Tehran, Iran Representatives of the world powers that signed a 2015 nuclear deal are heading to Vienna on Tuesday to salvage this historic deal, but the way forward seems long and arduous.
Friday’s news that the remaining members of the deal, Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK will hold face-to-face talks, was hailed as a welcome development to avoid a total break.
In a nighttime voice chat from the Clubhouse, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said last week that the deadlock was being broken on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) because a childish argument about who should act first comes to an end.
Representatives of Iran and the United States, however, will not be in the same room together in Vienna, as Iran insists there will be no direct or indirect talks between the two countries. before the United States lifted the harsh sanctions unilaterally imposed by former President Donald Trump. dropping the deal in 2018.
A year later, Iran began reducing its commitments under the deal in response as the United States continued its maximum pressure campaign despite opposition from other signatories.
Rapid lifting of sanctions
Sina Azodi, a non-resident member of the Atlantic Council, said Iran and the United States have recently shown the political will to restore the deal.
But if Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet on Friday that the JCPOA signatories would focus on quickly finalizing the sanctions lift in Vienna, it may be easier said than done.
The problem here is that Iran’s actions to violate the deal are reversible, while for the United States it will be more difficult due to the scorched earth policy of the Trump administrations to destroy the JCPOA as much as possible. and the complex web of sanctions, Azodi told Al Jazeera. .
Zarif said earlier this year that the United States had imposed, reimposed or relabeled some 1,600 sanctions against Iran, inflicting $ 1 trillion in direct and indirect economic damage.
It is unclear how those sanctions will be revoked, or how many sanctions may need to be lifted for Iran to keep its promise to return to full compliance with the nuclear deal.
On the right path
Trump administration officials have made it their mission in 2020 to impose sanctions with new designations, namely terrorism and human rights violations, on previously sanctioned Iranian individuals and entities in an attempt to make it harder for a possible Joe Biden administration to return to the nuclear deal. .
According to Diako Hosseini, a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies, the research arm of the Iranian president’s office, Iran expects all sanctions under all labels imposed by Trump to be lifted.
It seems that officials in Tehran have a good understanding of the conditions in the United States and the limitations of the Biden administration, but at the same time, it is an issue related to the United States, not Iran, he said. he told Al Jazeera.
Hosseini said the upcoming negotiations will be difficult, especially since there can be stark contrasts between what different parties expect to do to restore the JCPOA, expectations that need to be reconciled.
I don’t expect sudden, major success, but we can be sure they were on the right track. I expect to have a clearer vision of what all parties need to do to return to their JCPOA commitments at the end of the Vienna talks, which is an acceptable success to begin with, he said. he declares.
Iran accuses US of inflicting $ 1 trillion in economic damage with sanctions [File: Vahid Salemi/AP]Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, said he believes more than one round of negotiations is needed to find a way forward, but the first round must not fail.
It is not difficult to predict that there will be a mismatch between Iranian expectations and what the United States is ready to offer, but with pragmatism, both sides would be able to find a mutually acceptable way forward. , he told Al Jazeera.
He said the key is how the JCPOA’s restoration measures are sequenced, but if Tehran meets maximalist expectations, it will end up empty-handed.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said earlier this week that Tehran will not agree to a step-by-step plan to lift layers of U.S. sanctions and expects the United States to take the final step in lifting all of them. the sanctions imposed by Trump.
Why speak now?
Some observers say the resumption of nuclear talks was influenced by the fact that Iran and China signed a 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement in late March after Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Tehran.
Others believe the lack of time to restore the deal has had an impact. On the one hand, Iran’s three-month agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to temporarily keep video recordings of its surveillance of nuclear sites ends at the end of May.
The deal averted a crisis at the end of February, because without it, the global nuclear watchdog would face a major loophole in its oversight of Iranian nuclear activity.
Moreover, Iran’s presidential elections in June are fast approaching, likely promising a conservative or possibly extremist president with a military background who may not be as supportive of preserving the JCPOA as the relatively moderate incumbent president Hassan Rouhani.
But the Azodi Atlantic Council has said it remains optimistic for a breakthrough, not least because Rouhani wants to step down after lifting sanctions for several reasons, including to save his political reputation.
In short, his administration will focus its attention on efforts to lift sanctions as quickly as possible, preferably before he leaves office, he said.
Limited window of opportunity
In the meantime, extremists in the Iranian parliament are trying to maintain an active role in the future of the JCPOA.
On Sunday, a number of lawmakers released a public statement claiming that the only way the United States could go back to the nuclear deal would be for the Rohanis administration to submit a report on the full lifting of sanctions to Parliament, which would have to approve it before they could do so. be finalized.
The November assassination of senior nuclear and military scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in a brazen attack that Iran attributes to Israel has encouraged hardliners, who passed a law that increased the enrichment of uranium and limit IAEA inspections.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran was in no rush to lift sanctions as local production resumed after being hit hard by sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the Iran could increase uranium enrichment to 60% if the country needs it. .
The Hosseini Center for Strategic Studies said it was unlikely that parliament would want to halt negotiations now, especially since the talks would not be possible without the green light from the Supreme Leader.
But if the negotiations do not yield the results expected by the Iranian side, the conservatives who are highly motivated as the elections approach will be further emboldened, and then there is no saying what they could do to stop them. negotiations, he said.
Thus, the window of opportunity is very limited for all parties.
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