Time running out to save Obama Iran nuclear deal

An Iranian flag flies at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran.
An Iranian flag flies at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Time running out to reach Iran nuclear deal, warn experts

Letter signed by former diplomats says Iran close to developing nuclear weapons capability

Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editorTue 26 Apr 2022 11.53 EDT

Leading former diplomats including seven ex-UK foreign and defence ministers have warned the Iran nuclear talks are heading to “corrosive stalemate devolving into a cycle of increased nuclear tension” and urged Tehran and Washington to show more flexibility.

Year-long talks in Vienna on reviving the deal and for the US, which was pulled out of the agreement by Donald Trump, to lift sanctions on Iran have in effect ground to a halt in a dispute over whether the west will lift the foreign terrorist organisation designation, and sanctions, against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

The former diplomats said in an open letter that a final draft text of a renewed agreement was ready to be signed and warned that “for US and European leaders to let slip the opportunity to defuse a nuclear crisis in the Middle East would be a grave mistake”.

Washington says the sanctions on the IRGC do not relate to the nuclear deal, but to its long-term terrorist behaviour in the region, including in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

The signatories to the open letter, coordinated the European Leadership Network, include former senior diplomats in 14 countries including the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, former defence secretaries Lord King and Des Browne, as well as the former Conservative Middle East minister Alistair Burt.

They say the legacy of Trump’s strategic error in leaving the agreement “can today be measured in the tons of enriched uranium Iran has since accumulated, including uranium enriched to near-weapons grade; in the thousands of advanced centrifuges it is spinning; and, in the rapidly dwindling timeframe for Iran to reach a breakout capability”.

The US left the nuclear deal in 2018. Joe Biden on his election as president said he wanted to rejoin so long as Iran came back into compliance with the agreement on nuclear non-proliferation.

One proposal that Israel fears the US administration will adopt is to retain sanctions on the elite foreign arm of the IRGC, the al-Quds force, but lift the designation on the IRGC domestically.

The letter’s authors acknowledge the politics of the foreign terrorist organisation designation are difficult but insist “there are ways to provide the counter-terrorism benefits of the current designation while still accommodating Iran’s specific request, and consider it imperative that these be fully explored”.

“For its part, Iran should not expect a nuclear deal to address broader areas of disagreement between Tehran and Washington. Both sides must approach this final phase of negotiation with an understanding that the strategic implications of failure would be grave and profound.”

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