Insisting there was “no substitute” for Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, the foreign ministry spokesman Monday dismissed any urgency in restarting talks to revive it.
Saeed Khatibzadeh pointed out that United States president Joe Biden had been in office for three months before talks began in Vienna on renewing the agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Some reporters read this as a signal that talks would resume in early November. But Khatibzadeh was far from specific.
With new Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) in office “for less than 55 days,” said the spokesman, “a new negotiation team may have their own views” while other parties to the Vienna talks were realizing they needed to be more flexible.
Studying the issue
The new team, the spokesman said, were studying “all the issues” in the six past rounds of Vienna talks, which formally involve remaining JCPOA signatories − China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United Kingdom − as well as indirectly the United States, which under former US president Donald Trump left the deal in 2018 and imposed stringent sanctions on Tehran that remain in place.
The European signatories, while calling on both the US and Iran to abide by the JCPOA, have become increasingly uneasy at the expertise Iran is gaining with steps taken since 2019 expanding the nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits. The Europeans also sense that the Raisi administration may believe it is in stronger position with some signs of recovery in the Iranian economy.
The German foreign ministry Monday issued a statement that Iran could not “set further conditions for resuming the talks,” which should “resume as soon a possible.” Berlin’s statement followed a suggestion from Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian Saturday, that while in New York last month for the United Nations general assembly he told US officials through intermediaries that he would accept their request for a meeting if Washington as a good-will gesture released $10 billion of Iran’s assets frozen abroad.
Asked about this Monday, Khatibzadeh said the US should release funds “to show they mean what they say.” The spokesman referred to reports that the US wanted the Vienna talks to include Iran’s missile defence by stressing there was “no substitute for the JCPOA,” and that “if all sanctions in an effective way are removed, Iran will stop all [nuclear] actions in reducing its commitments.”
Plans B and C
Asked about a ‘plan B’ should the Vienna talks fail, Khatibzadeh said that while any government in the world would have a ‘plan B and C,’ all should focus on plan A.
The Vienna talks, which began in April and were suspended in June pending the Iranian presidential election and subsequent transition, struggled to agree which US sanctions were incompatible with the JCPOA and exactly how the Iranian nuclear program would be returned to JCPOA limits.
The Biden administration has said it is willing to lift all ‘non-nuclear’ sanctions, but the Trump administration made no secret that sanctions introduced ostensibly on other grounds were intended to stymie subsequent efforts at reviving the JCPOA. Tehran also highlights a general commitment in the deal to allow it access to world markets.
While some aspects of the JCPOA limits on Iran’s nuclear program are relatively clear-cut − for example enriching uranium to just 3.67 per cent rather than levels now reaching 60 percent − Tehran is constantly gaining experience and technical knowledge. It has also replaced older centrifuges, the devices used to enrichment, with more advanced ones barred by the JCPOA, in some cases because of attacks on nuclear sites widely attributed to Israel.