EU team submit ‘final text’ at talks to salvage 2015 Iran nuclear deal

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA</span>
Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

The European Union has submitted a “final text” at talks to salvage the 2015 deal aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The revival of the agreement now awaits “political decisions” in Tehran and Washington after negotiators in Vienna agreed the text thrashed out between Iranian and European representatives over the past five days was the final text and could not be amended further.

The EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, said: “What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text. However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals. If these answers are positive, then we can sign this deal.”

The implication is that the EU is willing to accept the renegotiated deal, but political decisions still have to be made in the Iranian and US capitals. Prof Mohammad Marandi, an adviser to the Iranian negotiating team, struck a noncommittal note, stressing the text needed Washington’s agreement, and not that of Borrell.

Borrell said: “Negotiators used these days of discussions and proximity talks between the US and Iran to fine tune and address – with technical adjustments – a handful of issues remaining in the text that I have put on the table last 21 July, as coordinator of the deal.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, the lead Russian negotiator in Vienna, said: “If there is no opposition to the ‘final text’ draft, the nuclear agreement will be revived.” He said over the weekend that Russia had supported the amendments to the text proposed by the EU.

The US described the tabled draft as “the best and only basis on which to reach a deal”.

“For our part, our position is clear: we stand ready to quickly conclude a deal on the basis of the EU’s proposals,” a spokesperson for the state department said, suggesting the deal’s restoration was up to Iran.

The first official reaction in Tehran was cautious, amid concerns the US would not deliver on the commitments made in the agreement. Robert Malley, the US special envoy in Iran who was also a lead negotiator on the 2015 deal, has been in Vienna over the past five days and has been consulted by the EU negotiating team.

The final issues have included the extent to which the US guarantees sanctions are lifted not just nominally but operationally by providing credit guarantees.

Tehran has also been pressing for the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s elite military force, to be removed from the US list of foreign terrorist organisation, but appears to have adjusted the demand. Tehran has also been exploring the extent to which the US administration is willing to give binding commitments that any business contracts signed before the next US presidential elections will be honoured if a new administration in Washington again pulls out of the deal.

Separately disputes had also continued with regards to inspections out at Iran’s nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

Iran is asking the IAEA to close its investigation into the origins of nuclear particles found at three sites. So far the IAEA has said it has been given no credible explanation by Iran for the traces of nuclear particles, but has said the watchdog’s 35-member board of governors will close the inquiry if such an explanation is provided. Iran fears the IAEA may use the inquiry’s continued existence as a lever with which to demand wider access to Iranian sites well beyond the terms set out in the nuclear agreement. It also resents that the inquiry is based on intelligence provided by Israel.

In March, the IAEA board passed a resolution condemning Iranian non-cooperation with the inquiry, and for cutting the watchdog’s access to sites it is allowed to inspect under the original 2015 nuclear deal.

Mohammad Jamshidi, the political deputy of the Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, tweeted earlier in August that Raisi, in talks with the his French, Russian and Chinese counterparts, had firmly insisted the final agreement could only be closed when IAEA inquiry was dropped.

Joe Biden, who is facing midterm elections, and Iran, which is looking for ways to revive its economy, are unlikely to be examining the final text of an agreement that has taken more than 11 months to negotiate. Instead, both will be considering the wider political and economic implications of throwing up the chance to normalise relations.

A rejection of the deal by either Tehran or Washington, or both, will mean a resurgence of US sanctions and a probable decrease in Iranian oil and condensate exports from an estimated average of 1.5m barrels a day in 2022 to about 1m barrels through 2023 to 26. By contrast if the deal is accepted, Iranian exports could reach 2.5m barrels a day leading to a surge in Iranian revenues.

Biden knows he will come under intense criticism from Israel, some Gulf states and the Republican party if he revives the deal since the agreement has relatively little time to run. At the same time he knows the risk of a nuclear arms race across the Middle East if no agreement exists covering Iran’s civilian atomic programme.