Nuclear Talks Between Iran and US, EU on Hold as Each Rethinks Strategy
Iran is optimistic that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will benefit Tehran
It has been close to two months since the last meeting in Vienna took place between Iran and world powers in an attempt to revive the 2015 landmark Iran nuclear accord, and one week since US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns visited Israel for talks with Israeli officials centering on the deal.
At the same time, Iran has a new president, ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi, who was elected in early August to lead the Islamic Republic for the next four years.
After six rounds of nuclear talks since April, it’s unclear when negotiations will resume, but Iranian officials hinted that once a new government is in place the meetings can recommence.
Professor Mohammad Marandi, head of the American Studies Department at the University of Tehran, told The Media Line that for Iran the only important component of the deal is that the Americans must fully comply with the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“They have to come back to the negotiating table and implement the nuclear deal in full. Iran won’t allow the Americans to lift sanctions only partially. The Americans have to go back to 2015, the same is true for the Europeans,” he said.
Marandi dismissed the recent visit by the CIA chief to discuss Israeli demands of what a new deal should look like.
“It doesn’t really matter to Iran what the Israelis want, and the Israelis think, Iran doesn’t care about them,” he said.
But American and EU officials have voiced concern that Iran’s election of a hard-liner as president, amid the Islamic Republic’s insistence that sanctions must be lifted, may complicate matters.
“No, that’s not true, Mr. Raisi has nothing to do with the state of play. For the Iranians, whether under Rouhani or President Raisi, the important thing is that the Americans implement the nuclear deal, abide by all of their obligations and the Europeans abide by their obligations,” Marandi said.
Former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
They have to come back to the negotiating table and implement the nuclear deal in full. Iran won’t allow the Americans to lift sanctions only partially
Tehran and world powers have been holding talks in Vienna in an effort to return Washington to the 2015 nuclear deal, lift sanctions and bring Iran back in compliance with nuclear commitments it waived in retaliation for the reimposed sanctions.
“As long as the Americans and the Europeans stonewall, and as long as they want new concessions and as long as they want to keep sanctions that were put in place after the nuclear deal then we’re not going to have a deal and Iran will completely ignore its obligations,” Marandi said.
Shlomo Brom, a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line that the collapse of the negotiations is not imminent.
“I don’t think we are at the point of no return yet. It is too early to say what the intention of the new Iranian administration is, and Mr. (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei’s true intentions,” he said.
Brom explains that Israel has two demands that it wants the Biden administration to take into account when negotiating.
“The first demand of Israel will be that the US will insist on a long-range agreement, which will include other subjects, such as the general conduct of the Iranians in the Middle East and the issue of the ballistic missiles,” he said.
“The second demand, if all fails and there’s no new agreement, the two parties [US & Israel] will discuss further steps that need to be taken including the use of force if necessary and if Iran continues its progress in its military nuclear capabilities,” said Brom.
The US has made its position clear, saying that it will not let these negotiations continue endlessly.
Tension is on the rise between Israel and Iran in recent weeks after the deadly attack on a vessel, operated by a company partially owned by Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer, off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea.
Israel, the US and UK all accused Iran of being behind the attack.
It was the fifth attack against a ship connected to Israel since February, while Iran accuses Israel of carrying out several recent attacks on its vessels.
Iran also has accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear sites and killing a number of its scientists.
The “shadow war,” according to Brom, has been underway for a long time and the prime reason is not the lack of a nuclear agreement.
“I don’t think there is a clear connection between the semi-covert war and the nuclear agreement, because it was carried out also when the agreement was still effective, before President Trump withdrew from it,” Brom said.
It’s the assistance that Iran is giving to its proxies, and the use of its proxies to acquire influence and power in places like Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere and represent a threat to the security of the state of Israel. This kind of small war will continue regardless of the agreement
Brom argues that the attacks are an attempt to clamp down on Iran’s proxies in the region.
“It’s the assistance that Iran is giving to its proxies, and the use of its proxies to acquire influence and power in places like Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere and represent a threat to the security of the state of Israel. This kind of small war will continue regardless of the agreement,” he said.
Some observers have pointed out that the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will throw a wrench into efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA.
Brom disagrees. “I don’t think it’s so significant. It’s more important what the United States is doing in Iraq, and the Gulf states,” he said.
Brom says that some believe that Taliban taking control of Afghanistan will create a major headache for Iran.
“It’s good for the US when Iran has to turn its attention to another front and, I can be conspiratorial, the US can help that and push certain elements to provoke Iran,” he said.
However, the change of the guard in Afghanistan will not have an impact on the region, he says.
“I don’t think that what is happening in Afghanistan will have such have a big effect on the wider Middle East,” Brom said.
Marandi says the US has been “humiliated and significantly weakened” by the events in Kabul, and Iran’s “eastern boarders can become more normal.”
“It is a catastrophic defeat for the US. Also, Iran has been speaking and negotiating with the Taliban for two decades and Iran is cautiously optimistic that the Taliban today is significantly different from the Taliban of the past,” he said, adding that “therefore, now that the US and its agents are gone, Iran and Afghanistan may be able to develop more normal relations.”