2 April 2021   Leave a comment

The Iranian nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–JCPOA) which appeared dead last week is showing signs of life. The signatories to the agreement–Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran–have agreed to meet next week in Vienna, although it appears as if the US and Iran will be in separate rooms for the discussion. The European Union was principally responsible for reviving the negotiations and it seems as if the announcement of the Chinese-Iranian partnership deal a few days ago was a major force in re-opening the talks. That move signaled the futility of continued US sanctions to achieve results.

The primary focus of the talks will be on the possible lifting of sanctions. The US has insisted that it will not lift the economic sanctions until Iran returns to all the original terms of the agreement; the Iranians have insisted that they will not even talk unless sanctions are lifted first. The Guardian highlights the disagreements:

“The private discussions have focused on agreeing a framework whereby the US could start to lift sanctions in return for specific and verifiable steps by Iran to come back into full compliance with the deal. Iran has taken a series of reversible steps to reduce its compliance including increasing uranium enrichment and reducing the UN inspectors’ access to its nuclear sites.

“The US had also sought for the deal at some point to be extended in length and broadened to include other issues, such as regional security, something Iran had rejected.

“Some observers fear Biden does not understand the urgency of making progress ahead of Iran’s June presidential elections, where hardliners opposed to the principle of the deal are likely to triumph in a low-turnout election.”

The talks in Vienna will need to be carefully choreographed. The differences between the US and Iran are not irreconcilable but both sides will feel intense pressure to not appear as if they have capitulated to the other. Hardliners in both the US and Iran would use such a possibility to sink the talks.

“Washington initially insisted that Tehran must return to adhering to the limits of the deal before the sanctions are lifted. But in recent weeks, US officials have been calling for talks to negotiate mutual and gradual compliance with the accord.

“‘We can play games about who goes first. I think anyone who’s dealt with this knows that neither side is going to go first entirely,’ US envoy for Iran Rob Malley said last month. 

“‘There’s going to have to be some agreement on choreographing, on synchronising. We’re open to discussing that, but it’s going to have to be discussed. It’s not going to happen simply unilaterally by one side taking all the steps and waiting.’

“Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also signalled an openness to an approach of a gradual return to the accord earlier this week.

“Zarif confirmed next week’s talks to revive the deal, but he appeared to rule out direct negotiations with Washington.

“‘At virtual JCPOA JC meeting, Iran & EU/E3+2 agreed to resume in-person talks in Vienna next Tues,’ he wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“‘Aim: Rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures. No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary.'”

If both sides are sensitive to the constraints of the other and are careful not to describe any move as a “victory” for their side, it is possible that the JCPOA can be restored. Quiet, careful diplomacy is called for, but I think that US President Biden and Foreign Minister Zarif are up to the task.

Posted April 2, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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