PARIS: US President Joe Biden has raised European hopes that a deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear drive can be rescued, but a narrow window of opportunity might soon slam shut. The West is concerned that violations of the accord mean Iran is moving faster towards having the “breakout” capacity for building an atomic bomb, while upcoming Iranian presidential elections add a major risk factor.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday expressed alarm that Iran was now “much closer to the nuclear bomb” than when the deal was signed in Vienna in 2015. Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the nuclear deal in 2018, but Biden has made clear he is prepared to return to the deal — if Iran shows it is complying fully with the accord.
“This is a challenge that cannot wait,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said this week. “We know that we have to act with some urgency.” The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was based on Iran providing safeguards that it would not make an atomic bomb, in exchange for a gradual easing of international sanctions.
But the return of sanctions after Trump left the deal prompted Tehran to retaliate by intensifying its nuclear work. Biden’s new pointman on Iran, Rob Malley, must now undo a tricky diplomatic knot, with Washington insisting Tehran must show full compliance before it returns to the deal but Iran wanting the opposite, with sanctions lifted first.
The stakes are also high for Tehran, since Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy intensified an economic crisis that has fed into occasional but unusual outbursts of protests. By increasing violations of the accord, “the Iranians are accelerating the tempo for negotiations to resume and the grip of sanctions to be loosened because their economy has been haemorrhaging,” said Benjamin Hautecouverture, an expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) at Paris.