A potential nuclear deal may be secretly being negotiated between the United States and Iran, a deal that worries Israel, although it may defuse the current crisis, which could develop into a war because of the Iranian nuclear program.
While the United States and Iran don’t speak directly, they have relied on the European Union, Oman, and others to work out what might be possible in the absence of the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal).
This deal may include a form of sanctions relief and the unfreezing of up to $7 billion in financing owed to Iran, in exchange for Tehran standing at the maximum level of enrichment activities that prevents it from making further progress towards a possible nuclear weapon.
The visit of the Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq al Said to Tehran last week gave signals regarding the negotiations, as Oman considered as a partner and interlocutor trusted by Washington and Tehran alike.
The Sultan of Oman had a meeting with Supreme Leader of the Islamic republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speculation that there may be more impetus for US-Iranian undeclared diplomacy.
These speculations do not rule out a possible nuclear deal to defuse the crisis between Tehran and the West.
Oman played an active role in US and regional diplomacy with Iran, including the release and exchange of Western detainees there.
After Sultan Haitham’s visit, Iran released a Danish citizen and two Austrian citizens from detention after Oman mediated.
Their release follows the release of a Belgian and two French nationals in May.
Any progress in US-Iranian diplomacy ultimately depends on the return of the three US citizens held there – Siamak Namazi, Imad Sharji and Morad Tahbaz.
The latest reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Tehran’s nuclear program, point to what could be Iran’s post-JCPOA approach regarding its nuclear program.
The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency will met in Vienna on Monday.
According to the confidential estimates circulated to the member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency this week.
Iran has increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium by 27% over the past three months, and may have enough fuel to build a nuclear weapon in two weeks or less, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Otherwise, Iran stands at a US redline on expanding enrichment beyond 60 to 90%, or weapons grade, to avoid surprise UN sanctions or worse.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency is suspending old files on undeclared nuclear activities cases, and Iran has agreed to reinstall cameras and monitoring equipment at key facilities.
The IAEA report indicates that Iran may be willing to work within the constraints of its commitment as a member of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, in the absence of the JCPOA, assuming that the IAEA continues to work toward closing remaining safeguards.
On the other hand, Israel is concerned about the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the possibility of back channel diplomacy between the United States and Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “I have a very clear message for Iran and for the international community… Israel will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons”.
Meanwhile, the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah staged an unprecedented show of force in mid-May in southern Lebanon, and it comes, says Israeli journalist Ben Caspit, against the backdrop of escalating threats by Israel against Iran, and renewed hints of preparations for an Israeli military attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.
However, security coordination between Tel Aviv and Washington is still strong, and despite Israeli concerns, security coordination between the United States and Israel regarding Iran appears as high as ever.
The commander of US Central Command, General Michael Korella, who oversees all US military forces in the region, spent three days in Israel over the past week.
Senior Israeli national security officials (Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi) were all in Washington this week to discuss Iran and other issues with their American counterparts.
Israeli officials heard congressional testimony on March 23 by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, in which he said Iran could produce enough fissile material for four or five nuclear bombs in less than two weeks, an assessment known to Israeli intelligence.
“What stunned the Israeli defense establishment was Milley’s claim that once Iran produced enough military uranium, it could build a nuclear weapon within several more months”.
Concern in the Gulf about the lack of clarity in Washington’s approach
With the Biden administration setting aside the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the administration prefers to pursue a diplomatic approach towards Iran that gives priority to de-escalation and stopping conflict in the region and its nuclear issues.
Although the United States has strengthened its overall deterrent stance and supported regional initiatives to defuse tensions with Iran, including the Saudi-Iranian agreement to resume relations in March, Gulf capitals are uneasy about what they see as the lack of clarity about US policy in the region, especially after Iran seized two oil tankers on April 27 and May 3.
The UAE’s foreign ministry said on May 31 that it was withdrawing its participation from the Combined Maritime Forces coalition, although the United States had not received formal notice of the withdrawal.
The Biden administration may not mind Israeli pressure and the threat of force to keep Iran under control until you reach some kind of diplomatic understanding with Tehran.
For now, a minimum deal arrangement may be the most realistic possibility, given the political headwinds in both Washington and Tehran, and some concern about US and Iranian intentions in the region.