Iran wins time as pessimism grows over nuclear talks – POLITICO
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VIENNA – Iran is stalling.
A new uncompromising regime in Tehran insisted it wanted to return to the negotiating table and restart talks on a deal to curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. But his actions tell a slightly different story.
In recent days, Iranian officials have held dozens of meetings with foreign officials to discuss nuclear talks – but have revealed few details on their return and what they want. And the regime continues to play on the brink with the UN nuclear watchdog, making deals to avoid censorship, to block inspectors’ access days later.
Push-pull tactics have fueled concerns in diplomatic circles that a return to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is becoming increasingly difficult.
The deal was put on life support in 2018 when then-US President Donald Trump left the deal, only to be given new life when President Joe Biden took over. Since then, world powers have participated in six rounds of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna, in the hope of reaching an agreement. However, the talks have been suspended since June, when the negotiators broke up, pending the Iranian elections.
While the world waits, Iran is building up its nuclear capacity, with experts warning that the country’s “burst time” – the time it would need to produce enough military-grade uranium for a bomb – is getting shorter.
“Iran is certainly playing for time and will in the meantime continue to strengthen its nuclear program to gain political influence,” said a senior diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive situation. “Iran will most likely only return to the table in Vienna if the West makes a gesture of goodwill or provides certain concessions to Iran.”
Iran may consider the United States “weak” for now, the diplomat added, given its recent spate of diplomatic wrangling, from chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan to fallout with France over a contract. of canceled submarine. This perception could encourage Iran to harden its negotiating position, the senior diplomat said.
Mixed signals from Tehran have extended the deadline for any renewed deal. In a recent analysis, Henry Rome of the Eurasia Group said resuming the Iran nuclear deal was “unlikely this year, given growing uncertainty over Tehran’s interest and the tight schedule.”
New York, New York
Iranian officials did not offer much reason for optimism at the United Nations General Assembly last week in New York.
In a flurry of around 50 bilateral meetings held during the week-long meeting, Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, failed to provide any concrete information on the schedule of the talks to political leaders in Iran. world, according to three diplomats familiar with the matter.
Still, Western allies took advantage of these meetings to urge Amirabdollahian to return to the negotiating table. It was a common theme in Amirabdollahian’s meetings with foreign ministers from Germany, France and the UK, as well as EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
According to a Press release published after Borrell’s meeting with Amirabdollahian in New York, the Iranian foreign minister “assured of the will to resume negotiations at an early date”.
Iran also participated in a meeting at the United Nations General Assembly of the so-called Joint Commission, which consists of the remaining members of the 2015 agreement – Iran, United Kingdom, China , France, Germany and Russia – and is chaired by the European Parliament. Union. The rally was intended to help unblock the current stalemate.
Meanwhile, back in Iran, Tehran decided to prevent UN inspectors from visiting the Karaj compound outside Tehran. The key facility is used to assemble centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium.
Inspectors wanted access to Karaj to replace broken and damaged cameras recording the facility’s activities, under an agreement Tehran struck with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on September 12. The pact helped Iran avoid IAEA censorship, a step that could have derailed the nuclear talks completely.
But now Iran appeared to be backtracking parts of its pledge, just weeks after signing it.
According to a confidential report given to IAEA members on Sunday and seen by POLITICO, IAEA Director General Raphael Grossi sent four letters to Iran asking it to access the site – to no avail. Grossi’s report also said Iran’s refusal to let UN inspectors access the Karaj site violated the recent agreement, even though Iran allowed IAEA inspectors access to all other nuclear sites.
Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, denied this interpretation on Twitter, saying the Karaj complex “is still subject to security and judicial investigations”, so cameras and equipment “are not included for maintenance”. The Karaj facility was the target of an alleged drone attack in June that Iran blamed on Israel.
Grossi is expected to travel to Tehran to meet with the new leaders “in the near future”, according to the report. September 12 agreement. It could also be an opportunity to discuss access disputes.
A harder position?
Iran’s recent tactics are part of an expected hardening of strategy following the country’s recent elections, which brought more conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi to power as president.
Raisi brought in officials more skeptical of the nuclear deal, including Ali Bagheri Kani, a die-hard senior diplomat who was part of Iran’s original negotiating team for the 2015 deal, and who is now Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Likewise, a second senior diplomat told POLITICO that “there are many signs that Ali Bagheri Kani will also become the new chief nuclear negotiator” – a complicating factor as Bagheri Kani is a staunch critic if not an opponent of the 2015 nuclear agreement.
The second diplomat also noticed a potential change in Iran’s approach.
Previously, Iran said it was open to a plan that would allow it and the United States to take carefully sequenced steps to return to the 2015 deal. Now, the diplomat said, “it appears that Iran wants the United States to fulfill all its duties first, “which means a complete cancellation of sanctions before Tehran reduces its nuclear ambitions.
The diplomat called the change a “significant deviation”.
Recent remarks by Iranian leaders express a more intransigent approach, suggesting that Iran may demand more sanctions relief than was originally granted under the original 2015 deal.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Raisi lambasted the American “hegemonic system” and demanded the “lifting of all oppressive sanctions” by the United States.
Meanwhile, Iran is strengthening its nuclear capability.
According to Eric Brewer, an expert in nuclear proliferation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the country could have enough military-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb in “a few months”.
However, he added that Iran would subsequently “still need to convert this material into a nuclear core and pack it with explosives and other components to make a nuclear device, which would take longer.”
Iran, for its part, continues to insist that its nuclear program is peaceful.
What worries experts the most is the scientific know-how that Iran has acquired in recent years while developing its nuclear program, such as the operation of advanced centrifuges or the production of uranium metal. This knowledge cannot be undone and could help Iran build an atomic bomb faster in the future.
The United States has therefore repeatedly warned Iran that its patience is not unlimited. Speaking to reporters after the United Nations General Assembly, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stress that the window for “returning to mutual compliance is not undefined”.
American diplomats emphasize during private briefings that there is no particular ultimatum or red line. But there may come a time when US negotiators feel the benefits of a hypothetical Iran nuclear deal cannot be reclaimed and confidence is lost, they say.
But the money …
Despite the many uncertainties, Iran has a strong incentive to possibly resume negotiations in Vienna.
Iran’s faltering economy needs sanctions relief and the ability to export more oil and regain access to frozen foreign reserves could net the country around $ 100 billion, the group estimates Eurasia.
“I still think Iran will eventually agree to return to the Vienna table, perhaps already in October, but I expect the talks to be difficult,” the second diplomat said.