European Diplomats Pessimistic About Nuclear Deal

According to Reuters, German ambassador to the United Nations Peter Wittig told a meeting of the Atlantic Council that even in the best case scenario Iran will not see an end to economic sanctions until the end of the year. Saying that “Iran needs some time to start the implementation of this agreement, Wittig appeared to stick to the Western powers’ position that sanctions relief must be phased in as Iranian compliance with is commitments is demonstrated.

But Tehran has consistently insisted on the abandonment of this position, with officials such as Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei insisting that they will not accepted a deal that retains political or economic pressure on the Islamic Republic. The Iranian negotiators thus maintain that all economic sanctions must end immediately upon the signing of a deal.

Wittig’s remarks thus appear to represent a fundamental mismatch between the expectations and minimum positions of the Western and Iranian sides of the negotiations. This in turn puts the prospects for a mutual agreement into serious doubt.

While Wittig has arguably hinted at this conclusion, the French ambassador, Gerard Araud has expressed it outright, also according to Reuters. Araud told the same Atlantic Council event that it is “very unlikely” that there will be an agreement in the remaining weeks before the deadline, or even soon after the deadline.

He added that the negotiators might attempt to feign agreement for the public and the media by outlining a “fuzzy” understanding without essential and enforceable technical details. This, in fact, appears to be what was done at the beginning of April, when the P5+1 announced the conclusion of a framework agreement about two days after the self-imposed deadline for it.

That agreement, which was ostensibly to set the stage for a technically detailed final agreement at the end of June, became another point of contention between Iranian and Western negotiators and policymakers as statements on either side presented contradictory understandings of what had been agreed to.

Far from setting the stage for a final agreement, this has set the stage for the persistence of issues like the timeframe for sanctions relief, which are now contributing to skepticism about the possibility of a successful deal.

The collapse of the negotiations at this late stage would likely be met with mixed reactions from those who are seriously committed to constraining Iran’s nuclear program.

On one hand, figures like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have steadily decried the emerging deal while advocating for an entirely different agreement that places much stricter demands on Tehran. Arutz Sheva pointed out on Tuesday that Netanyahu had met with US Senator Bill Cassidy in Jerusalem and once again reiterated his claim that Iran is “a thousand times more dangerous” than ISIS. 

On the other hand, the negotiations themselves have raised international expectations of rapprochement and a more open Islamic Republic. Analysts have been warning for some time that governments and businesses may be resistant to returning to business as usual, even if the possibility of a nuclear Iran is not entirely arrested.

At the Atlantic Council meeting, British Ambassador Peter Westmacott said it would likely be difficult to impose tighter sanctions if the talks fell through, and especially if the West was seen as being at fault for that failure. But others worry that the prospects for renewed sanctions will be even poorer in the event that the Western powers sign a deal to remove sanctions on Iran, only to find later on that Iran is cheating on the provisions.