countries, including neighbouring countries, we have our friends like Russia and China that both are at odds with Washington… our [nuclear] program is advancing. Why should we retreat?”

Meanwhile, the US’ Middle Eastern ally Kuwait has been warming up to Iran. Kuwait has appointed an ambassador to Iran, both countries said on Sunday, more than six years after recalling its top envoy to Tehran in solidarity with Saudi Arabia after it severed ties with the Islamic Republic in 2016.

The move follows Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia’s works to improve ties with Shi’ite Iran, with which it has been locked in a rivalry that has played out across conflicts in the region.

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