US must guarantee it will not leave nuclear deal again, says Iran
A US guarantee that it will never unilaterally leave the Iran nuclear deal again is vital to a successful conclusion of talks in Vienna on the terms of Washington’s return to the agreement, the Iranian ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, has said.
His comments are the clearest official signal yet that disagreements between the US and Iran on how such a guarantee might be constructed remain a serious obstacle. Donald Trump took the US out of the nuclear deal in 2018, only three years afterhis predecessor, Barack Obama, had signed it.
Takht-Ravanchi said that unless some US guarantee of stability was provided, European and other investors would not have the confidence to invest in the Iranian economy.
US diplomats have said such a legally enforceable guarantee cannot be negotiated if only because one US administration cannot bind another or Congress to it. Nor could Washington be left reliant on UN approval to leave the deal if it believed Tehran was flouting its terms because that would in effect make US policy subject to a Russian veto at the UN security council, they said.
The Vienna talks have lasted three months and six rounds so far. Most details have been agreed, but no date has been set for a seventh round as Iran prepares for its new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, to take office and possibly appoint a new foreign minister more hostile to the US than the incumbent Mohammad Javad Zarif.
It is now likely the talks will not recommence until Iran is satisfied that it has the guarantees it requires or compromises on its demand. Ali Bagheri Kani, a hardliner, is tipped to be in charge of the transition in the foreign ministry.
Speaking at a UN security council meeting, the French envoy to the UN, Nicolas De Rivière, said Iran had come closer than ever to a nuclear threshold during the three months of talks, and that the negotiations could not be allowed to drag on indefinitely.
“The parameters and the benefits of a return to the agreement will not be the same after a certain period of time,” he said.
He pointed to Iranian “research and development on the production of uranium metal; the enrichment of uranium first at 20% since the beginning of the year and then at a rate of 60%, without there being any civilian need in Iran for such enrichment rates; accumulation of advanced centrifuges in enrichment facilities, etc. As a result, Iran today has never been so close to a threshold capacity”.
The EU is coordinating the Vienna talks, and its ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog, told the security council the EU was encouraged that the US had “expressed readiness” to lift sanctions tied to the nuclear deal, something advocated by the UN secretary general, António Guterres.
But Skoog said: “It is clear that time is not on our side and that what might be possible still today may prove impossible in the near future. We have a limited diplomatic window ahead of us that we should not miss.”
In a further complication, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran said he backed an investigation of Raisi’s involvement in the mass killing of Iranian prisoners in 1988.
Javaid Rehman told Reuters on Monday that his office was willing to share testimonies and evidence collected on the Iranian executions with the UN human rights council or any other investigative body.
“I think it is time and it’s very important now that Mr Raisi is the president that we start investigating what happened in 1988 and the role of individuals,” he said.
Writing in the Guardian, the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said: “The families of the victims, as well as the world, have a right to know exactly what Raisi did during this gruesome episode. Diplomatic immunity can be no excuse in redoubling efforts to bring those responsible to justice.”
Robertson was asked in 2010 to conduct an independent investigation into the killing of the prisoners, regarded as terrorists and traitors by Tehran.