US senators see little hope of restoring Obama nuclear deal

The UN nuclear watchdog said on May 30 that it estimated Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit laid down in Tehran's 2015 deal with world powers.  AFP  /  Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran

US senators see little hope of restoring Iran nuclear deal

Following classified hearing with senior officials, senators say chance for breakthrough ‘much smaller today than they were six months ago’

High-ranking US senators expressed pessimism on Wednesday over the possibility of restoring the Iran nuclear deal and warned of the absence of any “Plan B” if no agreement is reached.

Following a classified hearing featuring Brett McGurk, the White House co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, and Robert Malley, the special envoy for Iran, senators spoke on how the officials had indicated the window of opportunity to return to the deal signed in 2015 to curb Iran’s nuclear programme was closing quickly.

“The chances of a breakthrough are much smaller today than they were six months ago,” Democrat Chris Murphy told a reporter for Jewish Insider.

Russian contractors are seen working at the Bushehr nuclear reactor site in south of Iran, Tuesday, April 3, 2007.  Photographer: Yalda Moaiery/document IRAN/ Bloomberg News.

Russian contractors work at the Bushehr nuclear reactor site in 2007. The plant opened four years later. Bloomberg 

President Joe Biden’s administration has engaged in eight rounds of indirect talks with Iranian officials in the Austrian capital of Vienna to resurrect the deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — which the US withdrew from in 2018 under former president Donald Trump.

The deal is designed to cap Iran’s nuclear activities and prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon.

Those efforts unravelled in March after the US refused to remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of terrorist organisations.

But Republican Marco Rubio said that there is no Plan B if negotiations fail — “certainly not one [the Biden administration has] shown to us”.

And Republican Ted Cruz called the White House strategy an “absolute dumpster fire”. In comments to reporters and confirmed for The National, he accused the administration of having neither a Plan A nor a Plan B, 

Mr Cruz previously lauded Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal, calling it “a great accomplishment for the American people”.

Despite criticism, Bob Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and host of the hearing, said the administration is leaning towards continuing the indirect talks instead of withdrawing and ramping up sanctions.

Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said this month that Iran is only a few weeks away from having a “significant quantity of enriched uranium”, which is defined as “the approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded”.

Henry Rome, a senior analyst at the Eurasia group, predicted a prolonged stand-off between the US and Iran.

“In the coming months, the US and Iran will likely remain in an awkward form of limbo: neither side wants to close the door to a revival of the 2015 accord, but neither is willing to take the difficult political decisions that would make a deal possible,” Mr Rome told The National.

He added that Iran’s recent escalation by reducing “international access, expansion of advanced centrifuge deployment and refusal to discuss undeclared nuclear material all undermine the idea that Tehran is trying to preserve space for an agreement”.

The Iranian nuclear file is expected to top Mr Biden’s first visit to the Middle East next month where he will travel to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Biden will make it “clear that the United States is fully committed to supporting the territorial defence of our partners against threats from Iran or elsewhere”, a senior US official said earlier this week.

Updated: June 15, 2022, 2:25 PM

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