The revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is looking bleak after last-minute Russian demands and disagreements between the United States and Iran winded back negotiations. Preparations were being made last week for a weekend meeting in Vienna that would have concluded with a potential agreement that would bring back Iran’s compliance to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the US into the agreement after their exit in 2018.

Negotiations took a turn last March 6 after sweeping demands from Moscow via Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asked for a US guarantee that Russian-Iran trade will be protected from sanctions brought by the invasion of Ukraine. Initially, the Russian demands upset Iran and made it seem that the move pushed Tehran and Washington to iron out the remaining issues on the agreement. However, a sudden barrage of remarks from Iranian officials, which included Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei on March 10, suggested a change of heart.

“US approach to Iran’s principled demands, coupled with its unreasonable offers and unjustified pressure to hastily reach an agreement, show that US isn’t interested in a strong deal that would satisfy both parties,” said Iranian top security official Ali Shamkhani in a tweet.

“Absent US political decision, the talks get knottier by the hour,” said Shamkhani, who did not provide further detail on the demands in question.

The United States has reiterated on March 10 that it will not entertain Moscow’s last-minute demands, which, according to them, “have nothing to do with the deal with Iran.”

“We’ve also made it very clear in the context of the P5+1 in Vienna – that the new Russia-related sanctions are wholly unrelated to the JCPOA and should not have any impact on a potential mutual return to compliance with it or its ultimate implementation,” said US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.

“We also have no intention of offering Russia anything new or specific as it relates to these sanctions, nor is anything new required to successfully reach an agreement on a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA.”

Price says that negotiations remain close to bringing a new deal. This will heavily rely on specific outstanding issues that have remained because they are some of the hardest ones to work out. Since the release of the Russian demands, negotiations have been paused on March 11 due to “external factors.”

“A pause in #ViennaTalks is needed, due to external factors,” wrote European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borell in a tweet. “A final text is essentially ready and on the table.”

“The conclusion of the deal does not depend on Russia only,” said Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov.” There are other actors who need additional time and who have additional concerns, and they are being discussed.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry believes that the pause in negotiations may create “momentum” to resolve the remaining issues.

“Pause in #ViennaTalks could be a momentum for resolving any remaining issue and a final return. Successful conclusion of talks will be the main focus of all,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a tweet.

What is the Iran Deal?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, was hailed in the press as a agreement between Iran and the P5+1  (China, Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that was signed in July 2015.

Under its conditions, Iran is to deconstruct its nuclear arms program and allow its nuclear facilities to be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange, the West committed to lifting key economic sanctions on Tehran and the release of over $100 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets.

Supporters of the agreement said it would cull the possibility of Iran reviving its nuclear weapons program, thus reducing the possibility of an armed conflict between Tehran and its rivals. However, the deal almost collapsed in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement and reinstated catastrophic oil and financial sanctions.

According to Trump, the deal lacked the ability to stop Iran’s ballistic missile development and its use of proxy warfare in the region. Furthermore, the sunset provisions would have allowed Iran to rebuild its nuclear program after a few years.

President Joe Biden announced the United States’ return to the deal in 2021 and offered to join European states in the first diplomatic exercise with Iran since Trump’s withdrawal.

Critics of the deal point to the fact that it does not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons as its provisions begin to expire in 2026, freeing Iran to proceed on an industrial scale.

The deal does not require Iran to submit to any time, anywhere inspecti0ns by the IAEA of their facilities and military sites where they have declared nuclear bomb research is being conducted.  Iran is able to delay inspections for as many as 24 days, giving them plenty of time to sanitize their facilities before inspectors arrive.  Iran is not considered to be faithfully upholding their end of the previous arrangement.

This deal gives Iran immediate and permanent benefits in exchange for temporary concessions. These benefits include the lifting of sanctions, unfreezing Iranian assets in the U.S., and allowing foreign companies to assist Iran with furthering their nuclear ambitions.

Finally, the “deal” is not a treaty that can be debated and ratified by the U.S. Senate.  It exists as a kind of handshake deal with the current administration and Iran and can be rescinded by a future president as it is not binding on future presidents.

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