The US told Iran not to link the revival of the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, with an inquiry into uranium traces at undeclared Iranian nuclear sites, Axios reported on Wednesday, citing a US official.
The US and Iran have been engaged in EU-mediated JCPOA negotiations, and Tehran is currently reviewing Washington’s response to a proposal on reviving the deal. According to the Axios report, under the draft deal, the JCPOA will be restored through stages.
One stage will be after 120 days after the US and Iran sign the deal, known as “reimplementation day.” By that time Iran is supposed to have brought its nuclear program back into the strict limits set by the JCPOA. In return, the US would lift some sanctions and brief US companies on doing business with Iran.
The Axios report said that Iran wants the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) investigation into uranium traces at undeclared nuclear sites to be closed. The IAEA opened the inquiry years ago and hasn’t been satisfied with Iran’s explanations, although there’s no indication there is any proliferation risk because of the issue.
The US official said that linking the IAEA inquiry to the JCPOA could delay sanctions relief for Tehran and that the US conveyed this through the EU. “We told the Iranians that it is up to them to solve it with the IAEA and there is no reason to link it to reimplementation day. If Iran does that, it risks delaying the lifting of sanctions,” the official said.
Last week, a different US official told Reuters that Iran dropped its demand related to the uranium traces, but Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said this week that without settling the issue, “talking about an agreement would be meaningless.”
The Axios report said that Iran and the IAEA could work out the issue during the 120-day period between signing the deal and reimplementation day, signaling that signing an agreement does not hinge on the IAEA dropping the inquiry. The US official said that Washington hopes the sanctions relief will be enough incentive for Iran to reduce its nuclear activity by reimplementation day even if the issue is not solved.
Iran is also seeking guarantees if the US withdraws from the JCPOA again. “Iran is carefully reviewing the EU-drafted text … We need stronger guarantees from the other party to have a sustainable deal,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Wednesday.
Because the JCPOA is not a treaty, a future administration is not bound by the deal. With that in mind, Iran is reportedly seeking guarantees that would create immediate consequences for the US if it pulls out of the deal or sanctions exemptions for a certain time period after the US withdraws.
During earlier negotiations in 2021, when the two sides were close to a deal, Iran wanted President Biden to give a guarantee that the US would stay in the agreement just for his term in office, but he refused, and the talks stalled.