What to expect as Iran nuclear talks resume next week

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Analysts say the new round of talks is unlikely to lead to success, but it will shed light on the new Iranian government’s stance.

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Washington DC – Indirect talks between Iran and the United States to revive the nuclear deal are set to resume next week after a long pause that has cast doubts on the prospects of restoring the historic deal.

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Although not expected to be a success, analysts have said that talks that begin in Vienna on November 29 will shed light on how Tehran will approach diplomacy under conservative President Ibrahim Raisi, whose government negotiated a return to the deal with Iran. The demands have been pushed forward.

“We’re going to find out how different these [Iranian] The radicals are from the past radicals; We’re going to find out if they’re going to be a little softer,” said Negar Murtazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and analyst.

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“And we’re also going to find out whether Americans really feel they’ve missed an opportunity, and they should change their position somewhat.”

Supporters of the deal, including Mortazavi, criticized US President Joe Biden for not proceeding promptly to restore the agreement in the first months of his administration, when there was a more liberal Iranian government led by former President Hassan Rouhani.

Six rounds of talks in Vienna between April and June failed to make way for a return to the agreement. “That golden window of opportunity was small, and the Biden team completely missed it,” Mortazavi told Al Jazeera.

‘Carefully pessimistic’

With conservatives in charge in Tehran, Iran gaining difficult-to-reversible nuclear expertise and Biden appears reluctant to unilaterally ease sanctions, Murtazavi said he was “cautiously pessimistic” about the talks’ chances of success. ” Is.

But the fact that Iran has agreed to return to the negotiating table in the Austrian capital is a welcome sign of diplomacy, experts said.

Progressive groups have called on Biden to pursue “goodwill gestures” toward Iran ahead of the talks, such as some Iranian assets for humanitarian purposes that have been placed under US sanctions.

Yet despite former President Donald Trump branding his campaign against Iran a “maximum pressure” as a failureThe Biden administration has continued to implement Trump-era sanctions, imposing new sanctions of its own.

Trump scrapped the multilateral nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018. Biden vowed to reinstate it, insisting that diplomacy was the best option for containing Iran’s nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Iran has stepped up its nuclear programme, which was curtailed by the deal. It is enriching uranium at 60 percent, compared to the 3.67 percent allowed by the deal. It is also using more advanced centrifuges.

Tehran maintains that its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes, but US officials warn that recent progress in the Iranian nuclear program has significantly shortened the “breakout time” that Iran needs to collect enough material for a nuclear weapon. is required.

Iranian officials have insisted that their country’s violation of the JCPOA is in response to US sanctions and that Iran is still a party to the agreement, unlike the US. He has said that as a party to the accord, Washington should remove all sanctions.

Iran has no reason to give up its rights and entitlements guaranteed by the deal unless the violating and non-compliant party, in practice, demonstrates its commitment to the JCPOA. Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s deputy foreign minister who will lead the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna, told Al Jazeera earlier this week.

broad american diplomacy

Sina Azodi, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council think-tank, also said Biden “wasted a golden opportunity” by not starting talks earlier – but it is still possible to find a workable settlement.

He suggested working toward an interim deal that would result in the easing of some US sanctions and halt Iran’s nuclear progress to buy time for more comprehensive talks. However, one of the challenges will be to address the nuclear know-how acquired by Iran.

“You can’t really destroy the knowledge and experience that the Iranians have already acquired,” Azodi told Al Jazeera. “Whether America will be okay with it, I’m not sure.”

US and Israeli officials have sounded alarm bells over a nuclear attack. Israel, which opposes the JCPOA, has threatened to “take action” against Iran at any time. Biden and his top aides have also offered “other options” against Iran if diplomacy fails.

US envoy to Iran Robert Mali told National Public Radio (NPR) this week that the US is looking at “other efforts – diplomatic and otherwise” if Iran chooses not to return to the JCPOA. “If they start getting too close, too close for comfort, of course, we’re not going to be prepared to sit idly by,” he said.

But the Biden administration is active on the diplomatic front.

The US is heading to Vienna after its Arab partners in the Gulf region, during a visit to Mali last week, offered public support for US efforts to restore the JCPOA. Washington’s Gulf allies, particularly Riyadh, previously stood openly opposed to the deal.

In a joint statement on November 17, the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council working group on Iran said the withdrawal of full compliance with the agreement would “pave the way for inclusive diplomatic efforts to resolve all issues necessary to ensure lasting security”. ” Security and prosperity in the region”.

Ryan Costello, policy director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a Washington-based group advocating for diplomacy with Iran, called the statement “important”.

“Now, we’ve tested an alternative to the JCPOA – maximum pressure – and it really worsened security in the region, there were attacks on oil tankers, and no one benefited. And as Trump demonstrated, America must not gonna fight [the Gulf nations’] Fight for them,” Costello told Al Jazeera.

The Biden administration has also sought to align its position with the three European signatories to the deal, known as E3 – Germany, the UK and France. gardener too negotiated With Russian and Chinese diplomats last week.

“Saudi and the emirate in the least are not opposing this, not trying to undermine the talks, I think this is a positive step,” Azodi said.

US domestic challenges

Still, the resumption of the Vienna talks comes at a politically difficult moment for Biden domestically.

The administration is urging Congress to pass an ambitious $1.75 trillion social spending plan ahead of crucial midterm elections a year from now, while tackling rising inflation and a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections as the world battles the pandemic. Struggling to make ends meet.

On foreign policy, Biden is still dealing with the repercussions of a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, with some Republicans calling for his resignation. And while the JCPOA still enjoys the support of the American public, according to public opinion ElectionSome top Democrats in Congress are skeptical about the deal, and Republicans are almost unanimously opposing it.

The deal can be reinstated through executive action, but it requires political capital from the president, whose Democratic Party has a small majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. Any US concession to Iran is likely to be criticized at home.

Costello said continuing domestic issues and close differences in Congress “limit attention to international affairs”, making it difficult for the president to pursue major foreign policy initiatives that are controversial.

“I think this is another factor that slowed things down in the first half of this year when it re-engaged with Iran,” he said.

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