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Europeans express growing alarm US may let Iran nuclear pact fail
European officials and nonproliferation experts are warning that the world is fast headed to a crisis over Iran’s nuclear program if nuclear pact not restored soon.
Current and former European officials are expressing growing frustration and alarm that the United States may let restoration of the Iran nuclear pact fail over what they see as the Biden White House’s political cautiousness over a largely symbolic issue.
“Every day which passes without achieving agreement, the risk to lose everything increases considerably,” a European diplomat involved in the negotiations, speaking not for attribution, told me.
“As far as I see it, both sides are going into different directions and the distance is not narrowing down,” the European diplomat told me today, referring to the United States and Iran.
“Biden must seriously consider the costs of his passivity vis-a-vis Iran and find a way forward — or we may find ourselves in another conflict that no one asked for,” former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt warned in a Washington Post op-ed this week.
“The draft agreement on resuming compliance with the JCPOA has been ready for more than two months,” the French foreign ministry spokesperson said in a briefing to journalists on May 17, referring to the acronym for the formal name of the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“However, it is being held up by an issue between the United States and Iran that is not related to the JCPOA,” the French ministry spokesperson continued.
“We call on the parties to take a responsible approach and to urgently make the decisions that are needed to finalize this agreement,” she continued. “It would be a serious, dangerous mistake to believe it can remain on the table indefinitely.”
Even though a draft deal on restoring the nuclear pact is understood to be done, talks on reviving the deal have been at an impasse since March over an Iranian request that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) be removed from a U.S. terror blacklist, known as the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list. The U.S. administration has reportedly said it would only do so if Iran agrees to a reciprocal non-nuclear action, such as both sides agreeing not to target each other’s former officials.
One proposal that sources said Mora relayed was to hold talks on the IRGC FTO issue after restoration of the nuclear pact is finalized.
An expert who consults with various sides in the talks said Friday (May 20) she is hearing tentatively positive signals coming from Iran after the EU visit.
The expert, speaking not for attribution, said she understood the Iranians may be willing to consider a proposal to deal with the IRGC FTO issue after a mutual US and Iranian return to full compliance with the nuclear pact would go back into effect.
But the European diplomat, asked about the allegedly cautiously positive signals from Tehran, said unfortunately that was something of an oversimplification, and he is pessimistic.
“You could see it from this perspective,” the European official, asked about alleged positive signals from Iran, said. “But this does not necessarily give a reason for too much optimism.”
Another expert briefed on Mora’s Iran consultations, speaking not for attribution, characterized the outcome so far as “movement without progress.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said last week that Iran has amassed some 40 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% purity. Nonproliferation experts estimated that means, if Iran should choose to do so, it could higher enrich enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb in under two weeks.
“The risk is that Iran’s enrichment program has advanced nearly to the point where its breakout could be undetectable,” Kelsey Davenport, the Director for Nonproliferation Policy at the Arms Control Association, told me. “Iran could try to dash to the material for a bomb in between IAEA inspections. And that really raises the proliferation threat.”
“I think it is unlikely that Iran is going to make a definitive move to nuclear weapons,” Davenport said. “But the US and Israel may be unwilling to live with the risk.”
The IAEA is expected to release its next quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program as early as next week, ahead of the next IAEA Board of Governors meeting that gets underway June 6.
US Iran envoy Rob Malley is due to testify to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the JCPOA negotiations to date next week, on Wednesday, May 25.
Arms control expert Davenport said the fastest and most effective way to verifiably roll Iran’s nuclear program back is by the United States and Iran returning to full compliance with the nuclear deal before it’s too late.
“The best possible option is to roll back Iran’s nuclear program and reinstitute intrusive monitoring as quickly as possible,” Davenport said. “And the only way to do that is by restoring the nuclear deal.”
“The Biden administration’s inaction is risking this critical window to push back Iran’s nuclear program,” she said.
“They are letting politics—not effective nonproliferation policy—guide their decision-making,” she said, referring to letting a deal restoration fail over the IRGC FTO delisting issue. “And the nuclear risk is going to continue to rise unless they take a more sensible course of action.”
Current and former European officials are expressing increasing frustration with the Biden administration for possibly letting restoration of the nuclear deal fail over a designation issue they see as having little substantive import.
The IRGC FTO “designation is a largely symbolic measure with little or no relation to the dispute over the nuclear program,” the former European leaders Solana and Bildt wrote in their Washington Post oped May 17.
“So it’s puzzling that, after running on a return to the nuclear deal and promising that ‘America is back,’ Biden has been slow-walking diplomacy that U.S. allies strongly support,” they wrote.
Current EU DSG and Iran talks coordinator Mora made little secret that Bildt and Solana were speaking for him.
“Difficult, if not impossible, to accumulate sounder foreign policy judgement,” Mora wrote in a tweet recommending the Solana/Bildt oped. “Read it please. Full disclosure: Both were my bosses some time ago. And Solana, well much more than a boss.”
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