image Photo: Reuters

JCPOA talks resume in Vienna

The 8th round of negotiations to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal between Iran and world powers continued, after envoys took a 10-day break for consultations with their nation’s leaders to help resolve the thorniest remaining issues.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

Indirect talks between Iran and the United States are being mediated by the 2015 pact’s other partners, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and Russia.

Western diplomats have stressed to TV7 that this “may well be the last phase of efforts to revive the JCPOA.”

The head of Russia’s delegation, Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, also proclaimed yesterday that the negotiations are now “at the final stage,” urging “determination and energetic efforts form all participants.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced that while “We hope that at this stage we can reach a final agreement,” that “Whether we can bring the negotiations to a good agreement in the coming days, now depends on the initiative, intention, and behavior of the three European countries and the American side. Whether or not the American side and the three European countries are genuinely trying to reach an agreement in goodwill and seriously is a matter which should be investigated on the other side.”

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, who spoke alongside his Iranian counterpart amid a trip to Tehran, said that Helsinki “also welcomes the resumption of Vienna negotiations.”

Saying that “the JCPOA negotiations have been called on all parties to meaningfully engage in the talks in order to reach a timely conclusion,” Minister Haavisto underscored that Finland also fully supports efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “to continue implementing its missions of continued verification and monitoring in Iran. We watch Iran to actively cooperate also with the Agency to resolve all pending issues.” He also pointed out that “the successful outcome of JCPOA negotiations would open new avenues for engagement with Finland and the European Union” to “further extend our existing cooperation.”

Meanwhile, Chief of the Iranian Military Major General Mohammad Bagheri was cited by the regime-run Entekhab news website as saying, “If the US criminal sanctions are lifted, we will be one of the largest arms exporters.”

Nevertheless, during a briefing of the Iranian press, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh cautioned that it remains too early to declare victory.

“Right now, it is very early to predict the outcome of the negotiations,” he said, adding that, “It is fundamentally incorrect to make predictions in the international scene. What I can tell you is that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s negotiation team is present in Vienna trying without hesitation to lift and erase the illegal and extra-territorial sanctions of the United States. We will continue this. Our red lines are completely clear. In the matter of sanctions relief, which is our focus, if they [the red lines] are considered and avoided, we will surely reach an agreement.”

The Islamic Republic’s Spokesperson went on to say that, “”Today is an opportunity for the United States so that, instead of projections and actions that do not help prove their change in behavior, for them to come to Vienna with a clear agenda. If they come with a clear agenda and with political decisions regarding the lifting of sanctions and to fulfil their commitments, reaching an agreement is certainly possible within the shortest amount of time.”

In related developments, 27 US Senators sent a written letter to President Joe Biden stressing that he must comply with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (IRANA) to notify lawmakers within 5 days of any agreement with Tehran related to its nuclear development program, including “the text of the agreement and all related materials and annexes” and “a certification that the agreement includes the appropriate terms, conditions, and duration of the agreement’s requirements concerning Iran’s nuclear activities, and provisions describing any sanctions to be waived, suspended, or otherwise reduced by the United States and any other nation or entity, including the United Nations.”

IRANA further demands “a certification that the agreement meets US non-proliferation objectives, does not jeopardize the common defense and security,” and “provides a framework to ensure that Iran’s nuclear activities will not constitute an unreasonable defense and security risk, and ensures that Iran’s permitted nuclear activities will not be used to further any nuclear-related military or nuclear explosive purpose, including any related research.”

In an effort to ensure the US Congress is granted appropriate oversight, the 27 Senators further stressed in their letter to the President their commitment “to providing availability, assistance, and resources” so he may fully meet these mandates.

The move follows Washington’s decision last Friday to restore sanctions waivers, allowing Russian, Chinese and European companies to carry out non-proliferation work for Iran’s civilian nuclear installations. According to a report to Congress from the US State Department signed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “The waiver with respect to these activities is designed to facilitate discussions that would help to close a deal on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and lay the groundwork for Iran’s return to performance of its JCPOA commitments.”

