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The Media Line: An Iran Nuclear Deal May Be Within Reach

An Iran Nuclear Deal May Be Within Reach

Tehran has achieved many of its demands in the Vienna talks, Islamic Republic negotiating team adviser says

By Mohammad Al-Kassim/The Media Line

Iran said Sunday it was still finalizing its response to a “final text” submitted by the European Union at the negotiations in Vienna last week as part of efforts intended at restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.

“We are not far from a breakthrough. We’re pretty close but things depend on whether the Europeans can put to rest the remaining concerns that the Iranians have,” said Mohammad Marandi, an adviser to the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna.

Marandi told The Media Line that reviving the accord officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was within reach because Tehran had achieved many of its demands in the Vienna talks.

“Iran has gained major concessions in the different fields including verification, guarantees, inherent guarantees, sanctions, and the issues linked to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] board of governors,” he said.

The text has been under negotiation for 15 months. However, EU officials now publicly say they expect a final decision from the parties within “very, very few weeks.”

“What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text. However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted.

But Marandi insists that “Iran doesn’t take deadlines seriously just as it hasn’t taken deadlines in the past seriously,” adding that despite this most recent offer being the best so far, Tehran remains skeptical.

“The current text that is being discussed is much better than what the Europeans and Americans have put on the table seven, eight months ago. But since we have a very dark past with Western countries and there are violations of the nuclear deal, Iranians have to be very cautious about every sentence, every word in the text,” says Marandi.

The talks in Vienna are being conducted between Iran, and Britain, France, Russia, China, and the European Union. 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 then-President Donald Trump did when he unilaterally withdrew from the pact in 2018.

EU officials said a delay in reaching a deal had been partly due to the Islamic Republic’s demand that Washington remove the Revolutionary Guards Corps from the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told The Media Line that a deal seemed closer than before but that several old and new obstacles may stand in the way.

“Old sticking points, related to Iran’s opposition to having the IRGC designated as a terrorist organization and Tehran’s desire for guarantees that the USA will not again pull out of the agreement (should Trump become president again),” Hashemi says.

Another obstacle that could hinder inking an agreement is an International Atomic Energy Agency inquiry into Iranian nuclear activity.

“Iran demands that the IAEA drop its investigation into traces of uranium particles found at several [undeclared] nuclear sites in Iran. Recall that in early June Iran was officially censured by this UN nuclear agency. A non-resolution of this issue could kill an agreement, especially if Iran is seeking to hide any clandestine experimentation with building nuclear weapons. If Iran has been doing this, it does not want to be exposed for lying to the international community,” says Hashemi.

US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said last week that Washington was waiting for Tehran’s response to the draft nuclear deal.

“We and the Europeans have made quite clear that we are prepared to immediately conclude and implement the deal we negotiated in Vienna for a mutual return to the full implementation of the JCPOA,” he told reporters. “For that to happen, Iran needs to decide to drop their additional demands that go beyond the JCPOA. Ultimately, the choice is theirs.”

Hashemi points to elements within Iran’s hard-line ruling circles who argue that waiting until after the US midterm elections may yield them a better accord.

Hashemi calls this “totally erroneous.”

“Some hard-liners in Iran naively believe that Iran can get a better deal after the November congressional elections in the United States,” he says. They believe that if the Democrats lose, Iran will get the deal that it wants.

They think “Biden will offer more concessions if he is weakened by a Republican Party electoral victory in Congress. This suggests dragging out the negotiating process until after November,” Hashemi notes.

The Biden Administration has sought to return to the agreement, saying that would be the best way forward with the Islamic Republic.

Last week, the US Justice Department indicted a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton. The accused, Shahram Poursafi, is believed to be in Iran.

Iran dismissed the allegations as “fiction.”

“No one in Iran takes the accusation seriously. US intelligence, the FBI, and the judiciary are highly politicized regardless of what American officials say. Even inside the United States, there’s a deep divide over the role of that FBI and the judiciary over the raid on Trump’s home in Florida.”

Marandi says the timing of the report on the alleged assassination plot poses a real question regarding the presence of a group of persons within the US government “who don’t want the deal to [go through] or that the US government is already planning to wreck or undermine the deal.”

The 2015 nuclear pact-imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, but the US pulled out of the deal and subsequently imposed additional sanctions on an already struggling Iranian economy. That 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.

Trump reimposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic, including cutting off its banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication – SWIFT, the global financial payment system. Trump followed the US withdrawal from the accord with a “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at pressuring Tehran to return to the negotiating table to forge a stronger agreement.

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