By Azin Sahabi 

Open the window of rapprochement cautiously

February 24, 2021 - 18:1

TEHRAN- The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made an agreement on Feb. 21 on Iran’s parliamentary law in regard to suspending the implementation of the Additional Protocol to the NPT. 

Called “Strategic Action to Lift Sanctions and Protect the Interest of Iranian Nation”, the law obligates the Iranian government to stop implementing some nuclear commitments. Such a move, which is in line with Paragraph 36 of the JCPOA, sets certain conditions for Iran to reverse its nuclear decisions. 

Many experts have shed light on the agreement from different aspects just to indicate that Iran’s move in terms of nuclear safeguards seems quite critical. 

In this context, on February 22, the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) released an opinion piece titled “US-Iran: The Rapprochement Gamble”. The analysis was published just on the same day that Tehran and the IAEA concluded the agreement on the Additional Protocol. 

The Italian institute focuses on the future of the JCPOA and speculates on “a new window for diplomacy” which seems to be opening between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

The think tank points that Washington has declared that in case of receiving an invitation from the European Union High Representative, it would attend a meeting which is going to be held among Iran, E3 (Britain, France, Germany), China and Russia.   

After a virtual meeting with E3, the U.S. stated that it is ready to attend talks with Iran and other major countries to discuss the Iran nuclear deal.  

The article argues that such a decision by the Oval Office indicates that the new U.S. administration intends to choose an approach towards Iran that is quite different from its predecessors which were mainly confrontational.

By making such a decision, ISPI argues, President Joe Biden has taken the first tangible step to fulfill his promise to rejoin the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which Trump’s administration unilaterally withdrew in May 2018. 

Regarding this, the think tank refers to the comments made by some experts on different aspects of the future diplomatic process regarding the JCPOA.

“The U.S.: Symbolic steps for a return to diplomacy”

For instance, Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, believes that although the U.S.’s stated eagerness to attend the meeting “is largely symbolic, (it) can begin the process of ending ‘maximum pressure’ and returning to diplomacy with Iran – with the European Union as the initial convener.” 

Expressing hope that Iran would agree to attend the meeting, Slavin stresses: “Regional issues should also be addressed but not in the P5+1 format. The first step is getting the nuclear deal back.”

“Iran’s position: Reciprocal, not forthcoming”

 To speculate on Iran’s likely behavior regarding the U.S. and other parties at the table, ISPI refers to Adnan Tabatabaei, CEO of the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO).

Tabatabaei believes that Tehran has no meaningful incentive to “be forthcoming in the quest to revitalize the nuclear agreement.” Thus, Tabatabaei argues, “At best, Iran will be ready for reciprocal action the moment President Biden effectively generates immediate economic relief by lifting nuclear-related sanctions and by unfreezing Iran’s foreign assets.”

 “A JCPOA revival will reinvigorate Iranian moderates”

 Another analyst comments on future negotiations on the JCPOA with regard to Iran’s domestic politics. Abdolrasool Divsallar, a policy leader fellow at the School of Transnational Governance in the European University Institute (EUI), writes that “a JCPOA revival will reinvigorate Iranian moderates.” He describes the JCPOA as “a symbol of Iranian reformists’ foreign policy achievements” that its collapse will underline “the bankruptcy of a reconciliation narrative with the international system within Iran.”

Moreover, he says, with the June presidential election ahead, a revival of the JCPOA and the Biden administration’s clean return to the deal can serve as a game-changer for the reformists to gain the upper hand at the ballot box. 

“The EU should pressure to separate nuclear talks and regional security negotiations”

Annalisa Perteghella, a research fellow at ISPI, believes that mending a transatlantic relationship is good but the EU should revise its policy in terms of facilitating the negotiations. The bloc should clarify that if the Biden administration keeps sanctions in place and links nuclear talks to broader regional security negotiations, it may jeopardize the chances of concluding a desirable nuclear deal and will likely spoil both processes. 

ISPI stresses that the EU should offer its mediatory role under the condition of “an immediate, simultaneous, return to the JCPOA.” The expert argues that consequently resolving the nuclear conflict would provide a platform for setting confidence-building measures. This will pave the way to negotiate regional security issues at the table, the expert adds. 

On dos and don’ts of the three European parties to the JCPOA, RUSI, one of the most prominent think tanks all over the globe, has proposed some recommendations, too.

“E3/EU should maintain a united front”

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), stresses that E3/EU as a unified front of European states at the table “can incentivize talks between Iran and the U.S. and coordinate the process bringing the two parties back to compliance.”

The analyst with expertise in security and geopolitics of West Asia also writes: “They (E3/EU) will have a crucial role to play in hosting and choreographing an informal meeting between the current members of the Iran deal and the U.S. which could lead to an initial agreement.”

Against this backdrop, RUSI underlines that Europeans should  keep a united front to "take the initiative in areas where they can contribute – process and mediation, but also economic incentives.”

Along with this, Bassiri Tabrizi points out that the unified European front should act step-by-step to reinstate the nuclear deal as the primary goal. 

The analyst says this will lay the ground for broader talks including additional issues and actors. 

France’s proposal to play the role of a mediator in the JCPOA talks has raised broad discussions among the experts. In this regard, Clement Therme, a post-doctoral research fellow, at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS), has commented on the issue. 

“France’s offer to mediate is difficult to achieve”

Therme argues that Tehran is fully aware that without a comprehensive settlement of the conflict with the U.S., European companies are unlikely to restart investment in Iran. 

In this context, France, which lacks economic sovereignty, cannot act as a meaningful mediator. The economic incentives represented by the potential investment of French companies in Iran are driving Paris to facilitate the diplomatic process. Actually, the French have worked with the Americans’ handbook of unilateral economic guidelines on Iran, not in line with those of Paris, and this stands as a major obstacle for President Macron to overcome. 

 “For Beijing, a return to the JCPOA is still the best option”

Since the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, China has repeatedly called for Washington and Tehran to return to full compliance. Therefore, Jacopo Scita, a post-doctoral fellow at Durham University writes: “For Beijing, the JCPOA still represents a success of multilateral non-proliferation and still the best option to regulate Iranian nuclear issue.” In this respect, the expert says China perceives the American side’s decision to attend the meeting between Iran, E3, Russia, and China as “a positive first step towards a revival of the Iran deal.”


  • 2021-02-24 21:48
    Talk and more talk. The EU should open up their banking channels for Iran ahead of the meeting and not wait for the US to give the nod. That will show they are serious. If not it is just talk and more talk for Iran to give up more of its rights and strengths that will lead to a war down the road.

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