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Iran’s Nuclear Talks Explained

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BRUSSELS In Vienna on Tuesday, the signatories of the Iran 2015 nuclear deal will come along with what would seem to be a simple task. They want to restore compliance with an agreement that imposes strict controls on Iran’s nuclear enrichment, to ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon, in exchange for the lifting of punitive economic sanctions.

Both Iran and the United States insist they want to return to the deal, known as Joint Comprehensive Action Plan, or JCPOA But nothing about meeting will be easy.

President Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in May 2018, calling it the worst deal ever negotiated, and reinstated and then expanded tough economic sanctions against Iran, trying to force it to renegotiate.

Iran responded in part by significantly enriching uranium across borders in the deal, building more advanced centrifuges and acting more aggressively in support of allies in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Shia militias in Iraq and the Syrian government of Bashar al- Asadit

So getting back to a deal made six years ago is likely to be more difficult than many people realize.

The Vienna talks are aimed at creating a roadmap for a synchronized return of Iran and the United States in line with the 2015 agreement. It has been in danger of collapsing since Mr. Trump rejected US participation.

The deal was the result of years of negotiations with Iran. Under the presidency of the European Union, Britain, France and Germany made the first efforts for Iran, joining the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: Russia, China and the United States.

But it was only when the United States began secret talks with Iran under President Barack Obama and agreed that Iran could enrich uranium, albeit under safeguards, that progress was made. Even then, the deal was widely criticized as too weak by many in Congress and by Israel, which saw Iran as the potential opportunity for a nuclear weapon an aspiration always denied by Iran as an existential threat.

The Europeans tried to keep the deal alive, but proved unable to provide Iran with the economic benefits it needed after Mr Trump reinstated US sanctions that had been lifted under the terms of the deal. US sanctions, based on the global strength of the dollar and the US banking system, kept European and other companies from doing business with Iran, and Mr. Trump intensified the pressure by adding many more sanctions.

Iran responded in various ways, including attacks on US ships and allies in Iraq, but more importantly by resuming uranium enrichment to a higher level and with centrifuges banned under the agreement. The estimated time it would take Iran to make uranium rich enough to produce a nuclear weapon has now been reduced from one year, which was what the deal wanted to maintain, to just a few months. Iran is also making uranium metal necessary for a warhead, also banned under the agreement, and is aggressively supporting allies in the Middle East, including many Westerners who consider them terrorist groups.

In a further pressure tactic, Iran has narrowly interpreted the agreement’s inspection requirements and refused to answer International Atomic Energy Agency questions about radioactive particles that inspectors found in countries that have never been declared by Tehran as part of the program. nuclear. Iran agreed in late February to keep the record of information on its inspection equipment for three months but without allowing access to the IAEA. If economic sanctions are not lifted by then, Iran says, the information will be deleted, leaving the world in the dark about key parts of its nuclear program.

Iran insists it can return to the deal soon, but wants the United States to do so first. The Biden administration says it wants Iran to go first.

Trust is a big problem. The Iranian regime was created by a revolution more than four decades ago that replaced the American-backed Shah of Iran with a complicated government overseen by clerics and the strong hand of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ayatollah only reluctantly agreed to the 2015 agreement with the Great Satan of America. After Mr. Trump withdrew, Mr. Khameneis’ distrust only deepened.

Mr. Trump also imposed many economic sanctions on Iran beyond those originally removed from the deal, proving maximum pressure to force Iran to negotiate much stricter terms. Iranian officials now say about 1,600 US sanctions should be lifted, about half of them imposed by Mr Trump. Some aim at terrorism and human rights violations, not nuclear issues. Removing some of them would create controversy in Congress.

Many in Washington, let alone in Israel and Europe, also do not believe Iran’s claims that it has never pursued a nuclear weapon and would never do so.

Further complicating the resumption of the agreement are its sunset clauses, or time limits, that would allow Iran to resume some nuclear enrichment activities. The Biden administration wants further negotiations with Iran to extend those timeframes as well as impose restrictions on the Irans missile program and other activities.

Iran says it simply wants the United States to return to the agreement it left, including lifting sanctions, before it also returns. So far she has dismissed any further talks.

Even under the Islamic regime, Iran also has politics. There are presidential elections in June, with candidates approved by the clergy. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who cannot run for another term, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are considered relatively moderate and negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal. But powerful forces in Iran opposed the deal, including the Troops. Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The moderates hope that rapid progress in lifting economic sanctions will help them in the presidential election; tough lines are expected to oppose any quick deal in Vienna that could benefit the moderates.

Iran has been living with harsh sanctions on Trump for three years now and has survived popular discontent and even protests, and the tough lines will argue that another six months are unlikely to matter.

The meeting of senior diplomats is officially a session of the Joint Agreement Commission, convened by the European Union as chairman. Since the United States left the deal, its representatives will not be in the room, but somewhere nearby. Diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran will meet, with a European Union president, and begin discussing how to revive the deal.

Iran refuses to meet face to face with US diplomats. So the Europeans suggest that they will either meet the Americans with proposals, or that the Iranians will leave the room before the Americans enter. This process of indirect negotiation can take time.

But European diplomats say that in a few days, work will be left to working groups in Vienna on complex political and technical issues. If a rough agreement can be reached on a synchronized return of compliance, the expectation is that officials from Iran and the United States will meet to finalize the details.

The talks could take a long time, and some in Washington are hoping for at least a deal in principle in the coming months that will bind any new Iranian government after the June election.

But some European diplomats fear that too much time has already passed and that the deal has effectively died out and will serve essentially as a benchmark for what could be a fundamentally new negotiation.

So the timeline is unclear as well as the prospects for success.

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