Road to renewed Iran deal likely to be long, bumpy

Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk –

It took seven years from the summer’s day in 2008 when a top US diplomat first sat down with his Iranian counterpart until the two sides sealed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that aimed to keep Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
No one expects it to take as long to establish whether they can resuscitate the pact abandoned by former US President Donald Trump, but US and European officials say the journey will be lengthy and arduous, if, indeed, they even begin the trek.
US President Joe Biden’s administration said last Thursday that it was ready send to its special envoy, Rob Malley, to meet Iranian officials and seek a path back to the deal, agreed by Tehran and six major powers and named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
While Tehran sent mixed signals at first, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took a hard line on Sunday, saying: “The US will not be able to rejoin the nuclear pact before it lifts sanctions.”
The crux of the deal was that Iran would limit its uranium enrichment programme to make it harder to amass the fissile material for a nuclear weapon — an ambition it has long denied — in return for relief from US and other economic sanctions. In theory, it should not be hard to decide how to revive an agreement whose terms are detailed in 110 pages of text and annexes. In reality, it will be a challenge for two reasons: the scores of sanctions that Trump imposed on Iran after walking away from the deal in May 2018 and the steps Iran took, after waiting more than a year, to violate the pact in retaliation.
While both sides have so far focused in public on the question of who moves first to revive the deal — each insists that the other must do so — a US official said the “sequencing” could be finessed.
“The issue of who goes first … I don’t think it’s the one that’s going to be the most difficult,” he said. “It’s defining how each side views compliance,” the official added, citing instead which US sanctions might be lifted and “the question of … the steps that Iran has taken, are they all reversible?”
The JCPOA, hammered out by Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, required the United States to remove only “nuclear-related” sanctions on Iran.
Experts say Biden would find it politically fraught, and maybe impossible, to meet Tehran’s demands that these be lifted given the likely criticism from Republicans. — Reuters