U.S. tries to break Iran nuclear deadlock with a new proposal for Tehran

The proposal calls on Iran to stop some of its nuclear activities, such as working on advanced centrifuges and enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, in order to get some relief from US economic sanctions, said one respondent, who stressed that the details are still being worked out.

It is not at all certain that Iran will accept the terms. Earlier this year, Tehran turned down a U.S. proposal it deemed unacceptable and then offered its own idea of ​​Biden’s team declaring a non-runner, said two people familiar with the situation.

However, officials in both countries are aware that if there is no breakthrough in the next few weeks, little will happen until September at the earliest and the business can then be saved at all. The warnings come as continued pressure on Biden to rejoin the deal, and some officials and analysts are wondering if Biden is taking seriously his stated desire to revive the deal.

“Iran is ready to break additional nuclear agreement restrictions in the next few weeks. This is a crucial time to prevent the situation from escalating, ”said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an organization that has closely followed the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

One reason for the urgency of some US officials, as well as those outside the US government, is that Iran is holding presidential elections in June and the campaign season starts in May. The policy in connection with the 2015 nuclear deal in Iran is very sensitive, so it is unlikely that the theocratic regime there will allow larger steps in a campaign.

Separately, an important temporary agreement Iran, which was reached with the International Atomic Energy Agency, expires at the end of May. This temporary agreement interrupted Iran’s efforts to restrict the IAEA’s access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Although the U.N. agency will still have access to the Iranian program, it will be less than the world powers would like.

The American proposal due to be tabled this week is “more than anything else an attempt to get the conversation going” between the United States and Iran, said one of the people familiar with the situation.

When asked for an official comment, a senior official from the Biden administration declined to discuss details of diplomatic talks [Iran deal]”The officer added.” We were also open to talking to ours [international] Partner … about the best way to achieve this, including through a series of mutual first steps. We looked for opportunities, including indirect discussions through our European partners. “

In an email, Shahrokh Nazemi, the head of the press department at Iran’s mission to the United Nations, said the “US return to the US” [deal] does not need a specific suggestion. All that is needed is a US political decision to fully and promptly implement its commitments under the agreement and an important US resolution.

Iran has long claimed that its nuclear program was intended for peaceful purposes and not for making a bomb.

For several weeks now, the US and Iran have been exchanging ideas on how to get negotiations going, mainly through the use of mediators in Europe. There were no direct discussions between the US and Iran, said those familiar with the situation.

Earlier this year, the US proposed giving Iran access to a small amount of its billions of dollars in frozen assets in exchange for Iran stopping its 20 percent uranium enrichment, one respondent confirmed.

Tehran contradicted what it saw as an unequal offer. In response, she proposed ceasing uranium enrichment for a month to ensure that the US lift all of its sanctions. The American side saw this as a cheeky rebuttal rather than a serious counter-proposal, the person said.

The 2015 agreement, negotiated by several countries, lifted a number of US and international economic sanctions against Iran in order to severely curtail the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, re-imposed US sanctions and added new ones. In response, Iran has taken several steps to prevent compliance.

Biden and his top advisors have stated that the US will not lift its sanctions unless Iran returns to complying with the 2015 nuclear deal. The US government has also said it wants to build on the original deal and work out a “longer and stronger” deal that could cover issues outside of Iran’s nuclear program.

“The ball is really in their court to see if they want to take the diplomatic path and return to respecting the agreement,” said Foreign Minister Antony Blinking said recently the Iranians.

However, Iran seems interested in simply restoring the original deal, which would give it the necessary relief from sanctions that have harmed its economy. It is argued that the US should take the first step by lifting the sanctions since the US was saying goodbye to a working business first.

In a recent interview with POLITICO Magazine, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif downplayed the idea of ​​follow-up negotiations, stating that Tehran did not trust the US after the Trump-era attempted to kill the original deal.

“If the US passes the test of [the 2015 deal]which doesn’t seem very likely, then we can consider other problems, ”added Zarif. “But I don’t think the US would be ready to discuss these issues. Is the US ready to reduce its arms shipments to the region?”

People familiar with the situation say the real problem right now is not determining who does what first. Rather, it is about what exactly each side would have to do or give up at this stage if it were serious to bring the two countries back into line again.

“What Tony Blinken or [National Security Adviser] Jake Sullivan has to say that the US is ready to do this if Iran returns to compliance, ”said Kimball of the Arms Control Association. “That would be an important public signal of where the Biden government wants this to go. The public stance of the Biden administration at the moment is very similar to that of the Trump administration, and that has not encouraged the Iranian side. “

The next Iranian president could be drawn from within Iran’s more conservative political ranks. This element of Iranian society is more reluctant to deal with the United States than those on the so-called reformist side of the spectrum. The outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose government helped draft the agreement, was seen as closer to the reformist camp.

State affairs in Iran are ultimately decided by a clergyman, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been responsible for the country for decades and is deeply suspicious of US intentions.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran Four decades ago, supporters of the country’s Islamist revolution in the Middle East held dozens of Americans hostage at the US embassy in Tehran. The lack of diplomatic ties has long complicated all US-Iranian talks, and the nuclear negotiations involved secret discussions brokered by the tiny country of Oman.

Even if, with Khamenei’s blessing, the next Iranian president is open to talks, he and his aides will need time to switch to office and catch up on the various files. The negotiations that follow could take months and approach the point when elements of the original nuclear deal expire.

Biden administrators are aware of the calendar but are determined not to be put in a weak position, according to those familiar with the situation.

Biden is under pressure from both left and right over how to proceed against Iran. Progressive organizations have events scheduled this week to publicly urge Biden to get back to the nuclear deal. At the same time, Republicans and some moderate and Hawk Democrats have made statements and sent letters to Biden I urge him to be tough on Iran and work for better business.

Biden himself, meanwhile, doesn’t seem in a rush to restore the original deal, said people familiar with the situation. The President understands that the public is more concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and other issues. With the Senate split between Republicans and Democrats between 50 and 50, Biden has less room for political maneuver.

“He’s very comfortable where we are,” said one person familiar with the situation. “Does he lie awake at night worried about it? He probably has other things that worry him more. “

In a Persian New Year speech earlier this month, Iran’s top leader Khamenei said his country was “in no hurry” to return to respecting the agreement.

“It’s not about who should be first,” he said. according to various media reports. “The problem is that we trusted the Americans and fulfilled our obligations in the nuclear deal, but they didn’t.”

Earlier this year Biden’s team debated whether to simply restore the original nuclear deal or to promise a larger, more expansive deal with the option of an interim deal along the way. These divisions seem to have receded as the government seeks a formula that will simply bring Iran back to the table.

Negotiations on the 2015 nuclear deal lasted several years and covered the United States, then led by President Barack Obama, as well as Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany and France.

When Trump backed away from the deal, he argued that it had too many sunset clauses and that it should have covered aspects of Iranian behavior beyond its nuclear program. Many of Trump’s critics said the real reason he left the deal was simply out of spite of his predecessor, Obama.

European officials have since tried to save the deal, but it has been challenging as their governments and private companies could also face US sanctions if they did business with Iran.

European leaders tried to arrange an informal meeting between representatives from the US and Iran, which would likely have taken place earlier this month. But Iranian officials rejected the idea, saying:The time is not right. ”

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