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US and Germany reduce expectations for a nuclear deal in the near term

Unconstructive" Iranian demands and Israeli diplomatic pressure chill JCPOA reissue
Yair Lapid Olaf Scholz

PHOTO/@Bundeskanzler  -   German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appears before the media with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Berlin, 12 September 2022

Negotiations to reissue the Iran nuclear deal are cooling down. The Western signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are lowering their expectations in the face of Tehran's elusive behaviour, which is delaying the negotiations by making new demands, and the aggressive diplomatic campaign waged by the acting Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid. In addition to these two factors, warnings from the Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the uncertain nature of Iran's nuclear programme have further eroded the already damaged trust between the parties. 

The United States and Berlin have spoken out in recent hours on the status of the negotiations. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday described the latest moves by Persian diplomacy as a clear "step backwards" that considerably reduces "the prospects for signing an agreement in the near term". For Washington there are no positive signs. On the same day, and in line with Blinken's words, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz acknowledged that he does not expect to resume the nuclear deal with Iran in the near future. 

One from Mexico City, where he met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and the other from Berlin, where he received Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, agreed that the projections are far from promising. The marked optimism of just a few weeks ago has faded. But both also admitted that the will of the Western signatories of the JCPOA in 2015 - the United Kingdom, France and Britain, plus the mediation of the European Union - remains to resume the agreement. 

Antony Blinken
AP/RAQUEL CUNHA  -   U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard, Mexican Secretary of Finance Rogelio Ramirez de la O, and Mexican Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier during the Second Annual Meeting of the High Level Economic Dialogue in Mexico City, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022

Scholz does not believe that there are sufficient grounds for Iran to refuse to accept the proposals contained in the final draft. "Although for a while it looked as if [the deal could be concluded]," said the Social Democrat, "we have to take note of the fact that this will not be the case". In any case, Scholz said, the European allies that make up the so-called P5+1, the group of signatory countries, "remain patient, but also clear: Iran must be prevented from being able to deploy nuclear weapons"

The goal of Israel and the JCPOA signatories is the same, but the approach differs. This was demonstrated by Scholz during the joint press conference with Lapid at the end of their meeting: 'Closing a functioning international agreement to limit and monitor Iran's nuclear programme is the right strategy'. Berlin is committed to building political bridges, as are other European capitals. 

Lapid, however, called the plan to revive the Iran nuclear deal a "critical mistake". The interim Prime Minister, who also holds the Foreign Ministry until the elections on 1 November, tried to convince Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, with whom he also spoke, of this. 

Lapid is engaged in an active diplomatic campaign to convince Western powers of the ineffectiveness of the nuclear deal. The centrist leader is thus trying to boost his international image and score a foreign policy victory ahead of the elections that will pit him against the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history and a political heavyweight, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is beset by corruption cases. 

In 2015, with his rival and now opposition leader at the head of the government, Israel proved unable to thwart the signing of the JCPOA. Lapid would deliver a blow of authority if, at the very least, he manages to postpone the signing until after the elections. Domestically, the issue of Iran's nuclear programme is perceived as an existential threat that must be stopped at all costs, something to which the interim Prime Minister has committed himself.

"Removing sanctions and pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into Iran will bring waves of terrorism, not only in the Middle East, but also throughout Europe," Lapid told a press conference. The Israeli premier conveyed the Hebrew state's position on the hypothetical reissue of the nuclear deal, which argues that lifting draconian Western sanctions will make it easier for the ayatollahs' regime to channel funds to its related regional militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, among others.

 

Rafael Grossi
REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER  -   International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi addresses a press conference during a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna, Austria, 12 September 2022

Continued warnings from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) favour Israel's position. The office headed by Argentine diplomat Rafael Grossi has been demanding answers from Tehran for years about undeclared uranium residues found by IAEA investigators at three Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran remains silent on the issue, preventing the IAEA from determining whether the nature of the Persian atomic programme is peaceful or not. Grossi expects the Iranian authorities to cooperate "as soon as possible". 

But Tehran's behaviour indicates the opposite. In the latest response to the draft nuclear deal, submitted in early September, the Iranian negotiating team demanded the completion of the IAEA investigation before resuming the JCPOA. The State Department described the request as "not constructive". In this regard, Lapid welcomed the statement issued by the UK, France and Germany condemning Iran's latest requests and underlining the contradictions between the closure of the investigation and the legal obligations contained in the 2015 nuclear deal.

 

Irán instalaciones nucleares
AFP/AFP  -   Map of Iran showing major nuclear facilities

The EU revived the deal in extremis in mid-July with the submission of a final draft. The first reactions of Iran and the United States to the proposal, in principle favourable, generated some optimism in the EU headquarters, which, for the first time since the start of negotiations to reactivate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2021, saw signs of rapprochement. But since then the parties have been cooling off the agreement, 'passing the buck' without compromising. 

Germany interested in Israeli military technology 

Berlin has been considering the purchase of the Arrow 3 anti-missile system for months, according to the German newspaper Der Spiegel. The state-of-the-art missiles, developed jointly by Israel and the United States, are on the radar of a Germany that is looking to invest in air defence in the coming years, according to statements by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. "At the same time, Germany will design this future air defence from the outset in such a way that our European neighbours can also participate if they so wish," he said. 

During their meeting, Scholz and Lapid discussed the issue, but so far no agreement has been reached, reports Der Spiegel. The defence system is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles, including intercontinental missiles, loaded with nuclear, chemical, biological or conventional warheads. In addition, it can serve as an anti-satellite weapon, which would grant it the ability to shoot down enemy satellites.

Coordinator America: José Antonio Sierra