The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed by Iran with five permanent members of the UN Security Council or P5 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA), and Germany in 2015. It was about lifting sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting its nuclear program [State.gov, 2015]. Three years later, the USA withdrew from the deal, deciding to return to sanctions. The re-imposition of heavy sanctions against the Tehran administration after the USA decision to withdraw has put the nuclear agreement, which is seen as an achievement of multilateral diplomacy, into a serious crisis. In response to this development, Iran started to increase the level of enriched uranium and to use advanced centrifuges, where Tehran announced that they would not comply with its commitments under the nuclear agreement as of 2019 [The Guardian, 2019], which caused different reactions in the international public opinion.
Although a mechanism called “Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges” (INSTEX) was developed in order to maintain the nuclear agreement and save European investors from the sanctions of the USA, this system did not yield any serious results [Irna.ir, 2019]. Additionally, the murder of Iranian scientist Muhsin Fahrizade in November 2020 paved the way for Tehran to take more radical decisions regarding its nuclear program. In line with a law enacted in the country’s parliament, at first enriched uranium with 20% purity was produced, shortly after; this rate was increased to 60% [Aljazeera, 2021]. Iran’s production of 60% is seen as an important step towards achieving the 90% purity of fissile uranium needed to produce an atomic bomb, and it also dashed hopes to save the nuclear deal. Indeed, in accordance with the nuclear deal, Iran can enrich uranium to the level of 3.67%.
However, after the change of presidential administration in Washington in 2021, the sides started to talk about returning to the JCPOA, deciding that the restrictions did not affect Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Negotiations were held in Vienna, under the coordination of the European Union (EU) since April 2021, to ensure the re-implementation of the agreement and the return of the USA to the agreement, by August 2022 [Iranprimer.usip.org, 2021]. However, the talks stalled during the post-election transition from Hassan Rouhani to Ebrahim Raisi’s government and during Russia’s attack on Ukraine. After the draft agreement text presented by the EU, which is the coordinator of the negotiations, the parties gave much more positive signs in terms of reaching the final agreement compared to the previous months.
Iran conveyed its views on the draft agreement presented by the EU and accepted it as the final roadmap in nuclear negotiations to the EU on August 15, 2022. The Negotiation Coordinator and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell described Iran’s response as “reasonable” [Reuters, 2022]. The USA also sent its response to the EU on August 24, 2022. Foreign Minister of Iran, Hussein Emir Abdullahiyan announced that they want sanctions against the nuclear deal to be lifted and asked for stronger assurances so that the United States would not leave the agreement again [France24.com, 2022]. In this process, letter diplomacy continued, where Washington’s assessment of the text presented by the Tehran administration was considered as unconstructive for the USA which could be seen as a first step that started the disintegration of the positive atmosphere.
White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre announced that there should be no conditionality between the return to compliance with the JCPOA and investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations under the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). It would be preferable to return to the JCPOA without any open questions about guarantees. The ability to achieve this is entirely in the hands of Iran [English.news.cn, 2022]. United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken called Iran’s latest comments on the proposal to return to the JCPOA “a step back”. As a result, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, expressed doubts about the possibility of achieving a quick agreement between the parties to restore the JCPOA. Meanwhile, numerous information leaked to the media saying that the administration of President Joe Biden will not make a decision on the “nuclear deal” until the upcoming congressional elections in November 2022 [Kommersant.ru, 2022a].
While all these events were happening between the USA and Iran, the threads began to stretch between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Tehran administration. Upon the IAEA’s statement that the uranium particles were detected in 3 places in Iran that were not reported to the Agency in the early 2000s, Tehran decided to shut down the camera and similar equipment used by the agency to observe nuclear facilities [BBC, 2022]. After Tehran’s harsh decision against the IAEA, the Agency, which had difficulties in observing and verifying the nuclear activities of this country, announced in its latest report that they were not in a position to give assurance that Iran’s nuclear program was completely peaceful which is shared with the Board of Directors on September 7, 2022 [Davenport, 2022].
