Sticking points in the Iran nuclear deal – analysis

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The US and Iran both want a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – commonly known as the 2015 nuclear deal – and both sides are ready to make the main concessions they need to make for that to happen. So, what is preventing the deal from being signed?
Reportedly, there is a mostly agreed-upon text around 20 pages long already drafted.
Part of the issue may likely be that Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prefers a deal only after his new handpicked candidate for president, Ebrahim Raisi, is elected on June 18.
There is also talk that the Islamic Republic is still demanding that the sequencing include Washington lifting sanctions first and Tehran returning to the JCPOA’s nuclear limits only afterward.
Yet, there is a distinct list of issues that reportedly are also stalling a deal between the sides.
The most important of them is probably advanced centrifuges.
Iran is willing to take all of the hundreds of new IR-4, IR-6 and others off-line and to place them in storage as it did with around 75% of its centrifuge fleet after the 2015 JCPOA agreement.
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But this may not be enough for the US.
If in the past, Washington agreed to mothballing the regular IR-1 centrifuges, as opposed to destroying them, this was because the question was quantity, not quality.
These advanced centrifuges are so much faster than the old IR-1s that they could give Iran the future capability to kick-start a dash toward a nuclear weapon at breakneck speed.
So, the Biden administration reportedly wants them completely destroyed.
In a previous press conference, US State Department Deputy Press Secretary Jalina Porter declined to respond to questions about the US position on advanced centrifuges.
However, when The Jerusalem Post followed up the question with her office, the response was, “Any return to the JCPOA would entail a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. The United States is not going to lift sanctions unless we have clarity and confidence that Iran will fully return to compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, including with respect to the level and scale of its uranium enrichment activities.”
To return to the JCPOA level of enrichment activities, the advanced centrifuges would need to be destroyed since in 2015 Tehran did not even know how to successfully operate them.
However, this would be the first time Khamenei would need to agree to completely destroy a nuclear scientific advancement as opposed to pausing it.
In some ways, this would be a much deeper concession for him to make, even as it is imperative from Israel and the Gulf countries’ perspective because the existence of advanced centrifuges opens multiple additional scenarios and timelines to a nuclear bomb.
The other interesting leak relates to the so-called follow-on talks the Biden administration has emphasized throughout its term.
Jerusalem has reacted with scorn and disbelief at the idea that the US could lift sanctions on Iran and still succeed later at getting new concessions that were not part of the JCPOA after giving away its sanctions leverage.
However, reportedly Washington is fighting for a mention of follow-on talks which would give it a clear basis through which to press the Islamic Republic to restrain its ballistic missile program and aggression in the region.
The Post understands that all of these issues were raised with US President Joe Biden himself in April during visits by top Israeli national security officials.
Tehran opposes any indications of follow-on talks at all costs since its goal is to lift sanctions and be done with negotiating with the US.
To try to combat the Biden administration’s focus on this issue, it appears that Iran has raised adding some kind of clause to better ensure that in the future Washington could not leave the JCPOA again as easily as Trump did.
Iran is also trying to peel off some additional non-nuclear sanctions instituted by the Trump administration, claiming they also violate the JCPOA.
But the Biden team has consistently said that it will repeal non-nuclear sanctions which it thinks the Trump team mislabeled and will maintain non-nuclear sanctions which it believes the preceding administration properly instituted.
There are other outstanding issues, such as Iran’s failure to resolve past military nuclear dimensions questions about which International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi is asking.
But those issues on their own are unlikely to slow down the train for rejoining the JCPOA.
How it handles advanced centrifuges and whether a rider is attached to the new deal to set the stage for addressing holes in the JCPOA in follow-on negotiations could provide strong clues as to whether the US is serious about confronting the threats presented by Tehran.