Negotiations to return to a nuclear deal with Iran have been intensifying for several weeks. The European Union has already submitted the final text to re-establish the pact with Tehran and the United States has already sent a response to Brussels on the proposal. Iran, for its part, is reaffirming its demands: that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard be removed from the US list of terrorist organisations and that sanctions against the regime be lifted.
In recent days, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has also asserted that there is "no point" in returning to the nuclear deal if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not stop its research on Iran's nuclear power plants.
In addition to Tehran's conditions, Israel's stance and its pressure on Western countries make it difficult to return to a deal. Prime Minister Yair Lapid has called the latest draft proposed by the EU "unacceptable", stating that the current text would not prevent Iran from becoming a "nuclear state". Furthermore, according to the Israeli leader, the offer presented by Brussels would allow Tehran to "undermine regional stability and promote terrorism".
In order to try to shape the deal, Mossad chief David Barnea will travel to the United States next week. The visit - part of Israeli efforts to try to influence the nuclear deal - comes on the heels of a trip to Washington by defence minister Benny Gantz and national security adviser Eyal Hulata.
Although a number of issues remain to be resolved, the process to return to an agreement has experienced significant momentum recently. This push may be due to the current energy crisis and rising oil prices, as an imminent deal with Iran could be a shot in the arm for the oil sector.
According to data from the company Kpler gathered by Bloomberg, there are around 93 million barrels of Iranian crude oil stored in vessels located in the Persian Gulf, off the coast of Singapore and near China. On the other hand, the Vortexa company estimates stocks at between 60 and 70 million barrels.
"Iran has built up a sizeable flotilla of cargoes that could reach the market fairly soon," John Driscoll, an analyst at JTD Energy Pte Ltd, told the US media. Should a nuclear deal be reached and sanctions against Iran lifted, Tehran could return to selling its oil to countries currently trying to wean themselves off energy dependence on Russia.
"While Iran aims to fill the vacuum left by Russia in Europe, i.e. Spain, Italy, Greece and even Turkey, Tehran will also try to regain its share of the prized Asian market," Driscoll explains. Driscoll notes that Iran could supply Europe by taking advantage of the vacuum caused by sanctions against Russia, although "in the long term Tehran will be looking for deals in Asia".
In fact, according to Emma Li, an analyst at Vortexa, China has remained among the main consumers of Iranian oil. Likewise, the Asian giant has become Russia's biggest crude oil customer since the West imposed sanctions on Moscow.
Before former President Donald Trump abandoned the nuclear deal and imposed more sanctions against the Ayatollah regime in 2018, Iran was OPEC's third largest producer after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. A year earlier, in 2017, Tehran ranked fourth in global oil production, after the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
The latest developments in the nuclear deal also coincide with recent statements by Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who warned that OPEC may be forced to cut oil production. Since oil prices began to rise in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the United States has been trying to pressure Riyadh to increase oil production in order to lower prices. However, the kingdom has chosen to ignore Western demands.
As analysts point out to the Financial Times, the Saudi minister's comments could be a warning to Washington. Riyadh is wary of a return to a nuclear deal with Iran, its main rival, as it would allow Tehran to return to international oil markets.
In that case, "between 1 and 2 million barrels of crude a day could come to market in a relatively short period of time", Tamas Varga, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates, told CNBC.
In addition to countries grappling with rising oil prices, Russia may also be interested in a return to the nuclear deal. According to a POLITICO report based on statements by Western diplomats, Moscow plans to use Iran to circumvent sanctions if a deal is finally reached.
In that case, Russia and Iran are expected to initiate a "swap" process whereby Tehran would buy Russian oil for domestic use while, thanks to the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions, exporting its own to other countries.
Coordinator for the Americas: José Antonio Sierra