A major crisis was narrowly averted Sunday over Iran's nuclear facilities and the planned booting of IAEA inspectors from key sites, scheduled according to a prior Iranian parliament decision for Feb. 21. Tehran reached a last-minute agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog, now being described as a temporary "technical understanding" to keep the inspections going for another three months.
According to the agreement, the IAEA will no longer conduct last-minute "snap inspections" after Tehran argued that it shouldn't be subject to such after the US tore up the deal under Trump. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said Sunday that "This is not a replacement for what we used to have. This is a temporary solution that allows us to continue to give to the world assurances of what is going on there, in the hope that we can return to a fuller picture," as cited in CNN.
The fact that Iran did not in the end boot the inspectors or block access to sites is a positive sign for the possibility of restored talks with the US about rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. Last week the Biden administration said it's ready to sit down for EU-sponsored negotiations, something which Iran initially appeared to rebuff but now is giving signals of readiness to participate in. However, adding to its list of demands - perhaps toward additional leverage - Iran said Sunday it estimates unilateral sanctions by the United States has caused $1 trillion worth of damage to its economy. Related: Goldman Sachs: Historic Copper Shortage Loom As Prices Rocket
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Sunday that any follow-up negotiations to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal must include "compensation" for such lasting economic damage. "When we meet, we will raise compensation," he told state-run PressTV in an interview. Zarif explained:
"Whether those compensations will take the form of reparation, or whether they take the form of investment, or whether they take the form of measures to prevent a repeat of what Trump did."
He described that in total some 800 sanctions on all levels of the economy led to a loss of $1 trillion, and that any further sanctions would result in Tehran's final exit from the JCPOA. "This is not a threat. We are simply exercising the remedial measures foreseen in the JCPOA," Zarif stressed.
"The situation Europe has created for itself is that it has to wait for the US to make a decision. It lives at the behest and mercy of the US," he said. "Now, they should convince the US to come back [to the nuclear deal] at least to allow them … to maintain their dignity and allow them to fulfill their obligations. That's not a tall order."
There is a path forward, with a logical sequence:#CommitActMeet
As the offending side, US must take corrective measures:
-commit to JCPOA
-effectively fulfill obligations
Iran would reciprocate immediately by reversing its remedial measures.https://t.co/UkREG8n9Ph— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) February 21, 2021
So far the Biden admin has only introduced meager steps such as dropping travel restrictions on top level Iranian diplomats Trump had enacted, as well as abandoning the push for "snapback" sanctions at the UN.
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Aside for the issue of compensations, I don’t think there will be any progress on the Iran nuclear deal or the lifting of the sanctions soon.
And while President Biden has already said that the United States would like to re-join the Iran nuclear deal, Iran confirmed its position that it will not negotiate without a lifting first of the sanctions against it or at least a significant easing of them. It will be very difficult to reconcile the two positions.
Moreover, the geopolitical balance in the Arab Gulf region has been tilting towards Iran in the form of indirect efforts by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States to ease tensions with Iran leading to eventual reconciliation.
Furthermore, Iran’s geopolitical reach is being enhanced by the Iranian Goreh-Jask oil pipeline which is expected to be completed by the end of March 2021. It will allow Iranian crude oil exports to bypass the Strait of Hormuz for the first time since oil production started in Iran in the early twentieth century and will also enhance Iran’s geopolitical reach immeasurably by allowing it to be able to use the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz for political reasons without hindering its own oil exports.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London