by Ambra Visentin

The final proposal is now on the table. It lays the conditions for a return to the rules of the 2015 agreement, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and signed by the P5+1′ (the five members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain – and Germany), which provided for strict limitation and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear programme and the lifting of international sanctions against the country. Since then, the US, and subsequently Iran, have repeatedly ignored the agreement.

After the unilateral withdrawal of the US under Donald Trump in 2018 and the reinstatement of US sanctions, Tehran has progressively disengaged from its obligations. Iran thus exceeded the 3.67% uranium enrichment rate set by the JCPOA, rising to 20% in early 2021. It then surpassed the unprecedented 60% threshold, approaching the 90% needed to make a bomb, while restricting access to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors.

One of the knots to be untangled now lies outside the EU-coordinated JCPOA negotiations: Iran is demanding that the IAEA end its investigations into Iran’s alleged secret nuclear tests in the past.

On 26 July, EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell presented a draft calling on the parties to accept it in order to avoid a ‘dangerous crisis’. Mohammed Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, had explained on that occasion that Iran would not agree to provide explanations on the presence of traces of uranium, as requested by the IAEA agency, explaining that the negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action had shown in 2015 how “Tehran’s nuclear development programme had no military purpose”.

However, the E3, the European negotiating group made up of Germany, France and the UK, maintains a tough stance towards Tehran, urging the country “not to make unrealistic demands that are outside the JCPOA”. According to Western diplomats, in fact, the possibility of the IAEA procedure becoming a bargaining chip in the course of a JCPOA agreement would be ruled out as it would seriously compromise the UN agency’s independence.

In a geopolitical context in deep transition, however, Iran could rely on Russia’s support, renewed during Putin’s visit on 19 July, to try to win this tug-of-war and redraw the global balance of power.