The situation in the Gulf is escalating. In the dispute with the U.S., Iran is now talking about signing a key document soon.
The Iranian flag in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Photo: reuters
Officially, both the U.S. and Iran have been pretending to be uncompromising for months. U.S. President Donald Trump, who last year unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Vienna nuclear agreement, imposes new sanctions on Iran almost on a weekly basis. Tehran has responded by reneging on some of its obligations under the agreement. Trump must do an about-face and return to the agreement, Tehran says.
But on the sidelines of a visit to New York last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Sarif said Tehran was ready to ratify the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Additional Protocol on Enhanced Inspections. In the long run, this could guarantee exactly what Trump as well as the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, as well as Israel and Tehran’s Gulf adversaries, want: that Tehran does not acquire nuclear weapons.
The Additional Protocol grants IAEA inspectors full access to Iran’s nuclear facilities – including those that Tehran has not previously declared as such. It also allows for better verification of fissile material that the Iranians may previously have stored in secret. Unlike current commitments, the tougher inspections would be permanent.
Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, must ratify the Additional Protocol no later than 2023, according to the Vienna nuclear agreement. Iran, however, is willing to speed up this process, Sarif told reporters in New York. In return, he demanded that the U.S. government lift the new sanctions. This would have to be done through legislation passed by Congress, which would make it more difficult for Trump to back down again later.
No willingness to compromise on missile program
Trump has not commented on the offer so far. However, he had previously indicated that he was ready for talks "without preconditions." However, it may well be that Sarif’s offer does not go far enough for him. Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published a twelve-point catalog that Tehran would have to fulfill before sanctions could be lifted.
Trump has distanced himself from some points – such as the indirect demand for regime change. On other issues, however, he has so far remained firm. For example, Trump wants Iran to stop enriching uranium altogether – which is, of course, open to any country as long as it is used exclusively for peaceful purposes, such as medical treatment. In addition, a "better deal" is supposed to guarantee that Tehran scales back its missile program and stops supporting "terrorist groups."
With regard to the missile program, the Iranians remain unwilling to make any concessions. This is partly because Tehran feels threatened by its rivals in the Gulf, which are being upgraded on a large scale by the United States and other countries.
Sarif, however, made it clear that the offer of negotiations is serious. Enrichment of uranium beyond the ceiling allowed by the nuclear agreement, which Iran resumed in early July, could be scaled back at any time, he said. "This is not about a photo op. We are interested in substance," Sarif said. According to media reports, he also met with Republican Senator Rand Paul, who has offered to take on a role similar to that once played by John Kerry, who as a senator held secret talks with Iran that later led to the nuclear negotiations.