Following this striking report of the agency, the UK, Germany and France, which are parties to the nuclear agreement, shared a joint text stating that they have “serious doubts” about Iran’s sincerity in re-implementing the agreement. Due to the upcoming congressional elections in the USA, the change of US President Joe Biden’s approach towards the nuclear deal accelerated the negative course. Considering that Iran has also revealed its harsh reactions to the EU, USA and IAEA, which exacerbated the situation further and diminished hopes for a quick return to the nuclear agreement. In this context, Iran blamed the USA for the point reached at the end of the negotiations, which lasted about 19 months, stated that there was no serious issue or disagreement that prevented the resumption of the agreement, and announced that the USA was responsible for the failure to implement the nuclear agreement [Robinson, 2022]. On the other hand, the USA states that Iran is putting forward different demands with each passing day, and in this case, it will be difficult to reach an agreement.
It is known that Israel, which is not a party to the nuclear agreement and does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, is trying to directly or indirectly influence the negotiations between the USA and Iran as a foreign power. In this case, Iran and the United States exchanged proposals to address remaining gaps in a draft agreement, while Israel urged the Biden administration to step away from negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Prime Minister of Israel, Yair Lapid announced that the old deal was a “bad deal” and that negotiators had to “end this deal”.” [Davenport, 2022].
It is known that Iran requested the USA to remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the official list of foreign terrorist organizations, where it was deployed in 2019, to guarantee that the US would not withdraw from the agreement, and also to stop investigating the origin of radioactive traces in three facilities of the IAEA. On the other hand, the USA states that Iran should comply with the NPT and IAEA rules and fulfill its obligations apart from the JCPOA.
Currently, demands from both sides without any compromise render the agreement in a difficult position. Under these circumstances, it seems difficult for Iran and the USA to come together and reach a common agreement in a short time. Both sides are aware that the risks are very high, as the failure of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program would potentially mean the resumption of regional conflict. Because, failure to reach a nuclear agreement and Iran’s continued nuclear activities will cause strained relations between Israel and Iran in the region. Therefore, it is recommended that Iran and the USA meet at the negotiating table and come to a point as soon as possible.
Aljazeera (2021). Iran starts enriching uranium at 60%, its highest level ever. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/16/iran-starts-enriching-uranium-to-60-its-highest-level-ever. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
BBC (2022). IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared sites. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57386296. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
Davenport K. (2022). Iran Nuclear Deal negotiations reach final stage. Retrieved from https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2022-09/news/iran-nuclear-deal-negotiations-reach-final-stage. Accessed on 28.10.2022.
English.news.cn (2022). White House suggests no conditionally between revival of Iran nuclear deal. Retrieved from https://english.news.cn/20220903/f9b4e2f9442647fa8aeac3e00321cb51/c.html. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
France24.com (2022). Iran says it wants stronger guarantees for nuclear deal. Retrieved from https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220831-iran-says-it-wants-stronger-guarantees-for-nuclear-deal. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
Iranprimer.usip.org (2021). Timeline. Biden Diplomacy on Iran. Retrieved from https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2021/apr/02/new-talks-timeline-diplomacy-under-biden. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
Irna.ir (2019). INSTEX, preliminary step to Europe’s commitments. Retrieved from https://en.irna.ir/news/83389492/INSTEX-preliminary-step-to-Europe-s-commitments-spokesman. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
Kommersant.ru (2022a). Instead of a “nuclear deal”, the conflict was restored. Retrieved from https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5558214. Accessed on 27.10.2022.
Reuters.com (2022). EU’s Borell hopes US response on Iran nuclear deal proposal this week. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/eus-borrell-answer-iran-eu-proposal-nuclear-deal-was-reasonable-2022-08-22/. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
Robinson K. (2022). What is the Iran Nuclear Deal? Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-iran-nuclear-deal. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
State.gov (2015). Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Retrieved from https://2009-2017.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/index.htm#:~:text=On%20July%2014%2C%202015%2C%20the,program%20will%20be%20exclusively%20peaceful. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
The Guardian (2019). Iran resumes uranium enrichment in new step away from nuclear deal. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/05/iran-announces-injection-of-uranium-gas-into-1044-centrifuges. Accessed on 29.10.2022.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy
Kanapiyanova Zhuldyz was born on 26th of December, 1986. She graduated from high school in 2004 and the same year she admitted to International Relations faculty of Abay Kazakh National Pedagogical University. In the same year she admitted to Ege University (Turkey, Izmir) to make a master degree. She graduated from International Relations Department with knowledge of a foreign language in 2012. Her dissertation theme is “Globalization and International Nuclear Politics”. Now she was a research fellow in the Eurasian Research Institute at Khoca Akhmet Yassawi Kazakh-Turkish International Unive