Did Iran ruin its chances of signing a nuclear deal?

The brutal repression by the Iranian government of the demonstrations against the death of Mahsa Amini puts the parties involved in the negotiations on Iranian nuclear energy in a delicate position. France, but also the American president, Joe Biden, are caught in the tongs. And this, while several points of contention persist. France 24 takes stock.

Live ammunition, attacks on students, arrests of journalists… The Iranian authorities spare no repression of demonstrators to silence the riots that have shaken Iran since the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16.

An attitude that could further complicate the diplomatic negotiations between Iran and the great powers (Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States informally), in order to save the Iranian nuclear agreement, although the negotiations are stalled after a year and a half of exchanges.

For several days, the tone has risen. Several European countries have called on Tehran to respect human rights. France in particular requested, on Tuesday, October 4, European sanctions against those responsible for these repressions that left more than a hundred dead, according to a report by the NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR) based in Norway.

“Given what’s going on in Iran, the stakeholders in the nuclear negotiations are less enthusiastic about trying to finalize the deal at all costs,” observes David Rigoulet-Roze, research associate at Iris, a nuclear energy specialist. . “For its part, the regime is becoming tougher in response to the protests and even less inclined to make compromises that make it feel weak. So it seems unlikely that Iran will change its position compared to the West on the issue.” nuclear”. talks”.

“We danced on a volcano”

In addition, David Rigoulet-Roze deciphers, “human rights are not a technical variable of the agreement. This does not prevent the interested parties, in particular the Western ones, from showing their positions on the sidelines of the negotiations. This is the case of the new sanctions mentioned. by the Europeans and the Americans in connection with the ongoing crackdown on these demonstrations.

“The human rights issue is extremely important, but if the negotiators add it to the discussions, there will be no agreement. And the Islamic Republic will judge it to be interference and use it as proof that these demonstrations are a plot from abroad,” he added. analyzes Thierry Coville, Iris researcher and specialist in Iran.

It has already been done, with Iran’s supreme leader saying Monday that the “riots” were fomented by the United States and Israel and not organized by “ordinary Iranians.”

France saw its chargé d’affaires summoned to Tehran last week after the Quai d’Orsay condemned the “brutal repression” of the demonstrations. “Iran considered that it was an interference to remember the fundamental principles of human rights and considered it opportune to let our embassy know,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, on Tuesday, after announcing in turn the summons of the person in charge of Iranian Business in Paris.

In this context, the position of France, which was slow to ask for sanctions against those responsible for the Iranian repression, was “perceived as a form of silence, although it undoubtedly derives more specifically from a prudential logic… We are dancing on a volcano and it is the lives of people in Iran that are at stake. Paris does not want to aggravate a situation that is already tragic. France does not want to join in and give Tehran the pretext to justify accusations against conspiracy with alleged international interference”, deciphers David Rigoulet -Roze.

Joe Biden caught in the crossfire

The Islamic Republic’s brutal response to the Iranian street riots puts US President Joe Biden in particular trouble. With the mid-term elections approaching, which will take place on November 8 in the United States, “it is difficult for him to commit to a nuclear agreement with a country that does not respect human rights,” Thierry Coville stresses.

An embarrassment resulting in doublespeak. Joe Biden said in a statement Monday that “this week the United States will impose new sanctions on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters” in Iran. To which, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre was quick to add that Washington could on the one hand condemn this repression, and on the other continue negotiations to try to resurrect the 2015 international agreement on Iranian nuclear energy. “At the height of the Cold War, when President Reagan called the Soviet Union ‘the evil empire,’ he too was negotiating arms control” with the Russians, she justified.

In August, Iran agreed to back down from asking the United States to remove the Revolutionary Guard Corps from the blacklist of terrorist organizations, suggesting one less point of contention.

Earlier this week, the latest statements by the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested a rapprochement with the United States. Nasser Kanani said on Monday, October 3, that “messages were exchanged between Iran and the United States in New York”, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in mid-September, through European coordinator Enrique Mora and other senior officials. “It is still possible” to revive the nuclear deal, he added, saying that “efforts are being made through the European coordinator and some mediators, including the foreign ministers of neighboring countries, to exchange messages in order to reach a agreement”. “If the other party, especially the US government, shows political will, it is possible to reach an agreement in a short time,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Tehran released an Iranian-American detained in Iran since 2016, Baquer Namazi, and his son Siamak Namazi, arrested in 2015. The decision was motivated by “medical necessity”, the US State Department said. , while Iran linked the move to the unfreezing of around $7 billion in funds stranded abroad according to the Islamic Republic of Iran News Agency (IRNA).

With this gesture, “the Islamic Republic is taking a cautious step back,” said Thierry Coville, for whom “current events are pushing Tehran to be more flexible at the diplomatic level in order to reach an agreement.” “There may be adjustments in hostage diplomacy on the margins to release part of the funds on deposit. But this is not what the signing of an agreement will allow. An agreement is first and foremost a commitment that integrates a set of restrictions and we are not still there”, tempers David Rigoulet-Roze. And the researcher recalls that even before the demonstrations, “the Iranian side was in a logic of obstruction.”

Management after “no deal”

Can these worrying concessions temper the change that took place in mid-September? Paris, Berlin and London, which still hoped to snatch an agreement after the summer, have lost patience with the acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program.

According to the latest quarterly report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Islamic Republic has further increased its reserves of enriched uranium to 60%, close to weapons grade, and now has more than enough to launch into the manufacture of an atomic bomb if he enriched it a little more. One more concern since “Iran does not want to give an answer to the IAEA about the presence of anthropogenic uranium found in three undeclared sensitive sites that refer to the possible military dimension of the Iranian nuclear program: Marivan, Varamin and Turquzabad”, explains David Rigoulet. -Roze, considering an impossible deal under current conditions. In a report published in May, the UN nuclear police noted the absence of “satisfactory responses” from Iran on the issue of these three undeclared sites.

Another point of tension remains: the Iranian negotiators demand that Joe Biden guarantee the respect of a future agreement, even in the event of a change of president in the United States in 2025. But for the American head of state, this is simply impossible. “because the functioning of US institutions does not allow it,” says David Rigoulet-Roze. “Legally Joe Biden cannot commit himself in the event of a majority change for a simple reason, it is that the JCPOA [accord sur le nucléaire iranien] it is not an international treaty, but an agreement. International treaties signed by the United States must be ratified by the United States Congress. However, there will never be a sufficient majority to validate a possible Iranian treaty.

In addition, for this specialist in Iran, after a year and a half of intense diplomatic exchanges, the rescue of the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement is no longer relevant. “It is the management of the subsequent ‘no deal’ that Westerners in general and Americans in particular today see as hollow,” he believes. And this, in the face of an Iran “which has become a country on the threshold [nucléaire] …knowing that they now have enough high-level enriched uranium, along with inexhaustible technical knowledge, to make a nuclear bomb if the political decision to do so were made. Which doesn’t seem to be the case yet.”

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