Blame game begins as Iran nuclear deal hopes fade
More than 16 months of on-off negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal appear to have reached a dead end. And now, less than two months before the US and Israel hold crucial elections, in which a deal with Iran — or the lack of one — would surely affect the outcomes, it is almost certain that time has run out. The odds are that all parties would rather take a wait-and-see position without openly and publicly admitting failure.
There is still a slim chance that an interim agreement may be reached; one that would provide an acceptable middle ground for the parties involved. Such a deal, unlikely as it is, would save face, keep the parties engaged and allow Tehran to export its oil and gas to energy-starved Europe.
Both Germany and France would like a deal, interim or not, to be sealed now. Britain, under a new prime minister, may have other ideas. The EU is suffering as a result of the war in Ukraine, which has resulted in an energy crisis the likes of which the union has not seen before. Some will argue that it is already too late for sanctions-free Iranian oil and gas to help Europe compensate for Russian gas shortages this winter. They say that a deal with Tehran would do little to absorb the backlash from the energy crisis at this stage.
For the embattled Biden administration, a restoration of the deal earlier in the summer would have brought practical benefits that would have been felt by American consumers. By the end of summer, attacks by the Republicans for reviving the nuclear deal would have simmered down and voters would have turned their attention elsewhere. But now, a few weeks from the November midterm elections and as the campaign becomes febrile, a deal would give Biden’s critics fresh ammunition. It would feel like a liability.
As for Israel, which is about to hold an equally crucial election in November, the Iran deal has become the most important issue on the table. For Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his allies in the caretaker coalition government, a failure to derail any agreement in Vienna would surely hand Benjamin Netanyahu the proverbial sword to deal a coup de grace to his foes. This is why Israeli officials have been shuttling between the US and European capitals to put pressure on heads of state on both sides of the Atlantic to wash their hands of a new agreement.
For Iran, strategic patience is the current policy. Its latest demand, which is not technical but political, seeks to bury any International Atomic Energy Agency investigation into illicit and unauthorized nuclear activities that could be considered as blatant breaches of Tehran’s commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran may well be hiding illegal nuclear activities and it now wants the nuclear watchdog to look the other way. Iranian leaders may be looking way into the future — beyond the Biden White House — and trying to ascertain which choice would be the best for them in the long run. Iranian leaders are also keen on bolstering their alliance with both Russia and China at this unpredictable geopolitical juncture.
A failure to revive the agreement would mean that Iran continues its covert and unsupervised research
It is ironic that Israel, which has refused to sign the NPT and allows limited inspection of its activities by the IAEA, while keeping others under wraps, is the one country that is bent on derailing any kind of agreement with Iran. It offers no peaceful alternatives while its political and military establishments keep threatening to resort to force to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, regardless of the outcome of the Vienna talks.
So now the blame game begins. Iran points to Israel as being the party behind the last-minute stumble in talks. The Europeans say they now doubt Iran’s sincerity about reaching a deal. The Americans respond by saying that the ball is in Iran’s court, but it would be interesting to see how they would react if Tehran yielded and said it was now ready to sign a new deal.
A deal is certainly better than no deal where Iran’s nuclear program is concerned. A failure to revive the agreement would mean that Iran continues its covert and unsupervised research, which puts it a few months away from weaponizing its program. The truth of the matter is that, since 2015, when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal, Iran has been able to accelerate its uranium enrichment activity and may now be in possession of enough weapons-grade fuel to make a nuclear bomb. That alone is a reason for regional and international concern.
On the other hand, Israel’s threat to resort to force is not a solution either. This region has had more than its fair share of war and destruction and for Israel to launch a strike against Iran believing that there would be no response is myopic and naive to say the least.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010