With the recent election of extremists Ebrahim Raisi as Iranian president, negotiations over the nuclear deal could suddenly accelerate. However, as fast as they unfold, the talks must not evolve into a broader agenda, frustrating the United States and the European powers involved.
The acceleration has a pragmatic motivation. Raisi knows that the reinstatement of the 2015 treaty, abandoned by former US President Donald Trump, could benefit early in his term. “The economic benefits are going to be enormous and will allow him to launch the government on an ascending line,” said Henry Rome, senior analyst at Eurasia Group, a consulting firm specializing in Iran.
Among the benefits mentioned by Rome are economic growth and lower inflation. Indeed, for the nuclear deal to come back to life, the United States must remove some of the sanctions that have strangled the Persian country. Raisi would thus have an auspicious start to his mandate.
In return, Iran will have to make concessions, slowing down the nuclear program that underpins its domestic and foreign policy. This is why the elect can be in a hurry. His inauguration is scheduled for early August. If the deal is reactivated sooner and perhaps generates popular discontent, Raisi could blame his predecessor, Hassan Rowhani.
It was precisely Rowhani who was the president when the initial agreement was signed in 2015. Iran agreed, at the time, to slow down its nuclear program. It also reduced, for example, the degree of uranium enrichment, which appealed to foreign powers who accuse Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapon, which the country denies. In return, some sanctions were lifted, giving the economy a break.
That was until 2018, when Trump decided to pull the United States out of the deal, saying it was too much to Iran’s advantage. Analysts also suggest the Republican wanted to erase one of the main legacies of his predecessor, Barack Obama. He reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, prompting Tehran to step up its nuclear activity rather than slow it down. Iran has also blocked international inspections, raising concerns that it is moving ever closer to enriching uranium to the level needed for a bomb.
According to the New York Times, the text of the new nuclear deal has been drafted for weeks. The negotiators, meeting in Vienna since April, were only waiting for the announcement of the winner of the Iranian elections. The track is therefore ready for the final push. Rome claims, in this sense, that the technical part of the agreement has already been resolved. “What holds back is a political decision by Tehran,” he said.
An important decision – and pending – is to renew the agreement with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) which allows the inspection of Iranian nuclear installations. The deal expired on Friday (25) and the agency demanded an emergency from Tehran. Exacerbating tensions, Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the agency, said he had no obligation to respond.
The problem is, for the United States and the European powers, Iran must react. Earlier on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had already applied for a post in Tehran. At a meeting in Paris, he said it will be difficult to resume the pact if these talks continue to drag on. French Chancellor Jean-Yves Le Drian, present at the same meeting, reinforced the message and said that the impasse had to be broken. Otherwise, the resurrection of the nuclear deal risks failing – a development catastrophic for diplomacy.
Resurrecting the nuclear pact, however, does not mean resolving the crisis between Iran and international powers once and for all. President-elect Raisi can speed up negotiations now and soon after his inauguration, but he is expected to slow down soon.
The idea of the foreign powers is that reactivating the deal is only a first step, and once that first step is resolved, Iran will continue to sit at the table to discuss other issues. Two in particular: its ballistic missile program and its support for militias in the region, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Raisi has already made it clear that he has no interest in giving in on these points. In his first post-election press speech, the president-elect said the ballistics program was non-negotiable. The Iranian also said he would not tolerate “negotiations for the sake of doing business.”
The refusal is linked to his vision of political economy, explains Rome. Raisi defends a model known as the economy of resistance, based on the development of strategic industries and the reduction of imports. That is to say by reducing dependence on foreign powers, especially Western ones. So in the future, the Iranians may have less interest in US and European offers to remove other sanctions.
Iran has also asked the United States to come up with a permanent deal that cannot be overturned by a change of president. After all, there’s no guarantee that a possible replacement for Biden will go back on what’s now agreed to – that’s what happened with Trump’s election, after all.
The US government cannot promise this, however, as it would need the support of two-thirds of the Senate, something unthinkable in the current situation in the House. Everything that is decided now will be reversible.