Does Raisi need a nuclear deal more than Biden?
days not weeks
“It’s not a matter of weeks, it’s a matter of days,” said the French foreign minister. Jean-Yves Le Drianspeaking about the Vienna talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Wednesday, February 16.
State Department Spokesperson net price said hours later that “we are in the middle of the very last stages of the talks”.
Amwaj has the scoop here Iranian sources informed that a 20-page document is circulating among the negotiating teams in Vienna, comprising three annexes on sanctions, nuclear commitments and implementation, that is to say the sequence of actions, which would take place over a period of 10 days.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahianin an interview with the FinancialTimessuggested that Congress make a “political statement” demonstrating its commitment to a deal by apparently seeking political cover before reaching a deal.
Iran may soon be open for business
The Biden administration’s stance is “compliance for compliance’s sake,” meaning that if Iran returns to its obligations under the JCPOA for restraints on its nuclear program, the United States will waive the sanctions reimposed in May 2018, including those directed at non-US persons and non-US affiliates of US companies engaged in financial transactions with Iran.
If the United States lifts the sanctions, it means that Iran reopened for business in the energy, shipping, metals, automotive, insurance and other industries.
Iran also wants the United States to lift the sanctions imposed after the American president donald trumpThe withdrawal from the agreement in May 2018 – a key sticking point in the negotiations.
Iran, for its part, is expected to reverse nuclear actions taken since 2018. Due to its nuclear activities outside the parameters of the JCPOA, Iran is now capable of producing enough nuclear fuel for a bomb in less than a year, many shorter delay than expected in 2015 – which may be impossible to go back.
Iran’s return to compliance is of course the central demand of the other parties to the JCPOA. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees Iran’s compliance, said in September 2021 that Iran’s access restrictions to its facilities were seriously compromising agency oversight. In August, the IAEA noted that Iran was enrich uranium to 60%, well above the JCPOA’s 3.67% cap. Highly enriched uranium at 90% purity is needed for nuclear weapons.
The next IAEA report on Iran’s compliance is due March 7 — a key signal for Iran’s progress.
The coming days
So if there is “compliance for compliance’s sake”, according to the JCPOA (read it here) the following “days” are coming soon:
Transition Day (October 2023): After the IAEA reported “that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities” and ratified the Additional protocolthe UN will end restrictions on missile transfers to Iran, and “the United States will seek to take appropriate legislative action to end or amend to end the sanctions specified in Annex II on the acquisition nuclear-related products and services for the nuclear activities covered by this JCPOA, be consistent with the United States’ approach to other non-nuclear-weapon states under the NPT.”
Termination day (October 2025): In or around October 2025, and assuming Iran abides by the JCPOA constraints on its nuclear program, the UN would close the Iranian nuclear file.
Why Raisi needs a deal…
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi may want and need a deal more than the US president Joe Biden.
Talking to her swearing-in ceremony at the Islamic Consultative Assembly (or parliament) on August 5, 2021, Raisi said, “Sanctions against Iran must be lifted, and we will support any diplomatic plan that achieves this goal.
The incentives for Raisi are both economic and political, as we wrote in July last year.
the economic logic for the case is a no-brainer. Iran desperately needs relief from US oil and financial sanctions. While Iran’s economy is not about to collapse even without a deal and is expected to grow modestly (2%) this year, according to the IMFultimately, the burden of debt, inflation and other structural challenges can only be resolved through sanctions relief.
- The Iranian economy took off in terms of real GDP growth after the implementation of the JCPOA, from minus 1.3% in 2015 to growth of 13.4% in 2016 and 3.7% in 2017. After the Trump administration blew up the deal, the economy contracted again, this time by 6% in 2018 and 6.7% in 2019, before climbing to 3.3% in 2020.
