Iran’s Zarif Calls on EU to Coordinate Return to Nuclear Agreement
Israel’s energy minister says Iran is just months away from producing enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon
Israel’s energy minister said it will take Iran about six months to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as the one officials in the Biden administration have anticipated.
But Yuval Steinitz said Tuesday that punitive actions taken by the administration of former US President Donald Trump has “seriously damaged Iran’s nuclear project and entire force build-up.”
“In terms of enrichment, they are in a situation of breaking out in around half a year if they do everything required,” Steinitz said of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program during an interview with public broadcaster Kan. “As for nuclear weaponry, the range is around one or two years.”
His statement comes on the heels of similar comments made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who told NBC News on Monday that Iran could be ready to develop a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks.
In his first television interview since being confirmed last week by the US Senate, Blinken told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that the Islamic Republic could soon be able to enrich enough uranium to develop a nuclear weapon if it continues to violate the 2015 nuclear deal signed with the world powers. Blinken added that the Biden Administration would rejoin the landmark nuclear agreement if Tehran lives up to its agreements, and then work to negotiate a more comprehensive agreement.
Dr. Hamed Mousavi, a professor of political science at the University of Tehran, told The Media Line that the “accusations” of an impending nuclear weapon are pushed forward by Israel and have been circulating for decades, and they don’t amount to much.
“I think these accusations are made to muddy the water and make it more difficult for a rapprochement between Iran and the United States,” Mousavi said.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday asked the European Union to coordinate a synchronized return of both Washington and Tehran to the nuclear deal, which also was signed by Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Zarif, who has consistently demanded an end to sanctions on his country before Iran returns to compliance with the agreement, offered a way out of the diplomatic standoff during an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN International.
“You know clearly there can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize it, or coordinate what can be done,” he told Amanpour.
Zarif said that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell should play his role as coordinator of the 2015 nuclear agreement to “sort of choreograph the actions that are needed to be taken by the United States and the actions that are needed to be taken by Iran.”
“The United States needs to come back into compliance and Iran will be ready immediately to respond. The timing is not the issue,” he said.
Iranians are not going to appease Biden. They didn’t appease Trump, they were steadfast for four years despite the fact that Trump used ‘maximum pressure;’ the Iranians didn’t give him anything
Prof. Mohammad Marandi, head of the American Studies Department at Tehran University, told The Media Line that the European role is to “start encouraging the Americans to start abiding by their commitments.”
“Iranians are not going to appease Biden. They didn’t appease Trump, they were steadfast for four years despite the fact that Trump used ‘maximum pressure;’ the Iranians didn’t give him anything,” said Marandi.
Iran’s response to the US withdrawal from the agreement, and to the barrage of tough sanctions, came in May 2019, when it publicly reduced its compliance with most of the accord’s key commitments.
Prof. Meir Litvak, head of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies, told The Media Line that both countries would like to return to the JCPOA but with “some changes.”
Litvak says that the two countries may have to use back channels, including unofficial “Twitter diplomacy,” to try to bridge the gap.
“Iran wants the sanctions removed. It is urgent for their government to get the sanctions removed. What Iran has done so far in my view is to accumulate bargaining chips that will improve its status before going back to the negotiation table,” he said.
But it all comes down to “who will blink first,” he adds.
Jason Brodsky, policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, told The Media Line that “Iran and the United States are signaling to each other through the media.”
“Iranian officials keep telegraphing that the ‘window is closing,’ but US policymakers shouldn’t view the presidential election as a deadline. It’s the supreme leader – and not the president – who makes the final decision on these matters, and he has endorsed negotiations under hardline and pragmatic administrations alike,” said Brodsky.
Iranian experts beg to differ.
Mousavi rejects these assertions saying that there are “no negotiations taking place now between Iran and the United States.”
“For negotiations to begin, the Iranians are waiting for a show of goodwill from the American side and from Biden to fulfill his election promises of returning to the nuclear deal which he repeatedly stated,” Mousavi said.
Iranian officials also vehemently deny that their country has a nuclear arms project. Marandi says this program exists only in the imagination of Western officials.
Marandi called Blinken’s statements “irrelevant” given that it was Washington which pulled out of the landmark nuclear agreement and not Tehran.
“The Iranians continued to abide by their agreement after the Americans left and they only began reducing their commitments after the Americans left,” he said.
It’s the supreme leader – and not the president – who makes the final decision on these matters, and he has endorsed negotiations under hardline and pragmatic administrations alike
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Iranians say Trump broke trust by withdrawing from the nuclear deal, and that Biden has to take steps to repair that mistrust.
