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The Iran nuclear deal hangs in equilibrium as Tehran turns the screw on the US

Western foreign ministers discuss the reaction to Iran's plan to ban intrusive snap inspections

As the West prepares its response to Iranian plans to raise pressure on Washington by banning snap-intrusive inspections of its nuclear sites, the future of the Iran nuclear deal is hanging in the balance.

The Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom will urgently confer with US Secretary of State Tony Blinken on how to respond to the Iranian plans that are scheduled to be implemented on Tuesday.

More than two months ago, Iran's parliament announced the measure as the next step of its brinkmanship, with some hoping that the deadline would provoke the new US administration to make a concrete offer to return Washington to the nuclear agreement, as Joe Biden vowed during his presidential election campaign.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has tried to play down the value of withdrawing from the additional protocol, arguing that Iran has voluntarily adopted it and has provided exceptional access beyond what is common to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). On Thursday, Iran's president, Hassan Rohani, said it was propaganda to indicate that Iran was placing pressure on the US, claiming that Tehran was merely asking it to comply with the law. He said in a message directed at Biden: "To surrender to the law is not a fault." Don't shy back. What is poor is submission to power.

On Saturday, IAEA Director Rafael Grossi will travel to Tehran to discuss the specifics of Iran's proposed new inspection regime. In the European capitals, the fear is that Tehran is close to taking irreversible measures in its nuclear research program and its ability to reduce its break-out time to make fissile material. In addition to a number of other concerns, including 20% uranium enrichment, the use of advanced centrifuges, and a heavy water reactor, a cut back in IAEA inspections could be seen as a step too far by European foreign ministers. Dominic Raab of the UK, Heiko Maas of Germany, and Jean-Yves Le Drian of France will meet in Paris before talking to Blinken via video connection.

There was no direct front-door communication between Washington and Tehran, but Blinken talked to the foreign minister of Qatar before the latter, as a mediator, traveled to Iran this week. On Wednesday night, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke with Rouhani to advise him not to cut down on inspections.

Merkel is scheduled to address the Munich Security Conference on Friday, along with Biden, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, offering a perfect stage for sending messages to Iran. However, it is uncertain if Biden would like to be seen making an offer under potential duress.

Since Biden was elected, Tehran has demanded that the US lift all the sanctions of the Trump era as a first step and, in exchange, will immediately return to full compliance with the nuclear agreement, including the degree of uranium enrichment. By executive order, Biden could lift much of the sanctions of the Trump period, but the lack of confidence in practice is such that with each step preceded by a pause for clarification, both sides would prefer step-by-step steps.

The US was able to lift its opposition to an IMF loan to Iran as a first step, put an end to certain restrictions on Iranian assets in foreign bank accounts, and ease the flow of humanitarian aid.

But Iran has requested a full lifting of all sanctions and a return of the US to the nuclear agreement, in the foothills of its own presidential election campaign in which there is no mileage to be soft on Washington. It also maintains that the current agreement cannot be renegotiated or broadened to include other aspects of the regional actions of Tehran.

Iran was shocked by how long it took Biden to make a clear offer, and Zarif warned: "They'll soon realize that time isn't in their favor."

It took Biden a month for inter-agency consultation, but he must be close to developing a strategy that could include direct communication between Tehran and Washington.

He must also take into account not just the opinions of Congress, but also those of Israel and Saudi Arabia, his regional allies. For the first time since his inauguration on Wednesday night, he talked to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to the return of the US to the nuclear agreement.


Source The Guardian

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