Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 17, 2022

Iran protests (further) scuttle nuclear deal

The prospects of a revived nuclear agreement with Iran are dim. After a summer when negotiators seemed to be resolving the last few stumbling blocks, September saw the same problems return.

Now, weeks of protests in Iran over the death of a young woman arrested by the state's morality police have pushed a deal even further out of reach. The Biden administration responded to the protests by imposing new economic sanctions on Iran.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said striking a deal on what is called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not the administration's focus right now.

"The Iranians have made very clear that this is not a deal that they have been prepared to make," Price said in an Oct. 12 press briefing. "A deal certainly does not appear imminent. Iran's demands are unrealistic; they go well beyond the scope of the JCPOA." 

Iran has highlighted two matters, and both are problematic.

Iran would like a guarantee that the U.S. won't back out of the deal again. Former President Donald Trump made that move in 2018, despite his own State Department's report that Iran was in compliance. President Joe Biden can't make that promise, because the agreement is not and never was a treaty. A treaty requires the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, and that is not in the cards with a 50-50 Senate.

Iran also wants the International Atomic Energy Agency to stop investigating uranium traces found at three undeclared sites in Iran. Although the IAEA provides the inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities that lie at the heart of any agreement, it is not a signatory to the agreement itself.

Over the past few months, Iran has gone back and forth on these demands. At times, there were occasional, unofficial hints that Iran had backed off, only to be followed by a public rejection of flexibility.

Iran may have dropped a third demand, that the U.S. stop listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, but that requirement, too, might remain on the table. 

Matthew Kroenig, professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University, credits Biden with making a good-faith effort to revive the agreement.

"The biggest hurdle to a deal is that Tehran is divided," Kroenig said. "The Supreme Leader and those around him are not certain they want a deal at all, regardless of the terms. The two remaining issues of dispute, therefore, are mostly pretexts for Iran to buy time. That is why the IAEA issue has been open, shut and open again."

Kroenig said his concern is that Iran is steadily moving toward acquiring all it needs to produce a nuclear warhead, and "Washington does not have an effective strategy to stop it."

When the 2015 agreement was in force, it bought the international community (China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the U.S. and the European Union) about 15 years of knowing Iran's nuclear program would remain manageable.

Iran had agreed to caps on uranium enrichment and limits on the amount of nuclear material it could stockpile. Iran had also curtailed its use of advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium. In exchange, it was free of most international trade sanctions.

When Trump unilaterally backed out of the deal and reimposed sanctions, Iran waited about a year before ignoring the JCPOA limits. It recently expanded its use of advanced centrifuges that would have been prohibited under the agreement.

Biden still has two years to see whether the 2015 deal can be revived. For now, we rate this promise Stalled.


Our Sources

Council on Foreign Relations, What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?, July 20, 2022

Mehr News Agency, Iran confirms enrichment at 3rd cascade in Natanz, Oct. 12, 2022

Reuters, Iran racing to expand enrichment at underground plant, IAEA report shows, Oct. 11, 2022

U.S. State Department, Press briefing, Oct. 12, 2022

U.S. State Department, Press Briefing, Sept. 26, 2022

U.S. State Department, Press briefing, Sept. 7, 2022

U.S. State Department, Press briefing, Aug. 30, 2022

U.S. State Department, Press briefing, Aug. 16, 2022

AP, Biden juggles Iran nuke talks as Iranian repression grows, Oct. 5, 2022

Reuters, Iran has dropped some demands for nuclear deal, U.S. official says, Aug. 23, 2022

Reuters, EU's Borrell has received response from Iran in nuclear talks - spokesperson, Sept. 2, 2022

Bloomberg, Blinken Says Revival of Iran Nuclear Deal 'Unlikely' for Now, Sept. 12, 2022

Email exchange, Matthew Kroenig, professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Oct. 7, 2022

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg June 22, 2021

Preliminary talks underway to revive the Iran nuclear deal

Joe Biden told voters during his campaign that he would revive the 2015 agreement that constrained Iran's nuclear program. five months into his term as president, he has yet to achieve that goal, but talks are underway. There is some optimism that the United States and Iran will come to terms, but with a new Iranian president due to take over, the hurdles may have become higher. 

To recap, the 2015 multinational agreement that rolled back Iran's nuclear program, lifted sanctions, and opened the country to international inspections required regular certification of compliance. The formal name of the agreement is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

In a March 21, 2018 briefing, the U.S. State Department said Iran was living up to the deal.

On May 8, 2018, Trump announced that the United States would re-impose economic sanctions on Iran and Washington would no longer hold to the agreement.

Trump pursued a path of "maximum pressure." The plan was to cause such economic damage that Iran's leaders would be forced to not just rejoin the deal, but agree to stricter controls on its missile program and other military activities.

In response, Iran began gradually to ignore limits in the agreement on its uranium enrichment activities. Under the JCPOA, Iran had agreed not to enrich uranium above the 3.67% concentration point. In July 2019, the country announced it would enrich beyond that mark.

In early January 2021, Iran went further. In the presence of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, it said it began enriching about 137 kilograms of uranium to the 20% point. At the end of January, Iran said it would restrict the ability of international inspectors to track its nuclear processing activities. It later dialed back that threat, agreeing to a three-month extension.

Both sides said they were open to returning to the agreement, but were stuck on who should take the first step. Iran said the U.S. must first drop the economic sanctions imposed by Trump. The U.S. wanted Iran to first commit to getting back into compliance.

The logjam cleared when the European Union announced April 1 that it would hold a meeting of all the original partners to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia — with Iran and the United States participating, without having to be in the same room at the same time. The State Department called this a "positive step."

The indirect talks have led to ongoing discussions about the steps all parties can take to get back to the terms of the JPCOA. Nothing is yet in writing, but the general tone is upbeat.

"I suspect the United States and Iran will manage to return to the 2015 nuclear deal later this year, but they will not be able to find agreement on the bigger deal sought by the Biden administration," said Georgetown University's Matthew Kroenig. 

Incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi rejected the idea of expanding the scope of a new agreement.

At the Arms Control Association, executive director Daryl Kimball welcomes the new talks, but warns that Trump created some "tough issues to hammer out."

"While it is relatively clear what Iran needs to do to return to compliance, there are some more complexities regarding some of the sanctions measures that were imposed by the Trump administration," Kimball said. "The U.S. retains the right to impose sanctions for non-nuclear reasons, whether it's terrorism or human rights violations. So unraveling which of these must be lifted and which will not is complex."

With talks underway, we rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA and Iran - IAEA Reports, accessed April 21, 2021

White House, Remarks by President Biden at the 2021 Virtual Munich Security Conference, Feb. 19, 2021 

U.S. State Department, Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability, March 24, 2021

U.S. State Department, Department Press Briefing, April 1,2021

Center for Strategic and International Studies, Nuclear Proliferation Challenges Facing the Biden Administration, Feb. 4, 2021

AP, 'First step:' US, Iran to begin indirect nuclear-limit talks, April 2, 2021

AP, Iran's election unsettles Biden's hope for a nuclear deal, June 22, 2021

Congressional Research Service, U.S. Decision to Cease Implementing the Iran Nuclear Agreement, May 9, 2018

Reuters, Much more work needed in Iran nuclear talks despite progress, EU says, April 20, 2021

BBC, Iran nuclear deal: Government announces enrichment breach, July 7, 2019

Email exchange, Matthew Kroenig, professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University, April 20, 2021

Email exchange, Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association, April 20, 2021


Latest Fact-checks