As talks continue in Vienna to restore the Iran Nuclear Deal, it seems clear that some progress is being made, no matter how slowly. German news agency Deutsche Welle refers to ‘cautious optimism’, and at the weekend, Russia’s top diplomat Ambassador Ulyanov tweeted favourably, saying ‘The #JCPOA participants noted today the indisputable progress made at the Vienna talks on restoration of the nuclear deal.’
Describing the talks as serious and focused despite ‘outside turbulence’, a source representing France, Germany and the UK said that success wasn’t guaranteed but was certainly not impossible. Outside turbulence was most likely a thinly veiled reference to the recent cyber-attack on the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Iran, thought to be perpetrated by Israel, which is opposed to the resumption of the Nuclear Deal.
In fact, the Israeli media reported at the time that the sabotage operation was an Israeli military and intelligence action. It certainly fits into a wider pattern of Israeli extra-legal action, ranging from the Stuxnet computer virus a decade ago to the assassination of the Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November. The recent attack led to Iran enriching small amounts of uranium even further.
Reports suggest that President Biden wishes to restore the Deal, but progress is being hampered by the fact that the US does not have a representative at the meeting as the US is no longer party to the Deal, owing to Trump’s withdrawal in 2018. So a US delegation is in Vienna but it can only take part in the talks ndirectly.
The key roadblock is the sequencing of events: Biden wants Iran to roll back its nuclear programme before it lifts sanctions, and Iran wants the US to lift sanctions before it starts its roll back. The good news is that two working groups have now been established, one looking at what the US must do and the other at the steps for Iran to take. The talks will reconvene at the end of this week, so let’s hope for positive news.
But resumption of the Deal will not solve the most serious nuclear problem in the Middle East – namely Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Israel’s arsenal is outside of any international monitoring, yet no sanctions are placed on it or punitive action taken as a result. Successive nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conferences have called for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, and the international community must now take steps to ensure the negotiations to this end are a success. There can be no peace in the Middle East while those weapons of mass destruction remain.
CND will be addressing these issues in depth in its forthcoming conference: Working for Peace in the Middle East, on Saturday 22nd May.