Qatar Will Host Indirect Talks Between Iran and US, Iranian Officials Say
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Qatar Will Host Indirect Talks Between Iran and US, Iranian Officials Say

‘Existing differences’ and the lifting of US sanctions will be discussed, as nuclear talks remain stalled

Iran said Monday that its indirect talks with the United States would resume this week in Qatar, amid a push by the European Union to revive stalled negotiations aimed at reinstating a 2015 nuclear agreement.

“Iran has chosen Qatar to host the talks because of Doha’s friendly ties with Tehran,” Mohammad Marandi, a media adviser to Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, told the ISNA news agency on Monday.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh confirmed the news adding that the talks would focus on the lifting of sanctions imposed by Washington on Tehran.

“What we will do in the coming days does not concern the nuclear dimension but existing differences (and) the lifting of sanctions,” Khatibzadeh said.

“I hope that we will see positive results emerge from these talks,” he told reporters.

Tasnim news agency, quoting an official in the Foreign Ministry, reported that Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani will head for Doha on Tuesday.

The future of the landmark nuclear deal officially known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been up in the air since 2018, when then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and reimposed sweeping, harsh economic sanctions on Iran.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to return to the agreement, saying it would be the best path ahead with the Islamic Republic.

“If Washington comes with answers, then we can do the work quickly. … The ball is in Washington’s court,” Khatibzadeh told reporters.

The talks in the tiny, gas-rich Gulf peninsula will be separate from the more comprehensive negotiations in Vienna between Iran and world powers that are mediated by the EU, the bloc’s top diplomat Joseph Borrell said Saturday in Tehran.

It’s expected that US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley will be in Doha during the same period as the indirect talks for a meeting with the Qatari foreign minister, however, he is not expected be part of the indirect talks, nor meet directly with any Iranian officials.

Iran refuses to negotiate directly with the US as long as Washington remains outside the JCPOA, and during the Vienna talks the Islamic Republic has repeatedly demanded guarantees to ensure that the US doesn’t repeat what former President Trump did when he unilaterally withdrew from the pact.

Biden has therefore been mulling between the prize of a deal with Iran, or the prize of potential normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the possibility of securing both without jeopardizing one over the other

Sina Azodi, an adviser at Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based risk consultancy, told The Media Line that having American and Iranian officials in the same geographic area is a huge feat and will help advance the talks.

“The most important thing is that now both Iranians and Americans are in the same city, and it will be much easier to conduct the shuttle diplomacy since Mora will not have to travel between Washington and Tehran to exchange messages,” said Azodi, referring to the European Union’s coordinator in the Iran nuclear talks, Enrique Mora.

Azodi also points out that once the election campaign kicks off in the US “the Biden administration may not have the same appetite to finish the talks.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz told reporters on Monday that Israel will work with the global powers through their negotiators to help reach a final nuclear deal with Iran.

“With the expected or possible resumption of the nuclear talks, we will continue to work together with the United States and other countries in order to make our position clear and influence the crafting of the deal – if there is such,” said Gantz.

“It would be proper to make clear that Israel does not oppose a nuclear deal in itself. It opposes a bad deal,” he said.

Sami Hamdi, editor-in-chief at The International Interest, a geopolitical risk consulting firm based in London, told The Media Line that two things happened that have hindered inking a deal in Vienna.

“First the war in Ukraine, and then the Biden administration reset with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The war in Ukraine meant that Russia began to drag its heels in the negotiations to spite the US. Moscow is well aware that any deal will be touted as a major win for Biden,” according to Hamdi.

“The energy price spike caused by the Ukraine war also forced a reset between Biden on one side, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other side. As part of those reset process, Biden has been forced to take their opposition to the deal more seriously. More importantly, Biden has seen an opportunity to push for more normalization between Arab states and Israel by entertaining the idea of a regional ‘NATO’ against Iran that is expected to include Israel and Saudi Arabia together,” Hamdi explained. “Biden has therefore been mulling between the prize of a deal with Iran, or the prize of potential normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the possibility of securing both without jeopardizing one over the other.”

There is talk of a NATO-like alliance, or regional air defense network, that may include Israel, Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. The security alliance would seek to establish a united front to contain a common foe, Iran.

Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), told The Media Line that Iran seeks to drag out the negotiations for as long as possible to advance its nuclear program while searching for more concessions. Another meeting advances that goal, he said.

Talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers have hosted high-level negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Britain, France, Russia, China and the European Union, as well as indirect negotiations with the United States, but the negotiations have stalled mainly over Tehran’s demand that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

The 2015 nuclear pact imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, but the US pulling out of the deal and subsequently imposing additional sanctions on an already fledgling Iranian economy led the Islamic Republic to suspend some of its commitments – especially after other signatories to the agreement failed to counter the effects of the reimposed sanctions.

“There has been some probing as to whether the Iranians would be willing to proceed with the deal that’s on the table while leaving the IRGC FTO designation for a later date,” according to Brodsky.

Israel was displeased with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell’s visit to Iran. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid accused Borrell of not demonstrating concern about the safety of Israel’s citizens.

The US position hasn’t changed; President Biden is determined to have an agreement

Professor Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told The Media Line that Lapid’s criticism is justifiable.

“I think he’s telling the truth about the Europeans. Israel’s interest was in what President Biden initially suggested, which is a longer and stronger agreement,” Inbar said.

Inbar does not expect any major announcement from President Biden’s visit to Israel next month.

“The US position hasn’t changed; President Biden is determined to have an agreement,” he said.

Meanwhile, local media reports that Israeli defense and security officials disagree over whether or not a deal would be good for Israel.

“I think the divide has more to do with the differing assessments over the imminent nature of Iran’s threat. Both camps believe that Iran will continue to be an aggressive party and that the Iran deal will not end Iran’s expansion and pursuit of its ambitions,” said Hamdi, adding that that both branches differ over “how to counter that.”

“Supporters of the deal believe that the deal itself will slow down Iran and buy more time for Israel to make necessary preparations at a time in which it is at a loss over how to push back Iran in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. Those against the deal are pushing for a regional NATO-esque alliance with Arab states as a platform to squeeze Iran and are pushing Biden not to make concessions,” Hamdi said.

 

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