GCC endorses return to Iran nuclear deal

All group members have endorsed mutual return to deal as Washington and Tehran prepare to resume negotiations in Vienna

The exterior of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. AP
Powered by automated translation

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) on Thursday joined Egypt, Jordan, France, Germany and the UK in calling for a return to the nuclear deal following a meeting with US Iran envoy Robert Malley in Saudi Arabia.

The 12 countries issued a joint statement noting that “a return to mutual compliance with the [nuclear deal] would benefit the entire Middle East, allow for more regional partnerships and economic exchange, with long-lasting implications for growth and the well-being of all people there, including in Iran".

Several GCC states expressed scepticism when the nuclear deal was first negotiated under former president Barack Obama, with Saudi Arabia describing it as “flawed”.

But sentiments have changed in the intervening years. Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa, said this week that his country seeks to de-escalate tension with Tehran through dialogue.

The unified GCC call for a return to the deal comes before a seventh round of indirect talks between the US and Iran scheduled for November 29.

It also follows a similar joint statement that the US and its GCC partners issued on Wednesday after a US-GCC Working Group meeting in Saudi Arabia.

That statement also “called for an urgent mutual return to full compliance” with the nuclear deal, while condemning a “range of aggressive and dangerous Iranian policies, including the proliferation and direct use of advanced ballistic missiles” and drones.

The expanded statement with the Europeans, Egypt and Jordan on Thursday reiterated the “concern for and condemnation of such destabilising activities”.

Mr Malley, who also attended conferences in Israel on Monday, noted after the meeting that Iran has two options: “continued nuclear escalation [and] crisis or mutual return” to the nuclear deal.

He has also suggested that the US could continue nuclear diplomacy with Iran should Tehran’s steadily escalating breaches of the nuclear deal render the original agreement obsolete.

At the same time, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other US officials have repeatedly stated that Washington will turn to “other options” if Iran continues to scale up its nuclear activities.

Iran began to engage in more breaches of the accord when former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, reinstating debilitating sanctions on the country.

Since then, Iran's breakout time needed to produce a nuclear weapon has decreased from a year to a few months, a senior US official has said.

The Vienna talks aim to relieve the sweeping US economic sanctions on Iran if it scales back its breaches of the nuclear deal, but disagreements remain on the status of some additional sanctions instated under Mr Trump.

Updated: November 18, 2021, 5:38 PM