The report further stressed, “It is also designed to serve U.S. non-proliferation and nuclear safety interests and constrain Iran’s nuclear activities. It is being issued as a matter of policy discretion with these objectives in mind, and not pursuant to a commitment or as part of a quid pro quo.”

It is nevertheless important to highlight that the Biden administration sought to distinguish between “restoration of sanctions waivers” for Tehran’s civilian nuclear program and sanctions relief.

In a statement on his official Twitter account, State Department Spokesman Ned Price stressed, “We did NOT provide sanctions relief for Iran and WILL NOT until/unless Tehran returns to its commitments under the JCPOA.”

When asked whether the sanctions waivers granted to Iran enacted IRINA, State Department Spokesman Ned Price maintained that the White House has “a robust conversation with Congress on progress in Vienna. We have briefed Congress regularly on the discussions. I have every expectation that those briefings will continue in the days and weeks ahead. (Reporter: Well, do you believe that this triggers the requirements of the Iran Nuclear Review Act?) What I can say is that we’ve had conversations with Congress about requirements should we be in a position to resume compliance with the JCPOA.”

A senior European official involved in the talks in Vienna, who spoke to TV7 on condition of anonymity, said that the American move was a minor show of “good will” directed at Beijing and Moscow rather than Tehran – without providing additional details.

The Ayatollah regime was seemingly unimpressed by the American move.

Iran’s National Security Advisor Ali Shamkhani released a statement on his Twitter account proclaiming, “Iran’s legal right to continue research and development and to maintain its peaceful nuclear capabilities and achievements, along with its security against supported evils,” which according to Shamkhani, who effectively serves as the chief security advisor to the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “cannot be restricted by any agreement.”

He further stressed, in a message later echoed by Iran’s Foreign Ministry, that “Real, effective and verifiable economic benefits for Iran is a necessary condition for the formation of an agreement.” And a “Show of lifting sanctions is not considered constructive” since “An agreement in which the sanctions that form the maximum pressure are not lifted will condition the country’s economy and cannot be the basis of a good deal.”

In an interview MSNBC’s The Choice with Ayman Mohyeldin, US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, who heads the American delegation in Vienna, explained that the 2 primary Iranian demands are simply unattainable, including removal of all punitive economic measures re-imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2018 when he withdrew the US from the JCPOA.

“They want us to lift all of the sanctions that President Trump imposed and we say some of them he imposed because of Iran’s behavior that has nothing to do with the nuclear deal and so those we intend to maintain even though the majority we would lift,” said Malley, adding, “We can’t make a promise that we can’t hold and President Biden will not make it, I won’t make it. We’re not going to tell Iran that once we get into the deal no president can tear it up. A future President could do that. We don’t intend to if Iran is consistent at compliance with its obligations.”

When asked whether the US and Israel are engaged in joint military exercises in preparation of possible war with Iran, Washington’s Special Envoy stressed, “We work very closely with the Israeli government. We are very transparent with what we are doing. We do have a disagreement on this issue but our belief is not that words are going to stop Iran’s nuclear program, it’s that the JCPOA, the deal, the agreement that we reached proved that it stopped it and it could stop it again.” He went on to reiterate, “President Biden still wants us to negotiate in Vienna, we’re going back next week – that’s a signal or a sign of our continued belief that it (JCPOA) is not a dead corps that we need to revive it because it is in our interest.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked President Biden for “his steadfast support of Israel as well as the support of his entire administration” during a telephone conversation on Sunday following discussion on “regional challenges, especially the growing Iranian aggression, and the steps to block the Iranian nuclear program,” said a statement from the Premier’s office.

A White House statement said that President Biden also emphasized to Bennett his “full support” for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, for which the Israeli leader expressed gratitude. 

The US leader said he is looking forward to visiting Israel with First Lady Jill Biden later this year following an invitation from Prime Minister Bennett, the White House added.