- With oil prices nearing $100 a barrel, Raisi expects a windfall if a deal is struck. Likewise, oil exports rose from 1.3 million bpd in 2015, before the JCPOA took effect, to over 2 million bpd in 2017. After 2018, exports fell to less than 500,000 in 2019 and 2020, with a slight increase to 558,000 in 2021.
- Iran’s economic future depends on investment, and investment depends on sanctions relief, as Bijan Khajehpour explains in last month’s “On the Middle East” podcast.
the political rationale maybe less obvious, but it’s just as compelling.
- The JCPOA was initially very popular in Iran when it was concluded in 2015.
- Raisi’s victory as president was marred by voter apathy and the lowest turnout ever recorded for an Iranian presidential election.
- Raisi did not oppose the nuclear deal during his presidential campaign, saying during a presidential debate that “we would definitely respect the JCPOA” and adding that Iran needed a strong government to conclude and implement the agreement.
Why Biden can probably live with or without a deal
Biden has made reinstating the JCPOA a priority while seeking a better deal if possible. There is no doubt that this administration thinks Iran’s nuclear program is better contained with the JCPOA in place. Biden’s Iranian envoy, robert malleyhas the mandate to achieve this, but only if Iran does its part.
– EU manual approach:
Biden’s approach has been textbook diplomacy, as we wrote about last March. The first order of business was to mend relations with the European parties to the deal, fractured by Trump’s approach to Iran and other issues, such as the Paris climate accords. .
This box is checked. There doesn’t seem to be any daylight between the US, UK, France and Germany on Iran no matter how the negotiations break down.
-Russia and China: It’s complicated
Russia’s and China’s positions are more complicated, not least because of broader US concerns about both countries.
Both should benefit from the lifting of sanctions against Iran.
If there is no deal, they will seek to exploit their relationship with Iran for their own interests and challenge US interests in the region.
But Moscow and Beijing oppose an Iranian nuclear weapon, and it is also possible, given the stakes elsewhere in the world, that they are cautious about opening a front with Washington on Iran, at least less significantly, or face, especially in Russia’s case, even more sanctions.
Iranian officials likely have reservations about Russian and Chinese support if negotiations fail, for these reasons.
-Congress a joker
Another reason Biden can go either way is that there is no popular or political consensus for an Iran deal, and debate in Congress would be a complication — at best. A “political declaration” of support, as demanded by Amir-Abdollahian, is a failure.
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Mendez of New Jersey, a Democrat, scorched Biden’s Iran policy in a speech this month, and Republicans have already marked they will oppose the deal, as reported by Elizabeth Hagedorn.
November’s congressional elections could see Republicans take at least one chamber.
Former U.S. Under Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker explains that the Biden administration would likely have to submit a deal to Congress in accordance with the Iran Nuclear Deal Review Act 2015 (INARA):
“When Congress considered the JCPOA in 2015, bipartisan majorities in both houses voted to reject the deal,” Rademaker writes. “Fortunately for the President barack obama, these were not two-thirds majorities, and so the law allowed him to implement the deal despite congressional opposition. But those votes established the political illegitimacy of the JCPOA, laying the groundwork for President Donald Trump’s decision years later to repudiate it.”
Israel: making the best of the worst
As Ben Caspit reported last month, Israeli leaders expect there will be a deal with Iran and are planning accordingly, expanding Israel’s weapons capabilities and seeking a NATO-like alignment with friendly states of the Gulf, a subject of the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett‘s meetings in Bahrain this week.
Making the best of the worst, watch for these possible revisions to the JCPOA, advocated by Israel, if and when a nuclear deal is announced:
- An extension of the sunset clauses for “transition” and “termination” days.
- A clear mechanism fordunning penaltiesmeaning that if Iran violates the agreement, the United States would trigger a mechanism to reimpose sanctions on Iran. It is not clear if United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015) allows this mechanism after the day of “termination”.
- “We can expect that if an agreement is reached, it will be accompanied by a significant American package for Israel and its allies in the Middle East,” Caspit concludes.