The Washington Post

U.S. says Iranian nuclear response is ‘not constructi­ve’


Talks over reviving the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers now risk foundering on an issue that has dogged them since they began nearly a year and a half ago — Tehran’s insistence on an ironclad guarantee that there will be no unilateral withdrawal from a new agreement by a future U.S. administra­tion.

Other issues remain, including Iran’s demand that the Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency drop its investigat­ion, technicall­y unrelated to the nuclear deal, of unexplaine­d radioactiv­e particles found by inspectors at several Iranian locations; and quibbling over the kind of sanctions relief available to Iran if it signs a new deal.

But the question of what happens if there is a repeat of former president Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the original agreement signed in 2015, and his imposition of “maximum pressure” sanctions, “has been a constant problem,” said one senior Biden administra­tion official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomacy.

“We cannot dictate what a future president will do” or what the IAEA will do, the official said. “We won’t and can’t do either.” Binding the hands of a future president is “beyond the powers of any administra­tion … in our system.” The question has been particular­ly pertinent as Trump has heavily hinted he is likely to seek the presidency again in 2024.

Iran’s latest proposals for resolving outstandin­g questions, including the demanded guarantee, were “not constructi­ve,” the State Department said just hours after receiving them through the European Union on Thursday.

Public optimism that the negotiatio­ns were on the verge of a successful conclusion, at least among those who favor such an outcome, began to rise in late July, when E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell sent all participan­ts a “final” text he said reached the limits of possible compromise.

Participan­ts in the talks, which have been coordinate­d in Vienna by the E.U., include all the parties to the original deal — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, Iran and the United States. While virtually all of the issues have been between the latter two, Tehran has refused direct negotiatio­ns with Washington, and their positions have been transmitte­d to each other through the Europeans.

Under the terms of the 2015 agreement, all nuclear-related U.S. and internatio­nal sanctions against Iran were lifted in exchange for sharp limits on the quality and quantity of uranium enrichment it could undertake, and the imposition of strict internatio­nal monitoring. In withdrawin­g, Trump reimposed and increased sanctions, and Iran responded by vastly expanding its nuclear program and limiting inspection­s.

Iran, while denying Western charges that it intends to build a nuclear weapon, does not want to dismantle its enrichment and other programs, only to find sanctions briefly lifted and then reimposed again.

President Biden has said he will not violate any new deal as long as Iran does not, and that, despite whatever shortcomin­gs a new agreement may have, the world is better off with visibility into and restraints on the Iranian program — however long it may last.

Opponents of a new deal, including some U.S. lawmakers and Israel, have said that what they believe is now on the table is neither long enough nor strong enough to ensure Iran will not quickly become a nuclear threshold state.

The administra­tion, and other participan­ts in the talks, have revealed little of what is actually in the Borrell-proposed text or in the recently exchanged proposals. In a letter to Biden on Thursday, a bipartisan group of more than four dozen House members said they were “deeply concerned” about its contents, and called on the president to “provide Congress with the full text of any proposal to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement … including any side agreements, and consult with Congress before reentering” the deal.

In one example, they referred to reports that sanctions would not be imposed against companies or people “doing business” with sanctioned Iranian entities, such as its military Islamic Revolution­ary Guard Corps.

Since receiving Borrell’s text, the United States and Iran have gone back and forth with proposed changes, and responses to each others proposals. Iran’s latest missive didn’t “get us where we need to go,” the administra­tion official said. “If there’s any movement, it’s in the wrong direction.”

Earlier this week, Borrell said he hoped a deal could be reached “in the coming days.” In a speech to ambassador­s Wednesday in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said he hoped the agreement would be concluded “in the next few days.”

Despite its negative response Thursday, the administra­tion refrained from declaring the negotiatio­ns dead. “This is a negotiatio­n, with regular back and forth,” National Security Council spokespers­on Adrienne Watson said in a statement Friday.

“We will not negotiate in public. Some gaps have closed in recent weeks but others remain. The President will only conclude a deal that he determines is in the national security interest of the United States.”

Iran offered little reply to the U.S. response. In a statement Friday, Foreign Ministry spokespers­on Nasser Kanaani said that its approach was a “constructi­ve” one and that it was Washington’s persistent refusal to address Iran’s red lines that had delayed the negotiatio­ns.

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