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Time has run out for the Iran nuclear deal

US Iran
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US Iran

Osama Al Sharif

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

More than 16 months of on and off negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal appear to have reached a dead end. And now, with less than two months before the US and Israel hold crucial elections, whose outcome a deal, or lack of it, with Iran would surely affect, it is almost certain that time has run out. اضافة اعلان

Odds are that all parties would rather take a wait-and-see position without openly and publicly admitting failure.

There is still a poor 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, allow Tehran to export its oil and gas to energy starved Europe and deny US Republicans and Israel’s right wing parties the possibility of accusing their respective administrations of appeasing the Iranians.

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, 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 away from the November mid-term elections, and as the campaign becomes febrile, a deal would give Biden critics fresh ammunition. A deal would certainly feel like a liability.
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 the wrap, is the one country that is bent on derailing any kind of agreement with Iran.
As for Israel, which is about to hold a fifth and 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 shaky coalition, failure to derail an 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 forgo a new agreement.

Iran’s current policy is strategic patience. Its latest demand, which is not technical but political, seeks to bury any IAEA investigation of illicit and unauthorized nuclear activities that could be considered blatant breaches of Tehran’s commitment under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

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 far 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 Russia and China at this unpredictable geopolitical juncture.

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 the wrap, 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 behind the last-minute stumble in talks. The Europeans say they now doubt Iran’s sincerity in 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 yields and says it is now ready to sign a new deal.

A deal is certainly better than no deal where Iran’s nuclear program is concerned. Failure to revive the agreement means that Iran would continue its covert and unsupervised research that puts it a few months away from weaponizing its program.

The truth of the matter is that since 2015, when president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal, Iran has been able to accelerate its uranium enrichment activity and may now be in possession of enough weapon-grade nuclear fuel. That alone is a reason for regional and international concern.

Yet, Israel’s threat to resort to force is not a solution. 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 will be no response is myopic and naïve, to say the least.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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