US could take small steps to revive Iran nuclear deal

WASHINGTON / PARIS (Reuters) – The United States is evaluating a wide range of ideas on how to revive the Iran nuclear deal, including an option that the two sides would take small steps before fully complying for save time, said three sources familiar with the matter.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price holds a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, United States, February 8, 2021. REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / Pool

Such a modest approach could slow the deterioration of relations since former US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and freeze subsequent Iranian violations that have brought it closer to enriching quality uranium. military.

This option could involve Washington allowing Tehran to obtain less valuable economic benefits than the sanctions relief it received under the 2015 deal in exchange for the shutdown, or even cancellation by Iran for its own violations of the agreement.

The sources pointed out that US President Joe Biden has yet to decide his policy. Its stated position remains that Iran will resume full compliance with the pact before the United States does.

“(They) are really thinking,” said a source close to the US review, saying the ideas under consideration include a direct return to the 2015 nuclear deal and what he called “less for less” as an intermediate step.

Another source said if the Biden administration concluded that it would take too long to negotiate a full return to the deal, it could take a more modest approach.

“Should they at least try to ease sanctions on Iran and get Iran to agree to take a break and maybe roll back some of its nuclear (stages)?” Said this source.

The deal between Iran and six major powers limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons – an ambition Iran has long denied having – in exchange for the relaxation of US sanctions and others.

When Trump walked out of the deal in 2018, blaming it for failing to curb Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support regional proxies, he reimposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy.

In response, Tehran exceeded key agreement limits, enriching uranium to 20% – above a 3.67% cap but below the 90% needed for weapons – by expanding its stockpile. of low enriched uranium and using advanced centrifuges for enrichment.

WHO TAKES THE FIRST STEP?

A central issue in relaunching the deal is who comes first. Iran has insisted that the United States relax sanctions before resuming compliance; Washington wants the opposite.

In what may be a posture on both sides, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that Tehran’s “final and irreversible” decision was to return to compliance only if Washington lifts sanctions, while Biden has said he will not lift sanctions just to bring Iran back to the table.

Republicans are likely to criticize Democrat Biden if he offers Iran sanctions relief without their full return to the deal, arguing it would waste the influence Trump has accumulated with the dozens of sanctions imposed since 2018.

“Biden’s administrator needs to recognize the realities of 2021, not 2015. This means there is no sanctions relief for a regime that has only extended its dangerous behavior,” wrote Sunday on Twitter former Trump’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley.

Washington could find other ways to ease Iran’s economic pain, by facilitating loans from the International Monetary Fund to Tehran, easing the passage of humanitarian goods or adopting a European idea of ​​a credit facility.

A Western diplomat said an IMF loan “could certainly be at stake” and described the possibility of a European credit facility for Iran, which would require the tacit acceptance of the United States, as “reasonable and feasible ”.

The White House declined to comment beyond spokeswoman Jen Psaki’s statement that if Tehran returned to compliance, Washington would and that “the ball is in Iran’s court.”

A State Department spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Biden administration is still consulting Congress and its allies and partners.

“We are exploring a range of ideas consistent with our stated policy of wanting to come back into compliance with the deal if Iran is,” she said, without further details.

It was unclear how soon the Biden administration could settle in on his approach.

One of the deadlines is February 21, when Iranian law requires Tehran to end the broad inspection powers granted to the UN nuclear watchdog by the 2015 agreement and limit inspections to sites only. nuclear declared.

Three European diplomats have said even the window for an interim solution could close quickly before the Iranian presidential election in June, which the anti-American hawks are expected to win.

“It is an urgent situation. If we cannot take advantage of the window now, it is very difficult to think that we will be able to enter into substantial negotiations before the fall, ”said one of them. “The current (nuclear) trajectory could close a lot of doors.”

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and John Irish; Writing of Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Howard Goller

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