ONE of the major factors poisoning relations between Iran and the Western bloc is deep mistrust over Tehran’s nuclear programme. This mistrust developed into a wide gulf after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the meticulously crafted nuclear deal in 2018. Efforts had again picked up pace to revive the deal after new governments were formed in Washington and Tehran, yet as of now there appears to be a deadlock over the issue. However, one small step in moving negotiations forward was taken when the head of the IAEA visited Tehran on Sunday. The UN’s atomic agency and Iran said they had agreed on a surveillance deal to monitor the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activity, hailing in a joint statement the “spirit of cooperation and mutual trust”. It is hoped that this cooperation is built on at the wider talks in Vienna and progress is made in reviving the JCPOA.

However, it must be said that for the nuclear deal to be revived and for it to succeed, Iran needs to see tangible economic benefits. After the JCPOA was signed in 2015, there were wide expectations in Tehran that foreign investment would flow in, helping lift Iran’s sputtering economy. This did not materialise, as major foreign players were afraid of attracting America’s ire by trading with Iran and violating other US sanctions. Moreover, after the US withdrew from the deal, America further tightened the financial noose around Iran, practically crippling its economy. These moves naturally undermined moderate voices in Iran, as the conservative establishment slammed the Rouhani government for being ‘weak’ and ‘gullible’ in trusting the Americans. With Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House, hopes for a revival of the JCPOA were strengthened, though the US and the deal’s other signatories would now have to convince a conservative, sceptical government led by Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. To reiterate, there must be give and take in this scenario for the deal to succeed. Tehran should allow the UN to access all its sites and cooperate with the IAEA. On the other hand, Iran must be able to freely sell its petrochemicals to international buyers, while foreign parties should be allowed to trade with Tehran without fear of attracting sanctions of any sort. The small breakthrough over the weekend can be worked on to build confidence between both sides, while those looking to play spoiler must be ignored by the international community.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2021

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