Prospects for the revitalisation of the nuclear deal have been getting dimmer as Iran’s new hardliner leadership wants the full implementation of the original agreement from 2015.
Prior to Iran's June presidential elections, some analysts figured that Tehran and Washington would get closer to revitalising the nuclear deal from which the former Trump administration withdrew in 2018, leaving the agreement in limbo.
While Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner, was on the road to winning the elections, some analysts maintained that even Iranian hardliners would find the restoration of the nuclear deal useful. They said Tehran wants to announce it after the elections so as not to allow it to have an effect on the election.
But CIA Director William Burns’ recent visit to Israel revealed the grim fact that Tehran and Washington are in no position to restore the deal while the Vienna talks continue.
Members of Burns' delegation told their counterparts that “the chances of Iran returning to the 2015 nuclear deal are slim” according to Israeli media. Despite how the Israeli media presented the issue, in reality it was not Iran but the US that left the deal and the Vienna talks appear to be mainly focused on how the US can return to the deal. The Israelis have opposed the nuclear deal from the outset.
“Well, it's a very misleading statement the CIA director made. The US said that it’s not willing to accept the full implementation of the nuclear deal. European partners of the US will simply tag along, do whatever Americans say. So Americans don’t want to restore the nuclear deal,” says Mohammed Marandi, an Iranian-American academic and political analyst.
“Restoring the nuclear deal means going back to 2015, abiding by commitments that were agreed upon then. Americans want to have all sorts of new sanctions and add new conditions to the deal. That’s not restoring the deal,” Marandi tells TRT World.
Under the Trump administration, Washington not only left the deal but also imposed harsh sanctions over Tehran, fomenting anti-American sentiment across the Iranian political establishment.
‘Iran can’t afford appeasement’
According to Marandi, despite its positive rhetoric to return to the nuclear deal, the Biden administration acts in a way, which is no different than Trump’s actions.
“That’s the continuation of the Trump policy. In other words, it’s imposing maximum pressure [on Iran] in order to get new concessions after the deal’s already signed,” says Marandi.
Many Iranians will perceive the situation that their counterparts first had a deal with them, then, they violated it and then demanded new concessions to return to the deal, according to Marandi.
“That’s appeasement. And Iran can’t afford that appeasement,” the professor says.
A lot of Iranian hardliners, who do not like the idea of rapprochement between Tehran and the Western world, have long opposed the nuclear deal signed under the country’s previous Hassan Rouhani government.
But they have also not wanted to be perceived as people who don’t allow ordinary Iranians to benefit from the lifting of sanctions and an energised economy thanks to incentives granted under the deal. Under the current hardliner government, Tehran is demanding the full implementation of the nuclear deal, refusing any concessions to the US and its allies.
“What Iranians say is that if Americans want to come back to the deal, they have to implement every single one of their commitments,” says Marandi. But during the Vienna talks, the US and its allies have been just “stonewalling”, in the eyes of the Iranians Marandi adds.
The Western bloc made it clear to Iranians that they wanted to keep the large number of sanctions that were imposed on Tehran after the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was signed, he says. “They want to implement a new deal,” Marandi says.
But many ordinary Iranians will probably have a very little interest in a new deal, which does not give them any sanctions relief and possible economic benefits. As a result, for Iran’s hawkish government, the Western approach could provide a good reason not to reach an agreement with the US.
For Iranians, “the only game in town is the JCPOA,” according to Marandi.
Is the JCPOA dead?
But even that could be a distant reality for Iran now, says Fatima Karimkhan, a Tehran-based journalist. If people think that “the JCPOA could be the stage to restart a negotiation about Iran's nuclear program, I don't see a chance!” Karimkhan tells TRT World.
“The new administration will be under huge pressure if they try to save the deal, and there is a law passed by the parliament, which will stop the new administration from having another round of negotiations [with Western powers],” she says.
Yesterday, in an apparent sign of Iran's hardening stance toward the West, Raisi named an anti-Western hardliner as his new foreign minister.
“For now with what we know, I think the CIA chief is right, there is not that much chance for JCPOA anymore,” she adds.
But Karimkhan still thinks that there is a possibility that Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who has an outsized influence on the country’s foreign policy, might interfere in the process to reach an agreement with the US.
If the nuclear deal completely collapses, there are various signs that tensions between Tehran and Washington will increase across the Middle East.
“It seems that Iran will likely increase its threats against its enemies in both sea and land, especially in Iraq and Lebanon,” says an Iranian political analyst, who wishes to stay anonymous.
“They [Iranian hardliners] think that they can force others to show some respect to Iran to feed their ego because they think that they can earn more and pay less this way,” the analyst tells TRT World.
But the analyst thinks that this kind of thinking might be dangerous, particularly in a time when the economic crisis is “so deep” in Iran. Unless some sanctions are not lifted, the whole country would fall into a crisis, according to the analyst.