The U.S. also has little room to maneuver, says Sam Hickey, an analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
“There are a lot of political reasons not to want to take on the extra baggage of securing a deal at the moment,” he said. “We have the upcoming midterm elections, and so frankly, any efforts to lift sanctions on Iran would hurt the Democrats, and likely it would be fuel for the Republicans.”
Both Vaez and Hickey both say securing a deal would be beneficial for all parties — but that while it may be possible, it does not seem probable.
Both sides will be better off with an agreement that would “freeze the cycle of escalation,” Vaez said, with a stopgap measure that would see Iran ceasing to accumulate highly enriched uranium in exchange for its oil returning to the market.
“I do believe there is an opportunity in the next few months to try to explore the possibility of this kind of stopgap agreement, even though it’s hard to be optimistic about even that option because the two sides have mismatched expectations,” he said.
But while Iran and the U.S. might seem comfortable enough with the deadlock at the moment, Hickey says it’s ultimately unsustainable.
“The status quo where Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance relatively slowly and the U.S. continues to put more economic sanctions on the program and attempts to diplomatically isolate Iran — that that paradigm cannot exist indefinitely, and I’m very uncertain that it can even last another two years,” he said. “Now, we’re kind of continuing along an escalatory ladder, but we are really running out of rungs on the ladder.”
Though the U.S has other means of trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they also come at a cost.
“The problem is every time the administration ups the ante, the Iranians retaliate,” Hickey said.
Hickey says this is already playing out in a dangerous way, with Tehran responding to a U.S.-led international censure by blocking the United Nation’s atomic energy watchdog’s attempts to monitor its nuclear program — creating a scenario where Biden’s “last resort” could easily become reality.
“It’s getting to the point where it is incredibly difficult for U.N. nuclear inspectors to confirm exactly what fissile material Iran has and where it is. It could fuel speculation that Iran is diverting that material for some later time. And that’s going to lead to military confrontation,” he said.
He added, “That would not be confined to the borders of Iran. That would spread through to every country in the region.” Read more