US national security advisor Jake Sullivan. FILE PHOTO

US national security advisor Jake Sullivan. FILE PHOTO

Sullivan Says Good Discussion With Putin On Iran As Talks To Resume

12/8/2021

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that the US and Russian presidents “had a good discussion” on Iran in their teleconference on Ukraine.

“Russia and the United States actually worked well together, even in tense circumstances, back in the 2014, 2015 period to produce the joint comprehensive plan of action. This is an area where Russia and the United States can continue to consult closely to ensure that Iran never acquires [nuclear weapons],” Sullivan said.

After seven rounds of multilateral negotiations in Vienna to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran has presented new demands unacceptable to the United States and its three European allies who signed the 2015 agreement.

Essentially, Iran is asking for all sanctions imposed since former president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement be lifted first before it commits itself to the limitations of the JCPOA again.

The last round of the Vienna talks ended on December 3, with no clarity as to when they will resume. Iran said Tuesday that talks will restart on Thursday, but so far others have not confirmed this.

Russia and China, Iran’s diplomatic supporters, are also signatories of JCPOA and the US needs their support to put pressure on Iran. Anecdotal information says that both Moscow and Beijing were taken aback by Iran’s positions in the Vienna talks last week, but it is not clear how far they are ready to lean on Tehran.

Sullivan stopped short of providing a clue as to what Russia is prepared to do at this juncture to persuade Iran to adopt a more reasonable negotiating posture.

Sullivan was asked if a return to the JCPOA means releasing frozen funds and lifting sanction, allowing Iran to carry on with its activities in the Middle East, a point that critics of the administration’s policy of returning to a purely nuclear deal with Iran have voiced.

Sullivan replied with the argument that the nuclear deal has no impact on Iran’s proxy forces in the region. Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement did not rein in pro-Iran groups in Lebanon or Yemen, and the opposite is also true. “Nothing about the nuclear deal stops the United states’ capacity to deal with those proxies and we are prepared to do so.,” the national security advisor said.

When Trump abandoned the nuclear agreement one his demands was that Tehran change its “malign behavior” in the region and stop grooming and supporting militant forces.

The Biden Administration has also expressed concern over Iran’s regional policies and its ballistic missile program but has argued that the JCPOA should be restored first, and other matters pursued later. But critics say that once the nuclear deal is revived the US must lift key sanctions, which would give Tehran a financial lifeline, leaving no incentive for further talks.

The Biden Administration’s Iran strategy is also based on close coordination with European allies, unlike Trump who abandoned the JCPOA against the advice of allies. Sullivan reiterated that allies are important.

“The more Iran demonstrates a lack of seriousness at the negotiating table, the more unity there is among the P5+1, and the more they will be exposed as the isolated party in this negotiation. So really the ball is in Iran’s court as to whether it wants to show up and demonstrate that it’s going to be serious or not,” Sullivan maintained.

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