Tough talks ahead for Iran nuclear deal

Iran, parties to 2015 deal seek middle ground to de-escalate tensions amid ongoing nuclear crisis, expert says.

Tough talks ahead for Iran nuclear deal

Long-awaited talks on the Iran nuclear deal which resumed last week in Vienna after a five-month hiatus may end up in reconciliation, according to one political analyst.

“Neither Iran nor the P4+1 countries – Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany – wants the deal to collapse. Even if the two sides don’t reach an ideal agreement, they may find a middle ground,” Hakki Uygur, head of the Center for Iranian Studies (IRAM) in the Turkish capital of Ankara, told Anadolu Agency.

“The cessation of negotiations and an escalation in the military tension would not be a scenario preferred by either side,” he said.

It would not be a good option for Iran, as its economy has tumbled in recent years into a recession under US sanctions, he pointed out.

On Nov. 29, in Vienna, Iran and world powers kicked off talks in a last-ditch attempt to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the deal’s formal name – after talks stalled following a government change in Iran this June.

The latest round of talks ended last week without any significant breakthrough.

During the negotiations, Iran submitted two draft proposals to the Europeans, one on lifting sanctions and another on nuclear commitments.

“We saw harsh reactions by the EU and US against the proposals, accusing Iran of expecting too much,” said Uygur.

The new Iranian delegation, under a new government, took a tougher stance than its predecessor, provoking a backlash from the US, which accused Tehran of not being serious.

On Dec. 3, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Iran does not seem serious about returning to the parameters of the nuclear deal that set limits on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Uygur stressed that we do not know details about the proposals as they were not made public, adding that this secrecy shows that the negotiations can continue.

Iran and the P4+1 countries reconvened in the Austrian capital on Thursday after holding consultations in their respective capitals.

Following a joint commission meeting, Iran's lead nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, said the parties have a "serious will" to continue talks, which shows that they want to "narrow the gaps.”

On whether other parties have responded to the two draft proposals, Bagheri said the issue will be discussed in working group meetings.

After the meeting, Enrique Mora, the top EU representative and coordinator of the talks, said the parties will continue talks "until an agreement is reached."

Not expected to be easy

Uygur said the negotiation process will not be easy as internal balances in America and new balances in Iran make it difficult to reach a consensus.

“On the one hand, the Biden administration is losing power. Even though it’s been just a year since he came to power, Biden faces serious problems in domestic politics. The Republicans, who have a strong presence in the US Congress, are against the Iran nuclear deal, and some Democrats also oppose the pact,” said Uygur.

On the other hand, the Iranian administration led by new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi – who took office this August – has strongly criticized the deal, calling it a “betrayal,” noted Uygur.

Recently, both sides have been trying to gain leverage – Iran by scaling up its nuclear enrichment, and the US by imposing a slew of new sanctions on Iranian officials and entities.

Uygur warned that the dangerous trend may continue if the talks in Vienna falter.

“If the parties fail to reach an agreement, the US may impose new sanctions to put more economic pressure on Iran, paving the way for rising military tensions in the Gulf region, Yemen, and Syria,” warned Uygur.

The White House said Thursday that Biden asked for “other options” from his team if the talks fail.

How far can Iran compromise?

Iran’s top negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said that his country is serious about reaching a “fair agreement” that would secure the nation’s legitimate interests.

Iran argues that its right to engage in nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment, is guaranteed in international treaties.

Uygur said Iran will consent to return to the deal, arguing that even though the agreement imposes restrictions in the short term, it works in Tehran’s favor in the medium and long term.

There are demands by the US and Israeli sides for a new and more comprehensive agreement that will cover limitations on regional activities and ballistic missiles, but Iran rejects those demands, said Uygur.

“I don't think Iran will make any more concessions except nuclear restrictions,” he said.

Hassan Rouhani, who served as Iran’s president from 2013 until this August, accepted the deal, and was “severely criticized by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for trusting and making concessions to the Westerners.”

So under the new Raisi administration “it is unrealistic to expect more concessions from a more hawkish government,” said Uygur.

Nuclear double standard

Uygur also criticized the double standard applied by the US on issues related to nuclear energy technology.

“When it comes to the security of the Middle East and Israel, these double standards increase even more. Israel has a nuclear arsenal, but this fact isn’t brought up by either Western or Eastern countries,” he said.

“Westerners do not want a change in the current world order established after World War II, in which Israel has an exceptional place. Despite the fact that the US is making attempts to withdraw from the region and Western countries are losing their regional influence, Israel still has a certain power, and is using it to the end,” said Uygur.

“If other regional countries take steps in the same direction, they will most likely face similar pressures.”

On one hand, the US is promoting nuclear energy to combat climate change to minimize the use of coal and fossil fuels, so it signed a nuclear agreement with India. But on the other, it is targeting Iran and other countries acquiring similar technology.

Uygur believes there are more immediate crises in the region that the international community should be more concerned with than Iran’s nuclear bomb.

Underlining that Iran is already bound to an agreement and that its nuclear activities are monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Uygur said: “It is purely political to problematize Iran on such a scale while ignoring other issues essential for regional security such as the migrant crisis, civil wars, and military coups.”

The ideological opposition and power struggle that Iran has been waging against America and Israel since 1979 is the main reason behind the approach, he added.​​​​​​​

The nuclear deal was signed in 2015 by Iran, the US, China, Russia, France, the UK, Germany, and the EU.

Under the agreement, Tehran committed to limit its nuclear activity to civilian purposes and in return, world powers agreed to drop economic sanctions against Iran.

But in 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the agreement and reimposed tough sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to stop complying.

Since May 2019, Iran has taken a series of measures to scale up its nuclear activities, with enrichment surging from 4.5% to 60%, raising eyebrows in the West.

Tehran and Washington continue to maintain their tough positions. While Iran wants the removal of all US sanctions and guarantees by Washington not to again abandon the agreement, the US is calling for Iran to comply with its commitments.

Hüseyin Demir