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‘We are close’ on Iran deal, still unresolved issues: State Dep't
‘We are at the final stages’ but ‘some relevant issues are still open’ and ‘success is never guaranteed,’ EU coordinator Enrique Mora
The tea leaves from Vienna and statements from multiple officials suggest that a possible Iran deal is close, but some final issues still must be resolved.
“On Iran, there has been significant progress and we are close to a possible deal,” State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told journalists on a department briefing call today (March 3).
“But a number of…issues remain unresolved,” Porter continued. “We will not have a deal unless we resolve quickly the remaining issues.”
The UN atomic watchdog agency announced earlier today that its chief would travel to Iran Saturday, in a sign of an effort to close one of the tricky remaining issues for a deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants Iran to answer questions about suspected past undeclared nuclear work. Iran wants an arrangement where the issue will be closed after it provides answers to the questions.
“Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will travel to Tehran for meetings with senior Iranian officials on Saturday,” the IAEA said in a statement March 3.
Iran’s Nour news agency, close with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, suggested the Grossi trip could help “resolve existing safeguard issues,” the Iranian news agency said, according to RFERL.
Grossi will address reporters when he returns from Iran to Vienna late March 5, the IAEA said.
The IAEA Board of Governors is due to meet starting March 7. It has been suggested that without a deal on restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear pact, the Europeans and/or the United States might censure Iran at the meeting for stonewalling IAEA requests for answers. But if a deal is reached, censure would be averted.
Then US President Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed “maximum pressure” on Iran in the form of crippling economic sanctions, though Iran had been complying with it. In response, Iran since 2019 has been progressively exceeding the pact’s nuclear limits, to protest the lack of sanctions relief it was entitled to under the pact.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) brought the most robust IAEA monitoring and inspections regime to the Iranian nuclear program in the world, and cut Iran’s enrichment capacity so that it would theoretically take a year to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, prohibited Iranian enrichment above low level 5% for energy use, and other measures.
Since Trump quit the deal and Iran has been exceeding the pact’s limits to protest crippling sanctions, Iran has started higher level 20% and 60% enrichment, used advanced centrifuges to enrich to 20% at the underground Fordo facility and other measures prohibited under the pact. The Biden administration estimates Iran’s current “breakout “ time is significantly shortened from when the JCPOA was intact—to a few weeks. A deal on restoring the pact is expected to increase Iran’s “breakout” time to six to nine months, US officials have told experts.
The Biden administration has since late February last year said it would return the United States to the deal if Iran agrees to resume its full implementation. But talks on what steps each side should take to go back in did not resume until April and were interrupted by Iranian presidential elections in June that brought in a more hardline Iranian administration, which did not return to negotiations in Vienna until late November.
In addition to the safeguards issue, other recent sticking points in Vienna are thought to have involved Iran’s request that the US lift one of the designations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and some form of economic guarantees or compensation if the US would quit the deal again.
Negotiators from all sides have refrained from speaking publicly in recent weeks about the final sticking points in any detail—a sign, usually, that the negotiating is happening in the negotiating rooms, and not in posturing through the media.