What we know about the Iran nuclear deal – and what we don't

“This is all about the Iranians trying to get the US and Europeans to drop the IAEA investigation.”

 European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria June 20, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS)
European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria June 20, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – On Monday, the European Union said it put forward a “final” text to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as four days of indirect talks between US and Iranian officials wrapped up in Vienna.

Iran has made demands that the United States and other Western powers view as outside the scope of reviving the deal, such as insisting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) drop its claims that Iran has failed to fully explain uranium traces at several undeclared sites.

Each side sought to put the onus on the other to compromise.

"They (the Iranians) repeatedly say they are prepared for a return to mutual implementation of the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Let’s see if their actions match their words," a US State Department spokesperson said.

Yet, it was still unclear on Tuesday if the Iranians would accept the terms of the proposed deal. Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, noted that an Iranian official declared publicly that the chances of a deal are 50-50.

“That may be an honest assessment of where the supreme leader stands at the moment, patiently shaking down the United States and Europe for more and more concessions with every passing day,” he said. “A better question is what will the West do if Iran doesn’t outright reject the deal, but doesn’t accept it either. How long will this game go on?”

CHINESE AMBASSADOR to the United Nations, Wang Qun, waits for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, last month. (credit: REUTERS)CHINESE AMBASSADOR to the United Nations, Wang Qun, waits for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, last month. (credit: REUTERS)

When asked what the US should do if the Iranians would not accept the agreement, Goldberg said that the combination of Iranian technical advancements over the last 18 months, the lack of key monitoring all summer and Iran’s failure to account for newly discovered nuclear sites and traces of uranium “already makes a return to the JCPOA a fool’s errand.”

“The UK, France and Germany need to complete the snapback of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, restoring international restrictions on Iran's nuclear program and terminating the sunsets of the JCPOA,” he said. “That would enable diplomacy, backed by the threat of military force, to proceed on a level playing field.”

The terms of the deal

Under the discussed deal, he explained, Iran would be allowed to keep its newly deployed advanced centrifuges in storage, “ready to break them out and return to high enriched uranium production at any time.”

“Iran would get new sanctions relief not provided in the JCPOA,” Goldberg said. “And the sunsets of the old deal carry over to the new deal. So, effectively, the new deal gives more sanctions relief for fewer restrictions over a shorter period of time.”

“Will the Europeans and the United States back the IAEA and demand answers, or say- as the text is reported to say- that Iran and the IAEA can just talk about that later? If so, it’s a shameful capitulation to Iran and badly weakens the IAEA.”

Elliot Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington

Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, said that the critical question remaining is whether the proposed agreement undermines the IAEA. “The agency has been professional and tough in demanding answers from Iran on its previous military work toward building a bomb,” he said. “Will the Europeans and the United States back the IAEA and demand answers, or say – as the text is reported to say – that Iran and the IAEA can just talk about that later? If so, it’s a shameful capitulation to Iran and badly weakens the IAEA.”

Ambassador Dennis Ross, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the Iranians are negotiating and “continuing to try to raise the pressure on us.”

"But this is all about the Iranians trying to get the US and Europeans to drop the IAEA investigation of the three undeclared sites where traces of uranium were found,” he said. “Clearly, Iran wants to be free of IAEA investigations. To accede to that would undercut the ability to monitor the Iranian program, especially as it relates to investigating suspect sites. We need to build counter pressure on Iran, and they need to fear that, if they continue with their program, they are risking a military response to it.”

Reuters contributed to this report.