Iranian officials renewed their demand for the lifting of U.S. sanctions at the outset of the eighth and “presumably final round” of talks to rehabilitate the 2015 nuclear deal.
“The most important thing for us is that under these words and issues, we must reach a point where, first, Iranian oil can be sold easily and without any restrictions, and oil money can be deposited in foreign currency in Iranian bank accounts,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Monday, per Iranian media. “And we take full advantage of the economic benefits envisaged in the JCPOA.”
Amir-Abdollahian projected optimism about the process, saying that the meeting would be organized around "a common and acceptable document on the negotiating table.” U.S. and European officials have underscored that the window of opportunity to return to the 2015 deal, which then-President Donald Trump exited in 2018, is closing due to Iran’s persistent progress to develop nuclear weapons.
IRAN DEMANDS TOTAL SANCTIONS REMOVAL AS ‘LAST CHANCE’ NUCLEAR TALKS FALTER
"Yes, [time] is getting very, very, very short,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters last week. “And being able to recover the benefits — the full benefits of the JCPOA by returning to compliance with it is getting increasingly problematic by the advances that Iran makes every single day in its nuclear program.”
The process has been slowed in part by the inability to agree even to direct dialogue between Iran and the United States, which have conducted “indirect talks” with the assistance of the other signatories to the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — France, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Russia, and the European Union. Iranian officials portray the the three European powers as a “bad cop,” while China has supported Iran’s negotiating position throughout the talks.
“As the culprit of the Iranian nuclear crisis, the U.S. should overhaul its erroneous policy of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran, and lift all illegal sanctions on Iran and ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ on third parties,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said last week. “On this basis, Iran should resume full compliance.”
President Joe Biden’s administration has refused to make major unilateral concessions, while affirming that the U.S. would return to the pact if Iran would do likewise.
“On the surface and based on public reporting, there appears to be no major changes in the hard-line Iranian position,” the Foundation for Defense of Democracies research fellow Behnam Ben Taleblu told the Washington Examiner. "If there is any forthcoming Iranian concession, it is likely to be minor and last-minute so as to stave off diplomatic or economic pressure."
U.S. officials have vented their frustration of late, not only with Iran’s recalcitrance but also Trump’s previous decision to withdraw from the deal.
“We are where we are because of what I consider to be one of the worst decisions made in American foreign policy in the last decade, and that was getting out of the Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA — an agreement that had put Iran’s nuclear program in a box,” Blinken said last week. "We continue to have a strong interest in seeing if we can put the nuclear program back into the box that it was in. But if we can’t do that because Iran will not engage in good faith, then we are actively looking at alternatives and options.”
The unsatisfying progress of the nuclear talks left the threat of Iranian aggression as a going concern for the U.S. and regional allies, such as the Gulf Arab states and Israel, throughout the summer and fall. Those conversations continued last week with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s trip to Jerusalem, but Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid emerged from that meeting with a warning not to strike a “bad deal” if the Iranians refuse to bargain.
“A good deal is a good thing,” Lapid told The New York Times. “Second best would be no deal but tightening the sanctions and making sure Iran cannot go forward. And the third and worst is a bad deal.”
Iranian officials, for their part, kicked off the week by meeting with Russian and Chinese officials “to compare notes before the official start” of the Vienna talks, as Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov put it. Ulyanov, who characterized this round of talks as the “presumably final round of negotiations,” suggested after the first day of formal meetings that the two sides would try to move quickly to a breakthrough.
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“The participants held businesslike and result-oriented discussions,” he wrote on Twitter. "In particular they agreed to intensify the drafting process in order to achieve an agreement ASAP.”