Washington’s policy toward Tehran has failed to force it back to the negotiation table. Iran’s position is that the nuclear deal is already in place and is a done deal.
Marandi says that the Americans “can’t abide by what they have already agreed on, new negotiations are meaningless.”
Iran, he added, “can only negotiate with entities that have shown themselves to be reliable in committing themselves to what has already been negotiated and agreed upon. When the Americans first comply with the JCPOA then we can talk about future negotiations. Americans have to show that they are reliable and trustworthy and, so far, they haven’t shown either.”
Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in 2018 and imposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic, calling the accord “a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.”
Since the Trump Administration pulled out of the agreement with Tehran two years ago, Washington has applied a “maximum pressure” campaign that has included crippling sanctions. In January 2020, Trump ordered the killing in Iraq of Iran’s most renowned military strategist, Gen. Qasem Soleiman, in a move that brought the two countries to the brink of war.
Biden was part of the administration of former President Barack Obama that forged the 2015 nuclear accord, which included the partial lifting of sanctions. The president said during his campaign that he would offer a “credible path back to diplomacy.”
US allies in the region have made their position clear to the new administration. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have urged the new US administration to include them in future negotiations with Iran.
These demands were spearheaded by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is emboldened with new normalization accords with four Arab states, two of which are Gulf states.
To appease the US’ allies, Biden has promised to be “tough on Iran,” insisting that his country’s return to the 2015 agreement would depend on the Islamic Republic coming back into “strict compliance with the nuclear deal.”
Litvak says the Biden administration has already said it will take into consideration consulting with the Arab Gulf countries and Israel over rejoining the nuclear deal. But, he says, the dilemma for the US administration is the public view held by Netanyahu and his military chief of staff that they want “zero” uranium enrichment in Iran.
This, Litvak argues, will make things more difficult.
“This is an unattainable situation. But if Israel continues to hold such a position the Americans will politely listen, but they will not take it into consideration,” he said.
If Netanyahu changes his approach, however, Israel may get the US’s ear, he added.
“If, on the other hand, Israel will take a more constructive position, saying we know the JCPOA has many loopholes and weaknesses but we want to improve it, then Israel can offer the Americas various constructive measures on which elements should be reformed. Then I think there’s a good chance the Americans will listen to the Israelis,” Litvak said.
Iranians have staunchly rejected discussing a new deal or involving new parties in the 2015 nuclear agreement.
“This will really complicate the situation because we already have Iran on one side and six countries on the other side of these negotiations and to add regional players will only complicate the situation and will make things much worse. We have to remember that Israelis and the Saudis have their own rivalries with Iran, and their try to force their positions onto a deal would be a nonstarter for Iran,” Livak said.
Iranians will head to the polls in June for a presidential election, a vote that will choose the successor to President Hassan Rouhani, who has served two four-year terms in office.
But Phillip Smyth, an expert on Iranian politics and 2018-2019 Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says the Iranian president “doesn’t really call the shots in Iran. The Supreme Leader does.”
Power in the Islamic Republic rests with the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“However, as with public statements pushed by the U.S., the Iranians can use their president and other officials as a way to signal the US. If a perceived ‘moderate’ is put forward, that could signal the Iranians think there’s an opportunity to push what they want via some form of negotiations. They understand how to sell something by putting a nice varnish on it,” he said.
And in a step that has been seen as conciliatory to the Islamic Republic, the new US administration has named Rob Malley, an architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as its special envoy to resume talks with Tehran.
Blinken “is building a dedicated team, drawing from clear-eyed experts with a diversity of views,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“Leading that team as our special envoy for Iran will be Rob Malley, who brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
On the whole, it seems that Biden’s team compared to Obama’s team are hardliners
“What’s important for Iran is the policies that come out of the White House. Individuals aren’t that important; on the whole, it seems that Biden’s team compared to Obama’s team are hardliners,” said Marandi.
Last week, Israeli Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the Israeli military’s chief of staff, was criticized by many Israeli politicians for statements he made regarding the Iran nuclear deal. Kochavi said that he felt a return by President Biden to the nuclear deal with Iran or similar arrangement would be a “bad thing operationally and strategically” as it would allow the Islamic Republic a fast track to building a bomb – something Iranian leadership has always denied it sought to do.
Kochavi said he has ordered the military to draw up new plans against Iran.
Litvak says this type of rhetoric is meant to affect future talks.
“I think it’s mostly part of negotiations, its mostly sending a message to the Americans. The military option doesn’t take a day or two, it takes a long time. I doubt very much that Israel can ever attack Iran without American consent and green light,” he concluded.