Talks in final stage
As news agencies report the talks in Vienna over a possible revival of the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are continuing despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although a deal has by no means been reached and several obstacles remain, the talks have entered their final stage after 11 months of on and off negotiations with Russia acting as an intermediary between Iran and the US. Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, however, exposes the highly explosive nature of a new deal.
Time is running out
Diplomats agree that time is running out for a deal to be reached. Issue is that Iran continued enriching uranium after US president Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement and reimposed sanctions on the country in 2018. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that Iran already has 33.2 kg of uranium enriched up to 60%. This comes very close to the 25 kg of uranium enriched to 90%, which is in theory required to build an atomic bomb. The IAEA has, in addition, discovered traces of processed uranium, which Iran did not declare. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi will visit Tehran on 05 March to resolve this issue, which may pave the way for an agreement between Iran, Russia and the United States along with the UK, France and China, which are also party to the initial deal struck in 2015.
No deal better than bad deal
Although diplomats attending the talks are cautiously optimistic over securing a new agreement, Israel is sounding the alarm. Israel is convinced that no deal is better than a bad deal, which fosters the illusion that Iran will desist from becoming a nuclear arms power. Ex national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat also made it perfectly clear in an interview with The Times of Israel that Iran may well seize on the current turmoil over Ukraine to advance its nuclear programme and if the west fails to exert sufficient pressure on Tehran, the regime will have no incentive to stop following its objective of becoming a nuclear arms power. A bad deal will even enable Tehran to draw on sufficient funds.
The west, in other words, cannot be naive. Sanctions failed to stop Iran from enriching uranium in recent years, which clearly shows that they do not exert enough pressure. Although a deal would certainly bring much-needed economic relief, not just for Iran but also for international trade, the risks have to be considered. Hopes over a possible deal have already prevented the oil price from surging further as there is a vague possibility that Iran may be able to enter the world stage again. These hopes have also prompted the prices for pistachios, dried fruit and spices, which Iran exports, to rise. Risk, however, is that Iran will seize on the economic upturn to pursue its own objectives to disastrous ends, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is basically doing nothing less. A deal that solely relies on sanctions is at best an explosive gamble.