U.S. responds to Iran document, in sign still seeking to revive nuclear pact
“We are still interested in seeing whether we can reach a deal,” senior US admin official said Sept. 14.
Though Iran’s response earlier this month was seen as a serious setback, the United States has sent feedback responding to it, American officials said this week, in a sign that it still seeks to reach a deal on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear pact.
“We are still interested in seeing whether we can reach a deal” on a return to mutual compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a senior U.S. administration official, speaking not for attribution, told me today (Sept. 14). “To that extent, we are prepared to continue the back and forth.”
“We have provided feedback to the latest Iranian response, but we’re not going to detail that feedback publicly beyond what we have said,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told journalists at the department briefing on Tuesday (Sept. 13).
“The most recent Iranian response did not, of course, put us in a position to close the deal,” Price continued. “In fact, it was a step backwards in many ways.”
“Our bottom line contention is this: it is not too late to conclude a deal,” Price said.
US hopes Iran takes more reasonable stance on IAEA safeguards
The senior U.S. administration official said for a deal to be possible, however, Iran is going to have to moderate its latest stance on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards issue, the U.S. official said.
Iran’s position on safeguards “cannot be that we are going to put pressure on the IAEA and Director General” to close the probe into nuclear particles, the US official said.
“Hopefully, Iran will take a more reasonable position,” he said.
Some twenty-three countries signed onto a joint statement drafted by the US, Germany, France and Britain at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna today, urging Iran to engage with the UN atomic watchdog to resolve outstanding safeguards issues.
"We call upon Iran to act immediately to fulfill its legal obligations and, without delay, take up the (IAEA) Director General's offer of further engagement to clarify and resolve all outstanding safeguards issues," the joint statement presented by Germany said, Reuters reported.
“If Iran has any doubt that it is quite isolated in its position, this should help dissuade them of that,” the US official said. That Iran needs to answer the IAEA’s questions on the particles is “not an American position, it is not a European position; it is a strong position throughout the world. The IAEA is an independent agency. It is not up to us, to anyone, to dictate either the timeline or the substance of what the IAEA concludes. It depends on Iran’s cooperation.”
Europe expresses growing concern
European officials have publicly voiced increasing doubts if the deal can be revived, in the wake of Iran’s Sept. 1 response.
A final package tabled by the Iran talks coordinator in early August “took us to the limit of our flexibility,” the three European (E3) parties to the JCPOA, Britain, France and Germany, said in a joint statement Sept. 10.
“Unfortunately, Iran has chosen not to seize this critical diplomatic opportunity,” the E3 statement continued. “Instead, Iran continues to escalate its nuclear program way beyond any plausible civilian justification.”
“The EU is seriously concerned that Iran, while negotiating the return to full implementation of the JCPOA, continues to undertake a series of actions inconsistent with the JCPOA, with severe, and in certain cases, irreversible proliferation implications,” European Union ambassador to the IAEA Stephan Klement told the IAEA Board of Governors on Tuesday (Sept. 13).
Actions that raise serious concern include “continued and accelerated accumulation of enriched uranium, far beyond the JCPOA thresholds…including alarming quantities of material at 20% as well as at 60%,” the EU envoy said. “Continued expansion of uranium enrichment capacity, through the installation and testing of additional IR-1 and advanced centrifuges….[and the] loss of monitoring and verification of the centrifuge rotor tubes…due to Iran’s decision in early June to have all JCPOA related IAEA monitoring equipment removed.”
“We strongly urge Iran to refrain from any further escalatory steps, [and] to reverse all activities inconsistent with the JCPOA,” he said.
Ad hoc diplomacy on Iran may happen in NY
Opportunities for trying to find a way forward on the deal could next move to New York next week. Although no formal JCPOA related meeting has been announced, many key negotiators, including US Iran envoy Rob Malley, EU Coordinator Enrique Mora, and Iran nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri-Kani are expected to be in New York for the flurry of diplomatic meetings that take place around the opening session of the UN General Assembly, sources said. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi is also scheduled to attend.
“Honestly, I don’t know who meets with whom in New York,” the US official said, adding that, consistent with its stance since then US President Trump quit the deal in 2018, “the Iranians don’t want to meet with us.”
Asked if he expected to see Iran’s negotiator Bagheri in New York, a senior European official said today that he hopes to.
The American response is probably more of a “no” than “an elaborate, descriptive response,” suggested Ali Vaez, co-author of a comprehensive new International Crisis Group report, ‘Is restoring the Iran nuclear deal still possible,’ on the negotiations to date.
But however terse, the fact that Washington sent a formal response is a sign that the administration “wants to leave the window open for the possibility of a breakthrough,” Vaez said, unlikely as one may be.
“An agreement is still possible, but it requires affirmative political will and recognition of the fact that all alternatives are worse,” the new ICG report concludes.
As to recent reported Israeli statements seemingly taking credit for scuttling a deal revival, US officials chalked up the bluster to Israeli elections scheduled for Nov. 1, and said they were not accurate.
“The only reason there is no deal with Iran is not because of a third party,” the senior US official said today. “It is because Iran took positions inconsistent with a mutual return to JCPOA.”
Israel believes a deal is unlikely to be revived before the November midterms, if then, a source describing the Israeli assessment said Sept. 6. “I think we’ll see continuation of a dialogue, very low key, until after the midterm elections,” he said.
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