Al-monitor: Hopes dim for Iran deal before US midterms

Al-monitor: Hopes dim for Iran deal before US midterms
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By Elizabeth Hagedorn and Andrew Parasiliti for Al-monitor |

The Iran deal isn’t doomed, but expectations are low that an agreement will be reached before the November midterms.

A senior European source told Ali Hashem this week a deal won’t happen before the elections, if at all. “Because of the last Iranian response, there can be no return to the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] before the U.S. midterms,” adding that the longer the wait, the more risk there is to close the deal.

The Europeans may be seeking to keep the pressure on Iran, while Washington may be more inclined to wait, especially with elections in both United States and Israel fast approaching.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday it’s too soon to know whether his government’s efforts to kill the deal paid off, reports Rina Bassist. But according to The Times of Israel, President Joe Biden told Lapid that an Iranian nuclear agreement is off the table at least for the foreseeable future.

Moving “backwards.” Iran and the United States in recent weeks appeared close to a breakthrough in the talks that had been deadlocked since March. But last Thursday, the US said Iran’s latest response to the EU-drafted text aimed at reviving the multilateral accord was “not constructive.”

Chief EU diplomat Josep Borrell then said he was “less confident” about the prospects of quickly closing a deal. On Wednesday State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said it was “unfortunate that Iran’s response to us took us backwards.” The US is currently reviewing Iran’s proposal and will send its feedback to the EU soon, Patel said.

Current sticking points for Iran include its demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN atomic watchdog, close its probe into undeclared Iranian nuclear sites. Tehran is also seeking economic guarantees that would outlast Biden’s presidency.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s nuclear program is moving ahead. The IAEA reported on Wednesday that Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium has grown considerably in recent months, and the country continues to stonewall inspectors on outstanding safeguards issues.

Limbo period. Despite the recent setback in the negotiations, both the U.S. and Iran have a strong interest in keeping the prospect of a deal alive, said Henry Rome, the Eurasia Group’s deputy head of research.

“There’s a reluctance on both sides to declare that the approach over the last 18 months has failed,” Rome said. “And so we are stuck in a bit of a limbo period, where neither side is moving decisively towards the finish line, but also no one wants to call it quits.”

Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agrees neither side is likely to admit defeat should the negotiations become deadlocked.

“If creative diplomacy is unable to jumpstart renewed momentum, a temporary time out is likely,” said DiMaggio. “As precarious as it is, the JCPOA is the only readily available basis for negotiations with Tehran. It’s hard to imagine starting something from scratch in today’s geopolitical environment.”

Key dates to watch:

Sept. 12 – Next week in Vienna, the IAEA will hold its quarterly Board of Governors meeting. Given the sensitive nature of the negotiations, the board isn’t expected to censure Iran for its failure to cooperate with inspectors, as it did in June.

Sept. 19 – World leaders including Biden, Lapid and most likely Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will descend on New York City that week for the UN General Assembly. The administration has faced Republican pressure to deny Raisi a visa but has indicated it would grant one in line with its UN obligations.

Nov. 1 – Israel will hold its fifth election in less than three years. Staving off the nuclear deal would be a boost for Lapid’s candidacy, as former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu runs to the right of Lapid, including on Iran.

Nov. 8 – Congressional unease with the possible deal is mounting ahead of the crucial midterm elections. US lawmakers are largely powerless to stop the agreement’s revival, but under a 2015 law can still register their disapproval.

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