As the latest round of nuclear deal talks recently took place in Vienna, Austria, European negotiators are remaining optimistic that the Iranian regime will be coaxed back into the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reckoned that this sixth round of talks will be the last.
On the other hand, American officials are skeptical that the outcome will be as simple as the European negotiators are suggesting, thinking that it will involve a lot more backward and forward discussions between the deal signatories.
Following the previous U.S. president, Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the JCPOA, current president Joe Biden is set on restoring the deal but has so far resisted pressure from Europe to withdraw the conditions imposed by Trump.
The regime, meanwhile, has insisted upon precisely this outcome and has refused all appeals for a compromise agreement in which some sanctions are lifted in exchange for some restrictions being reinstated at Iranian nuclear sites.
From the outset of the deal being implemented back in 2015, the Iranian regime has pushed forward and accelerated its nuclear activity year after year. In 2015, they had already enriched uranium up to 20 percent fissile purity. In April of this year, that has shot up to 60 percent, which considering that 90 percent is considered weapons-grade, they’re not far off reaching that within the next few years.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has estimated that the regime currently has stockpiled around 2.4kg of both 60 percent enriched uranium and uranium metal, along with 62.8kg of 20 percent enriched uranium. The total figure for enriched uranium, in varying levels of enrichment, is estimated to be 3,241kg which is around 16 times more than the amount that the terms of the JCPOA permit.
These figures were all detailed in a report presented to the Vienna negotiators by the IAEA last week. The report noted that for the first time since the start of monitoring activities outlined in the agreement, the UN nuclear agency was forced to report estimates rather than data obtained directly from sites in Iran.
Late last year, the Iranian government implemented a bill that would halt the regime’s compliance with the IAEA if U.S. sanctions were not removed, but UN inspectors managed to strike a deal so they could avoid being removed from Iran completely. However, the deal dictated that they would not be able to access surveillance video at Iran’s nuclear sites but that recordings would be stored and released in a future agreement with Western powers.
Despite the loss of access to closely monitoring the regime’s nuclear sites, it was assumed that the IAEA would still be able to collect data from other monitoring equipment. This was found not to be the case in the agency’s latest report which made it clear that the regime’s obstruction tactics are more dangerous than Western negotiators ever realized.
Iran’s accelerating violations of the agreement have not been counterbalanced in any way by its conduct in negotiations or overall posture toward Western interlocutors. The regime has not compromised on its starting position of demanding sanctions relief in exchange for nothing.
On the other hand, the European Union is unwilling to penalize the regime’s lack of cooperation, or even exert more pressure on them to compel them to accept a broader agreement. This is despite the IAEA’s Director-General Rafael Grossi speaking publicly about Iran’s lack of transparency to the extent of damaging the IAEA’s own credibility.
Grossi has even recognized that the JCPOA may not be salvageable. He said, “Iran has accumulated knowledge, has accumulated centrifuges and has accumulated material,” and the advancements call for ‘an agreement within an agreement’, to address the new challenges Tehran has created.”