Recent events seem to put the chances of an Iranian return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between slim and none. First, you have Tehran confirming the recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that concluded that Iran has expanded its production of weapons-grade uranium to 60 percent purity.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh put those actions down to the "non-implementation" of the nuclear agreement and US sanctions unilaterally imposed by the previous Donald Trump administration. News agency ISNA quoted Khatibzadeh as saying that Iran would resume its technical obligations under the agreement when the 2015 agreement is implemented in accordance with the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and sanctions are lifted.
Those snide remarks aside, the 60 percent enrichment figure – Iran’s highest-ever levels – by itself might be enough to make the heads of some US foreign policy hawks spontaneously combust.
Worse, you have the US cutting a much-diminished figure on the global stage with its botched Afghanistan evacuation. Back home, the Biden administration is taking serious flack with the chaotic scenes of US troops and diplomats leaving Kabul reminiscent of those witnessed in Saigon. The US president’s approval rating has fallen below 50 percent for the first time with his feeble arguments that the withdrawal could not have been managed better (come on, man) not gaining any ground with the public.
That, in the backdrop of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna (since April) on a possible return to the deal going nowhere (and quickly at that) as the Biden team continues to push unrealistic demands and the Iranians in running out the clock mode.
As Daniel Larison wrote in Responsible Statecraft: "There is a worrisome report that the Biden administration is entertaining the idea of demanding that Iran abandon domestic enrichment and participate in a regional nuclear fuel bank. Not only would this proposal be a non-starter with the Iranian government, which has never been willing to give up on domestic enrichment, but it might also give the new government under Raisi a pretext to walk away from the talks."
All the while Biden continues to blithely barrel ahead with the aim of restoring the deal in face of significant domestic opposition (including some in his own party).
"The Biden administration still has time to salvage the nuclear deal, but they will squander it if they heed the bad faith advice of Iran hawks that have never wanted their diplomacy to succeed," Larison added.
Worse, Biden also continues to persist with the failed “maximum pressure” strategy implemented by the previous administration targeting Iran’s oil exports its domestic manufacturing, banks and other sectors.
As Geoff Lamear, writing in Business Insider, put it: "Iran went from having less than 300 kg of enriched uranium in May 2018, when the sanctions campaign began, to having over 3,200 kg in June 2021. Regional security is more precarious than before, with Iranian attacks on oil tankers continuing from 2019 to the present.”
"Iranian leadership doesn't see sanctions relief as an incentive to avoid further punishment, but as a ruse so Washington can redouble the punishment and extract more concessions," he further wrote.
Iran, meanwhile, seems to be on bit of a roll.
Tehran is set to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – a Eurasian counterbalance to the US and NATO – in a clear signal that the grouping led by the big boys China and Russia is decoupling its membership from the nuclear deal and US sanctions.
Further, Tehran also set to receive $400 billion over 25 years from Beijing and possibly even brought into the fold of its Belt and Road Initiative with a possible push to link its Chababar Port to Gwadar Port in Pakistan.
Iran’s new boss meets old boss
While newly sworn-in hardline Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi – who has taken much glee in the United States’ exit from Afghanistan – has previously said he favours a return to the tattered nuclear deal which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, his boss seems to think otherwise.
After all, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in July seemed to signal trouble when he described the US as being “stubborn” during talks while discussing Tehran’s missiles and regional influence. Khamenei, describing Hassan Rouhani’s eight-year government as naive for its approach in reaching the 2015 agreement — even as Rouhani and his Cabinet sat before him in a farewell meeting — is calling for a far more adversarial approach to the West.
“Others should use your experiences. This experience is a distrust of the West,” Khamenei said in remarks broadcast by State television. “In this government, it was shown up that trust in the West does not work.”
He added: “Westerners do not help us, they hit wherever they can.”
With a Biden administration reeling domestically and retreating abroad, the hardliners firmly in control of Iran, and Russia and China – adversaries of the United States in The Great Game – having little interest in lending Washington a helping hand, a return of Tehran to the nuclear deal does not seem to be on the cards.