In these days, the nuclear deal with Iran could be revived. Tehran and Washington are negotiating final details, in writing, with the EU acting as mediator and postman. Iran has so far ruled out direct talks, but those involved are cautiously optimistic. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, found the latest Iranian offer to be “reasonable”. An assessment that China and Russia also endorsed. The US State Department also confirmed progress, although there were still differences.
If the 2015 agreement is renewed, Iran will once again restrict its nuclear program and subject it to international inspections. The latter are intended to ensure that the international community is directly informed if Tehran takes steps towards nuclear weapons capability. In return, US sanctions would be eased, the country would be able to export oil again unhindered and access billions of dollars in frozen foreign assets.
The new nuclear agreement would correspond to the original agreement. However, the current geopolitical framework differs significantly from that of 2015, which is why a new agreement would have a completely different character. Unlike the first attempt, no transformative impulses would emanate today.
In 2015, in parts of Iran and in the West, there was still hope that decades of hostility between Tehran and Washington could be overcome. Quite a few longed for a liberalization and opening of the Islamic Republic.
These hopes are passé. Under President Ebrahim Raisi, who came to power last year in sham elections, Iran no longer even appears to want to implement modernizing reforms. Instead, state repression is increasing dramatically.
Hardly anyone in the West still believes that there are forces in the Islamic Republic that could bring about a lasting opening of their country in the wake of a nuclear agreement. Persian perestroika failed miserably. Meanwhile, Tehran doubts the resilience of the nuclear deal and points to the arbitrary US exit by the Trump administration.
Leading Republicans are already sounding like they want to cancel the agreement again. In fact, given this mixed situation, the agreement would initially only last until January 2025, when Joe Biden’s first term in office ends.
Only in the region around the Persian Gulf did the tide turn in favor of the nuclear agreement. In 2015, the majority of the Arab Gulf States still vehemently rejected this. Under the impression of the Iranian advance in Syria, concerns prevailed that Iran would be able to pursue an even more aggressive regional policy with the economic upswing as a result of the relaxation of sanctions.
Finally, in January 2015, shortly before the conclusion of the nuclear deal in July, Mohamed bin Salman became defense minister in Saudi Arabia and a new strongman in Riyadh. After two months in office, he started the Yemen war and pursued a confrontational policy towards Iran.
In particular, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which demanded Trump’s exit in 2018, have repositioned themselves. Both states noted the risks of escalating the nuclear issue when Iran attacked UAE oil tankers and an oil field in Saudi Arabia in response to sanctions pressure.
Since there was no significant reaction from the Trump administration, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh came to the conclusion that US security guarantees could not be relied on and that a separate modus vivendi with Tehran was needed. The Gulf Cooperation Council is now officially calling for the nuclear deal to be revived.
The only country that today, as it did seven years ago, firmly rejects the nuclear deal is Israel. Its government warns that, even with the agreement, Tehran would become capable of nuclear weapons in a few years and lifting the sanctions would flush billions into the Iranian war chest.
However, since the Biden administration is not deterred by these considerations, Israel at least wants to actively shape regional policy cooperation and, together with the United States, curb Iranian influence.
Because while a cautious détente is emerging in the Persian Gulf, the situation in the Levant remains extremely tense. The “shadow war” between Iran and Israel, which is being waged more and more openly, is likely to continue unabated even with the revived nuclear agreement.