A decade of diplomacy, sanctions and nuclear brinkmanship involving Iran and the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (plus Germany) led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This accord enshrined a core compromise that Crisis Group had advocated since 2003: acceptance of a limited, tightly monitored uranium enrichment program in Iran in return for that country’s reintegration into the global economy. Despite the JCPOA’s successful first years, the U.S. withdrew from the deal in 2018, putting it at risk of collapse while raising the danger of conflict between Tehran, Washington and their respective allies. Through field research and high-level advocacy, Crisis Group focuses on salvaging the JCPOA and preventing regional tensions from boiling over.
Negotiating parties are now within touching distance of reinstating the JCPOA, but a period of stasis threatens to undo the progress made. In this open letter, over 40 former top European officials urge the U.S. and Iranian leadership to see the negotiations through to a successful outcome.
Originally published in World Politics Review
Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List
Talks between U.S., Iran and other world powers to revive 2015 nuclear accord reached one-year mark without breakthrough, while Iran-Saudi Arabia dialogue resumed for first time since Sept 2021. Nuclear talks remained at impasse despite technical elements of framework bringing U.S. and Iran back into compliance with deal all but agreed; as 6 April marked one year since start of talks in Austrian capital Vienna, impasse remained focused on bilateral political issue between Washington and Tehran, namely whether and under what conditions U.S. Biden administration will remove 2019 designation by Trump administration of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as Foreign Terrorist Organisation. U.S. State Dept 26 April indicated that EU coordinator “continues to convey messages back and forth”. Iranian atomic agency chief 6 April confirmed that, in line with timetable agreed with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month, Tehran had provided IAEA with documentation related to agency’s safeguards probe into undeclared nuclear activity; he also indicated “probably the agency’s representatives will travel to Iran for further talks”. Iran 4 April transferred centrifuge part production from TESA Karaj to Natanz facility; IAEA 14 April informed member states that it had put its cameras in place at workshop (though without access to footage) and Iran had commenced activity there. Govt 25 April confirmed fifth round of Iraq-hosted talks with Saudi Arabia, described as “positive”. U.S. 8 April tallied total number of Iran-related sanction designations under Biden administration at 107, of which 86 “have specifically targeted the IRGC-related persons as well as affiliates”. World Bank 14 April issued economic update on Iran, forecasting GDP growth in 2022/2023 at 3.7%, down from 4.1% in 2021/2022, with inflation projected at 37.6%.
After all is said and done, the Iran nuclear deal struck in 2015 remains the best way to achieve the West’s non-proliferation goals and the sanctions relief that Tehran seeks. The parties must not squander what is likely their last chance to save the accord.
Iran has a new president, consolidating the hardliners’ control over the centres of power. What will he do about the country’s numerous crises? One answer is clear: the 2015 nuclear deal’s fate remains the most pressing issue for Tehran and its foreign interlocutors.
The 2015 nuclear deal enters 2021 clinging to life, having survived the Trump administration’s withdrawal and Iran’s breaches of its commitments. When the Biden administration takes office, Washington and Tehran should move quickly and in parallel to revive the agreement on its original terms.
The Trump administration continues its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, now with an attempt to restore pre-2015 UN sanctions, a right reserved for signatories to the nuclear deal it abandoned. Other UN Security Council members should disregard this gambit and urge Tehran not to overreact.
Naval incidents in the Gulf have spotlighted the danger that a U.S.-Iranian skirmish could blow up into war. The two sides have little ability to communicate at present. They should hasten to design a military-to-military channel to lower the chances of inadvertent conflagration.
COVID-19 is ravaging Iran, due to government mismanagement exacerbated by the effects of U.S. sanctions. Instead of pointing fingers at each other, and again risking heightened military confrontation, Tehran and Washington should pursue humanitarian diplomacy aimed at containing the virus and releasing detainees.
The Russia-Ukraine crisis has certainly cast a darker shadow [over the Vienna Talks] than it did a few days ago.
If the negotiators [on the Iran nuclear deal] fail to bridge the remaining gaps, the best fall back option is a moratorium that averts a perilous cycle of escalation.
Western economic restrictions are creating an economic crisis in the country which is driving tens of millions Afghans into starvation.
The advances Iran has made in its nuclear program since 2019, and especially over the past year, mean that the [Iran nuclear deal] exists as little more than a theoretical construct at the moment.
Russia neither wants Iran with a bomb nor Iran bombed. The Russians are very good at compartmentalizing their differences with the West.
The fact that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are becoming more willing to engage the Iranians will bring them closer to the other countries in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council].
Iran is closer than ever to being able to develop a nuclear weapon. This timeline of the Iran nuclear deal explains how we got to this point by highlighting key flashpoints from the deal's implementation in 2016 to now.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez about Iran’s nuclear program, the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and the risk of a military escalation between the U.S. and Iran if it collapses.
The future of the Iran nuclear deal remains uncertain and the new Iranian president has stalled the already slow negotiations. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2021 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) full restoration, encourage efforts for regional dialogue and prepare contingency plans in case of a breakdown with Tehran.
Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Autumn Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Afghanistan, Burundi, Iran, Nagorno-Karabakh and Nicaragua.