Mar 3, 2022 - World

Iran nuclear deal near, diplomats say

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

An agreement to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal could be just days away, with negotiators from Europe and Iran making clear that they've reached the final hurdles.

Driving the news: Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, will travel to Tehran on Saturday to try to resolve one of the remaining disputes: Iran's insistence that an investigation into its undeclared nuclear activity be dropped. The success of failure of Grossi's visit could determine the fate of the deal.

The latest: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell in a call on Friday that he is ready to travel to Vienna and sign the deal so long as the U.S. and European powers accept Iran’s red lines, including effective economic guarantees for Iran, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

  • According to that statement, Borrell said he thinks Iran’s major demands have been taken into account and stressed that a deal was close.
  • "We are ready to finalize a good and immediate agreement but the haste of the Western side can not prevent the observance of Iran's red lines," the statement quotes Amir-Abdollahian as saying.

What they're saying: All participants in the Vienna talks have been stressing that a deal is very close but not yet at hand.

  • “There has been significant progress and we are close to a possible deal, but a number of difficult issue remain unsolved," deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
  • The British chief negotiator Stephanie Al-Qaq said in a Farsi-language tweet that a deal was "very close" but "final steps" still remained. She followed that up on Friday by saying a deal was "not guaranteed" and the parties "must now walk the last few meters."
  • French negotiator Philippe Errera posted a photo of the European negotiating team and thanked them for their work over the past 11 months, in a possible signal that talks are concluding.
  • Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted that regardless of the positive rumblings, "Nobody can say the deal is done until all the outstanding remaining issues are resolved.

What to watch: The biggest hurdle appears to be the IAEA investigation, which Western powers have said can't be shut down until the agency's concerns are addressed. Grossi's visit is intended to find a formula that all sides can live with.

  • Another sticking point has been Iran's insistence that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from the U.S. terror blacklist.

The big picture: Iran has dramatically accelerated its nuclear program since Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, and has also limited the access of inspectors. The deal would require Iran to dial back its nuclear program and restore the inspections, in exchange for sanctions relief from the U.S.

  • President Biden has argued that returning to the deal would put Iran's program "back in a box."
  • However, U.S. officials believe Iran's nuclear advances mean that under a restored deal, Iran's "breakout time" — the time needed to enrich enough uranium for a bomb — would be 6 to 9 months, rather than a full year as in 2015.
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