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JCPOA talks: Deal or no deal?


A restored nuclear deal may not be as strong and comprehensive as originally hoped but given what is at stake, a deal with Iran is still better than no deal.

The Iran nuclear negotiations in Vienna, aimed at resurrecting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) after President Trump’s 2018 withdrawal, have entered their eighth round. After a number of delays and disagreements, the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China (known as the P5+1) and Iran, led by the new Raisi administration, finally appear to be making progress at the technical level. This is partly due to Russia and China helping to steer Iran back to what had already been agreed and partly because the so-called Plan B scenarios remain so unappealing to all parties.

The JCPOA is a hugely complex, 154-page technical agreement. Narrowing the gaps on the issues of compliance, sanctions relief, sequencing and addressing deficiencies would require time, space and creativity under normal circumstances but is now made even harder because the Tehran delegation has refused to meet with the Biden team. While appetite for a deal remains high among all parties and would signal an important step forward in addressing the challenges posed by Iran, extreme levels of mistrust, a narrowing window of time, the danger of a miscalculation and escalatory risks continue to loom over the process and could make or break the deal once and for all.

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