The United States, European Union, and Iran appear to be inching ever closer toward a new nuclear agreement, but huge problems remain that could undo months of progress, regional analysts believe.
For the past 16 months, Iran has been engaged in talks with world powers aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was reached in 2015, which the Trump Administration abandoned in 2018.
I think there is a huge problem around this issue. [The IAEA] is not going to give up getting very concrete answers from the Iranians.
Sima Shine, head of the Iran program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line that she believes that the sides are closer to reaching an agreement than before but that key gaps remain.
“What we heard from Iran just moments ago is that they will not reimplement the agreement unless the [probe] in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is closed and this is something that no one can give Iran,” Shine said.
Shine was referring to the IAEA’s ongoing probe of unexplained material that was uncovered at three undeclared Iranian nuclear sites. Iran has repeatedly refused to answer the world nuclear body’s questions about these materials.
An unnamed senior US official told Reuters earlier this week that Iran had dropped its insistence on international inspectors shutting the investigation down. The news agency further reported that the US intends to soon prepare a draft agreement as a result.
But Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a spokesperson for the Islamic Republic, on Tuesday tweeted that the country would not agree to a new deal unless the IAEA permanently closes “the false accusations file.”
Very misleading. I've said for MONTHS, removing the Guards from the FTO is not a precondition.
No deal will be implemented before the IAEA Board of Directors PERMANENTLY closes the false accusations file.
Iran's nuclear program will not be dismantled.https://t.co/J8OLsqlhwS 
— Seyed Mohammad Marandi (@s_m_marandi) August 23, 2022 
“I think there is a huge problem around this issue,” Shine affirmed. “[The IAEA] is not going to give up getting very concrete answers from the Iranians.”
Tehran has agreed to make certain concessions in recent negotiations. The latest EU-drafted proposal, for instance, no longer includes a demand that the US remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from a terrorist blacklist.
While the new agreement would reinstate limits on Iran’s nuclear activity it is also highly flawed, Shine asserted, since it is for a much shorter period of time than the 2015 deal.
“This agreement is much worse than the previous one,” Shine said. “Of course, the current situation is not much better.”
Israel has repeatedly criticized the deal and called on the US and Western powers to reject it.
In our eyes, it does not meet the standards set by President Biden himself: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state
In a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the agreement “bad” and said that it “cannot be accepted as it is written right now.”
Lapid said that the agreement would provide Iran with $100 billion a year, which would be used to undermine stability in the Middle East and fund terror groups.
“In our eyes, it does not meet the standards set by President Biden himself: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” Lapid said.
Other experts in Iranian affairs argued that a new deal will do little to curb the Islamic Republic’s potential nuclear ambitions.
What kind of mechanism do we have now that would ensure that [the IAEA] can enter a site immediately for an inspection?
Prof. Soli Shahvar, of the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Haifa, told The Media Line that even if an agreement were reached, it would still be almost impossible for Western powers to know the location and nature of all nuclear sites across Iran with certainty.
“Intelligence has its limitations,” Shahvar said. “Until now we can say that secret agencies’ – whether from Israel, the US or any European [nations] – infiltration of the IRGC has been very limited,” Shahvar said. “If you don’t have enough intelligence-gathering capabilities then you have a problem.”
As an example, he pointed to how Iran declared that its nuclear aspirations were for civil purposes only during the original JCPOA. However, in 2018 Israel revealed that its Mossad spy agency carried out a secret operation to ferry out thousands of documents from Iran’s nuclear archive in Tehran. The trove of some 110,000 files showed that the Islamic Republic had once covertly tried to develop nuclear weapons.
“How can you trust the Iranians after such a blatant lie?” Shahvar asked. “I am not involved in the particulars of the negotiations, but what kind of mechanism do we have now that would ensure that [the IAEA] can enter a site immediately for an inspection?”
While a new deal would still afford some level of access to nuclear sites, it would also grant the Iranian regime significant economic benefits that would end up bolstering terror infrastructure in the region, Shahvar said.
Shahvar, an Iranian-born scholar who currently resides in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, likened the back-and-forth negotiations to haggling in an Iranian bazaar.
“They have been prolonging these negotiations in order to tire the other side out and Western culture is not used to such [tactics],” he said. “It’s a cultural struggle in a way.”
In related developments, the US military on Wednesday announced that it had carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria targeting Iran-backed militias. The military’s Central Command said that the strikes were aimed at protecting and defending US personnel and came in response to an Aug. 15 attack on American forces. During the attack, drones were reportedly launched by Iranian-linked groups at the al-Tanf Garrison, where US forces are stationed.
Shine views the strikes as being connected to ongoing negotiations.
“The US understands that it has to show Iran that it will not tolerate [attacks] on places where American soldiers are deployed,” Shine related. “The fact that there are negotiations and that they want an agreement doesn’t mean that they won’t retaliate.”