All means must be tried to avoid either a military confrontation, which the 2015 accord had accomplished, or a minimal agreement that merely saves face.
Every passing day in Vienna brings fresh pessimism to the negotiations attempting to prevent Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons. The endless deals leading to the 2015 compromise (a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions) were marred by a tortuous path, but the current alarm can be explained by major differences between then and now.
The bloc of six countries (Germany, China, America, France, the U.K. and Russia) facing Iran in these negotiations appears less united than it used to be and since 2015 China and Iran have deepened their strategic ties. Tehran’s efforts are doubtless exaggerated compared to Beijing’s calculations, but Iran nourishes the belief that it can evade sanctions by relying on its Chinese ally.
Meanwhile, Iran’s negotiators are not the same as they were in 2015. Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, who made lifting the sanctions one of their major foreign policy objectives, were replaced in the June presidential election by Ebrahim Raisi and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Unlike their predecessors, they do not seem to consider compromise a necessary priority, significantly reducing the bloc’s maneuvering room.
The explosion caused by former President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal continues to reverberate by having stolen away the minimum amount of trust required to achieve such a compromise. Henceforth, the Iranians can assert that an American promise is merely a presidential wish, and that no one will risk investing in Iran when its reinsertion into the global economy without ceasing its nuclear program violates the terms of the deal.
A Spectacular Fiasco
By pulling America out of the Iranian nuclear deal, a move cheered by all right-leaning ideologues in the Washington, Trump boldly tried to bring the Iranian regime to its knees. He claimed this would result in a hardening of the measures limiting Iran’s nuclear program (the now lifeless 2015 accord would have lasted until 2025) and bridle its ballistics program along with its regional influence, both also points of contention.
Today, everyone can see just how clairvoyant the former U.S. president was. Iran did not cease its activities and even benefited from the American breach by relaunching its program unilaterally. This latter step was truly the point of no return, since now Iran routinely keeps away from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.
This spectacular fiasco seems now to present nothing but undesirable solutions: either a face-saving minimal negotiation with no real progress on the nuclear issue, except for matters relevant to the Western powers, or military escalation, which the 2015 deal enabled everyone to avoid. We must pursue every means to avoid such an eventuality.