Oil on June 8 fell sharply on a report that Iran and the US are nearing an interim deal that would allow Tehran to export up to 1mn barrels per day (bpd) of oil under a Washington sanctions waiver in return for ceasing certain uranium enrichment activities.
Texas Intermediate crude declined 4.8% to slip below $70 a barrel before paring some losses after the White House called the report false. "This report is false and misleading," said a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council. "Any reports of an interim deal are false."
Direct face-to-face talks on the temporary deal have taken place on US soil between US special envoy on Iran Robert Malley and Amir Saeed Iravani, Iran's recently appointed ambassador to the United Nations, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the talks cited by London-based Middle East Eye (MEE) on June 8.
The sources were further reported as saying that Malley has engaged in several face-to-face meetings with Iravani and that the two sides have reached an agreement to take to their respective superiors.
Under the terms of the deal, MEE reported, Iran would pledge to cease its 60%-and-beyond uranium enrichment activities and would continue co-operating with the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on monitoring and verification that aims to ensure that its nuclear development programme does not move beyond the civil sphere. The 60%-activities are of concern given that from that enrichment point, according to experts, it would not take too much effort from Iran to get to 90%-enriched weapons-grade uranium.
In exchange, the sources were said to have divulged, Tehran would be permitted to export the 1mn bpd oil volume and obtain access to income and other funds frozen abroad by US sanctions action. Those funds would have to be exclusively used to purchase essential humanitarian items such as food and medication.
Former American president Donald Trump introduced a policy of seeking to drive Iranian oil exports to zero after in 2018 unilaterally pulling the US out of the multilateral nuclear deal, or JCPOA, that was agreed by Iran and world powers in 2015.
The JCPOA lifted major economic sanctions on Iran in return for verifiable guarantees that Tehran would not pursue the making of a nuclear bomb. Though Iran was said by the IAEA to be in full compliance with the nuclear deal, Trump opted to base his Iran policy on the use of sanctions unprecedented in their scope and weight.
In response to the US exit from the JCPOA, Iran adopted a posture that has seen it gradually break almost all of its stipulations.
Given the progress that Iran has made with its nuclear programme since the Trump years, the US would almost certainly not return to the JCPOA without a major renegotiation of the deal. However, attempts to facilitate such a reshaping of the JCPOA have so far foundered, with the US and Iran never coming face to face at talks but relying on European and other intermediaries to outline their positions.
MEE also reported its sources as saying that Malley warned that if Iran started enriching uranium to 90%, the Pentagon would take over the Iranian nuclear issue from the US State Department.
A decisive military attack on the Iranian nuclear programme by the US, Israel or both countries acting together could prove impossible to effectively execute because Iran is moving some nuclear activities to deep within a mountain, according to some reports.