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With the appointment of Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as Foreign Minister set to be approved by the Iranian parliament, the stalled negotiations to restore the nuclear deal with Iran can finally get back on track. While it is not yet clear whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Supreme National Security Council will oversee the nuclear dossier, the Iranian team has now taken shape and is largely united. However, hopes for resumption are balanced by concerns that Iran’s new government may not be willing to make the compromises necessary to close the largely defunct deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). to recover. The most optimistic reading at this stage is that Tehran is still reviewing its options.
On the bright side, shortly before taking office on August 5, newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi committed to “try to lift the tyrannical sanctions imposed by America.” Such a thing cannot happen without a negotiated agreement involving Washington. As a presidential candidate, Raisi . has made a commitment to the JCPOA, and a senior EU official reported on August 7 that Iran wants to return to the negotiating table “as soon as possible”. While Iran’s economy has been aided by gradually growing oil exports, a lot of them clandestine, the pressure of an alarming COVID-19 plight and encourage drought-related protests to come to terms with the United States. Al-Monitor recently explored other reasons for deal can still happen.
However, how long will Raisi wait and what attitude will his team adopt? Predictions that Iran would be much more assertive were born before he took office. On July 13, the United States Department of Justice charged four Iranians with: conspire to kidnap Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who was exiled in New York City. On July 29, Iran allegedly attacked the Israeli-linked merchant tanker Mercer Street with explosive UAVs, killing two crew members from the United Kingdom and Romania. On August 2, as the Strait of Hormuz approached, the MV Asphalt Princess oil tanker was temporarily shut down seized by hijackers who allegedly gave the order to sail to Iran. At least four other ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates that same day lost control of their steering wheel in what was also suspected of hijacking attempts by the Iranian military or its proxy forces. While maintaining plausible deniability regarding these incidents, Iran sees value in curbing attacks on its economy and infrastructure.
Regarding talks to restore the JCPOA, outgoing Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a July 12 report to parliament outlined the deal there is to make, if Iran were to change its demands. Two weeks later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his disagreement and insisted that Tehran does not accept what he called Washington’s “stubborn” demands. His demand for guarantees that the United States would not withdraw again from a restored agreement does not understand that President Joe Biden cannot bind his successor to such a promise. Iran’s related demand to lift the snapback mechanism of the sanctions would undermine a key element of the 2015 agreement, undermining the agreed goal of restoring the JCPOA. Iran, meanwhile, shows no sign of making concessions to the demands that stood in the way of an agreement during this spring’s six rounds of talks: that the United States lift all 1,500 sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump and that Iran will not commit to follow-up talks on missiles and its support for regional militias.
There is room for the Biden administration itself to compromise on some of these issues. It is already prepared to lift sanctions against more than 1,000 individuals and entities to facilitate full implementation of the JCPOA. But there is scope to add to this list, without waiving the principle that unrelated sanctions – on human rights and other grounds – should continue to exist. Biden’s team may also soften the link with follow-up talks on other matters, a demand Iran has firmly rejected. Interestingly, however, even former president Hassan Rouhanic, in his last televised interview while in office, said that if Iran wants all sanctions lifted, it must be willing to discuss all issues, including missiles and the region. Biden may also have to accept that there is no good way to counterbalance the knowledge Iran has gained by using advanced centrifuges.
Even if Biden were inclined to be more flexible, the Taliban’s stunning march into Kabul limits his room for maneuver. Biden has been labeled losing Afghanistan (despite the blame shared by three previous presidents), but Biden doesn’t seem to give in to Iran’s hardliners.
To compensate, the United States may be tempted to go the other way and put more pressure on Iran. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 19 that the government is considering sanctions Chinese imports of Iranian crude oil. On August 13, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on members of an Iran-related oil smuggling network operating from Oman. New sanctions will not force Iran to compromise, as should be apparent from the failure of the former government’s “maximum pressure” campaign. On the other hand, curbing the growth in Iranian oil sales could help Washington’s bargaining position by showing that she too can be assertive.
Iran may think it has the upper hand in its ability to further expand uranium enrichment and reduce cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. By increasing its stock of low-enriched uranium, using more efficient centrifuges and experimenting with enrichment to 63%, Iran may have already reduced the outbreak period to three months or less. Iranian strategists seem to believe that shortening this period even further will make Biden impatient for a deal. However, Iran should be careful not to let its opponents conclude that there is no way to restore an adequate breakthrough time and that there is therefore no point in reviving the JCPOA.
Iran must also realize that it has no escalation dominance. Israel has shown time and again that it can penetrate Iran’s nuclear secrets and sabotage its facilities. a mysterious one power failure Several thousand centrifuges were taken out of service at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant on 11 April. Assuming Israel was responsible, the attack could no doubt be repeated. If the negotiations were to progress, Biden would certainly object to such means. However, if the stalemate continues, Israel could receive a yellow or even green light from the White House.
Iran’s opponents also have diplomatic cards to play. So far, the IAEA and its Western members have softened Iran’s restrictions on inspections. Iran’s refusal to allow normal inspectors access to declared facilities and to account for the detection of man-made uranium particles in several undeclared locations violates safeguards obligations. There are reasons for the IAEA board to find that Iran is not abiding by the rules, thus restarting the process that led to UN Security Council sanctions in 2006. To allow more time for diplomacy, the board of directors will not reach such a conclusion at its next quarterly meeting on September 13-17. After all, it took Biden himself several weeks after his inauguration to get serious about JCPOA talks. However, if there is no progress toward reinstating the JCPOA by the time of the November board meeting, the United States may be tempted to press for a non-compliance statement next. This is perhaps partly what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken means when he says the stalemate can’t go on indefinitely.
As Washington grows frustrated with Iran, so does pessimism that the JCPOA will not be reinstated after all. Since recovery is in the best interests of both parties and the contours of a deal are so clear, it would be a tragedy not to achieve it.
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