“Israeli officials are hearing from Washington that it looks like there will not be a [new Iran nuclear] deal in the next few days,” Lahav Harkov told participants in the Jewish Policy Center’s webinar on “The Scary Parameters of the New Iran Deal.” In that case, resumption of the process “probably would be put off until after the mid-term” congressional elections November 8.
Harkov, a senior contributing editor and diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, said in her September 8 presentation that European Union mediators handed Tehran a “take-it-or-leave-it” draft pact to renew the Obama administration’s 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action this summer. The Iranians replied “yes, but.”
They wanted “guarantees and safeguards,” she said. These included assurances no future U.S. chief executive would leave the deal as President Donald Trump did in 2018, imposing a “maximum pressure” economic sanctions campaign, and that businesses would trade with Iran. Harkov noted “those kinds of guarantees don’t exist in the U.S. system,” including authority to bind a future president or to force firms to do business with foreign countries. Given the history of U.S.-Iran relations, and Iran’s exclusion from much of the international banking system, companies might be reluctant to connect with Iran even if sanctions were lifted.
In any case, Biden administration officials will continue to seek a renewed agreement, “while still talking about putting Iran back into the box,” Harkov said. That means “Iran sort of has the upper hand when and how negotiations happen.”
Harkov, who has written also for Commentary, the New York Post and National Interest, said the “broad strokes” of the draft negotiated include lifting of many economic sanctions, reinstated restrictions on Iran’s nuclear developments, then gradual expiration of those restrictions while sanctions would remain lifted. A joint commission of most countries involved in the talks—the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran, but not the United States—would oversee inauguration of JCPOA 2.0 from “Day Zero” to “Implementation Day” 165 days out. Only then would America join the commission.
But in the meantime, Iranian asset worth billions of dollars frozen overseas would begin to be released. “By 2023, sunset provisions” from the original JCPOA would start to take hold, easing then ending certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear projects. By 2025, the “snapback sanctions” that Washington unsuccessfully tried to invoke in the face of European resistance in 2020, would expire. In 2026, restrictions on Iranian production of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would sunset and in 2030, “nuclear restrictions would completely expire … including on heavy water” used as a coolant in some reactors, Harkov noted.
In addition, unlike under the first JCPOA, the Iranians “don’t have to transfer their stockpile [of enriched uranium out of the country.” Instead, they may retain it on Iranian soil “under IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] seal,” Harkov pointed out. Tehran’s race to 60 percent enrichment after U.S. withdrawal from the deal “was the fastest of any country without weapons,” she added. Ninety percent enrichment—not a large jump technically from 60 percent—is weapons grade. Under the new agreement, Iran eventually would reduce enrichment to five percent.
“The vast majority of the Israeli security establishment opposes returning to the deal,” Harkov said. “But the Biden administration is determined, like the Obama administration to get [the first one], to return to it.”
Persian Gulf Arab states, including those that signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, see Iran differently than the Jewish state, she said. “For Israel, Iran is an ‘existential threat,’ but for Gulf states a “strategic’ threat, not existential.” Disappointed with the United States, “they are turning more to China. … The United States is sort of squandering allies in the Middle East.”
Should Iran achieve nuclear weapons, other regional powers, including Saudi Arabia and perhaps Turkey, will also attempt to acquire them, Harkov said.