The West might not be ready for a new Iran deal

Getting an agreement is possible in the coming days. Getting a good one will be harder

Iran's nuclear programme has been a concern for years. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

The first Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015, took former US president Donald Trump very little time to withdraw from three years later. The agreement’s supporters decried the move as a rash attack on years of careful diplomacy that had made the world safer. Iran claimed it was proof the US was a destabilising, untrustworthy partner, a narrative its regime has been pushing since the 1979 revolution, and that it fundamentally changed the calculus of its geopolitical situation.

Quick to end, it has taken far longer get a revised version off the ground. If the first deal was so groundbreaking, it begs the question why has a new one not come about sooner? There are many reasons – a lack of trust is definitely there – but it also suits powerful factions in Iran to kick the can down the road for as long as possible.

That might be about to end. While the process is not yet finished, all signs point to the negotiations entering a critical phase in the next few days and weeks that could result in a new deal.

On Monday, Iran sent its response to a "final" draft text submitted by the EU. It has taken 16 months of indirect US-Iranian talks, with the EU mediating, to get this far. The US has said it will share its opinion on the document "privately". Iran says that its "additional views and considerations" to the text would be conveyed later.

Tehran has also encouraged the US to show flexibility on remaining sticking points. The country's foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian said: "Specifically, there are three issues … if these three issues are resolved, we can reach an agreement." He did not say what they were.

They are, however, widely believed to be Iran's anger at an International Atomic Energy Agency investigation into traces of uranium at sites in the country, a lack of guarantees that the US would not again walk away from a deal and the future of how the west labels and sanctions the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The nuclear containment of Iran is an issue of global importance, one that the previous deal managed to some degree. What it did not do was contain the destabilising effect of the IRGC in the Middle East, which the group exercised through its wide network of militias and proxy groups in the region.

However tempting a deal might be, the allies of Arab states at the negotiating table must not cede ground on the important issue of containing Iran's strategy of consolidating its regional power by sowing instability. Managing the IRGC is an integral part of achieving this.

Engaging with the issue would also make the West safer. Intelligence officials are reported to have said that Hadi Matar, the man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie at a recent event in the US, had contact with the IRGC. In July, the FBI said that Tehran had hatched a plan to kidnap Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad from her home in Brooklyn. Last Wednesday, the US Justice Department charged a member of the IRGC for being part of a plot to kill former American national security adviser John Bolton and secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Iran is keen to stress it is not reliant on a deal. Mr Amirabdollahian has said that Tehran has a "plan B". But a better deal than the last makes the world safer. That includes Iran. The country has much to gain from re-entering the international fold. It has much to lose, as do its neighbours, if it chooses yet more isolation in the critical days ahead.

Published: August 17, 2022, 3:00 AM