Written by Jimmy Horjus
After the perceived April deadlock in the indirect nuclear talks between Iran and the United States under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) format, the EU has made a last-ditch effort to move the ball forward again, per an EU official. As one of the signatories, the EU is the only acceptable intermediary for Iran and the US after US President Trump pulled the plug on the deal in 2018, and the Iranians subsequently refused to hold direct talks with the Americans ever since. Since 2021, the JCPOA participants have attempted to revive the deal but diplomatic talks have stalled numerous times. In the talks, the prominent bone of contention revolves around which Iranian demands are within the scope of the JCPOA.
One of these has been taking the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) from the US terror list. The IRCG was labelled a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in 2019 after the nuclear deal fell through. CNN reported on 23 August that Iran has dropped the demand, making it the second key demand to be dropped in a week as Iran also no longer demands that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closes its investigation of undeclared nuclear material found at Iranian sites in 2019.
The Iranian gesture came after a new EU proposal to revive the deal and a visit to Tehran at the end of June by Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The visit sparked stark criticism from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, arguing that it sends the wrong message to Iran.
EU officials on the other hand claimed that Borrell visited in his role as facilitator to secure renewed talks. Following the visit, Borrell published a series of articles in European newspapers acknowledging that “the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted” yet arguing that dismissing the EU proposal would deprive Iran and the US of significant economic and financial benefits as well as a strengthened regional and global security.
Although Borrell did not elaborate, the first argument is arguably directed at Tehran while the second is supposed to hammer home in Washington. Iran is walloped by American sanctions, whereas the US is interested in maintaining a regional balance of power by preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
CNN reports that the Biden administration regards the Iranian response to the EU’s proposal as a “significant concession.” However, it remains unclear whether Iran is ready to drop another critical demand, a mechanism that would compensate Iran in the case of a renewed US pull out. What the US is bringing to the table remains unclear as US officials were unwilling to go into details after relaying the American response to the EU on Wednesday.
The EU’s summer offensive cements its role as an intermediary and, if successful, as a dealmaker. Recently the EU also instigated a deal between Serbia and Kosovo on free travel, settling a dispute that raised tensions in previous months. Getting all JCPOA members on board for a renewed nuclear deal would send a powerful signal to state and intra-state actors seeking to obstruct such a deal.
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