FILE PHOTO: The atomic symbol and the Iranian flag are seen in this illustration, July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration//File Photo

Is there a rapprochement between Iran and the US, can Europe hope for more oil and gas, or is there a new war in the Middle East? There could be answers to these questions in Vienna in the coming days. A decision is imminent in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Tehran sent its response to a draft EU treaty to Brussels on Tuesday night. Now Europe and the US must react. An overview of the main points of contention and the possible consequences of the success or failure of the talks.

In 2015, Iran reached an agreement with China, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and the United States that would prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb. Tehran agreed to controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a limit on uranium enrichment. In return, sanctions were reduced. Three years later, the United States withdrew from the agreement under President Donald Trump. Iran responded by accelerating uranium enrichment, which has now almost reached the level needed for a nuclear bomb. Trump’s successor Joe Biden wants to revive the contract. That is why negotiations have been taking place in Vienna at the IAEA headquarters since April 2021. Because Iran does not talk directly to the United States, the EU mediates.

In July, the EU sent a “final” draft agreement to the negotiating parties. After that, Tehran is to accept strict controls and be rewarded with a reduction in sanctions. However, Iran wants to make improvements in three areas. First, Tehran is demanding that the IAEA stop searching for the origin of nuclear materials found in Iran at sites not declared as nuclear facilities. Second, Iran wants a guarantee from the United States that an agreement will not be reversed. The third demand relates to Iranian Revolutionary Guard business enterprises. Iran is demanding that sanctions be lifted for Guard companies, even though the US classifies the troops as a terrorist group. The EU said on Tuesday that it was examining Iran’s demands. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington will lift sanctions if Iran accepts “verifiable and permanent limits” on its nuclear program. Demands outside of the nuclear deal are unacceptable, Price said.

If the negotiating partners overcome the obstacles, a new contract could be signed in the next few weeks. The price of oil is already falling in anticipation of success: If sanctions against Iran’s oil industry were lifted, much more oil would come onto the market. Before Trump’s sanctions, the country produced almost four million barrels a day, four percent of global demand. The country also has the second largest gas reserves in the world. In theory, Iranian oil and gas could reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia. The Iranian economy would experience an upswing. It is unclear how quickly sanctions against Iran’s oil and gas industry would be lifted after an agreement.

Politically, a new nuclear deal would defuse the ongoing conflict between Iran and the United States. However, tensions could grow between the US and some of its key Middle East allies: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fear Iran is using new earnings to expand its influence in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. They also fear that Tehran would continue to strive for the atomic bomb despite the new treaty.

The Iranian government has already announced that it intends to continue negotiations if the agreement fails. Without reducing sanctions, however, the service economy would slide further into the crisis. A failure of the talks would probably not simply result in the next attempt at agreement. Israel has announced that it will use military means to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb if necessary. A nuclear arms race could begin in the Middle East. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants his country to get nuclear armed “as soon as possible” if Iran builds a nuclear bomb.