A round of meetings began Thursday in Vienna as various accounts emerged on what has or has not been agreed over restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The official Iranian news agency IRNA was moved to cite “an informed source close to Iran’s negotiating team” denying a Wall Street Journal report that Tehran had dropped its demand that the United States remove Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) from its list of ‘foreign terrorist organizations.’
The designation – made by President Donald Trump in 2019 – has been widely reported as a stumbling block in the talks, which began in April last year, but it is caught up in wider issues of Iran’s access to world trade as stipulated by the 2015 agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
The Wall Street Journal’s formulation that Iran is “still calling for stronger guarantees that Washington won’t abandon the pact again or reimpose sanctions on Tehran” suggests Iran might swallow the FTO designation in return for other US concessions.
IRNA’s source said the onus lay with the US to “take advantage of the opportunity JCPOA participants have offered.” The US left the JCPOA in 2018 and will part in the Vienna talks indirectly, with Iran refusing to meet face-to-face.
Sword of Damocles
There have been wide reports that Iran is insisting on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) dropping enquiries into uranium traces found in sites used before 2003 and undisclosed to the agency as nuclear-related.
Mohammad Marandi, advisor-cum-spokesman to Iranian negotiators, tweeted Thursday that the IAEA could “no longer be used as the sword of Damocles.” Iran and the IAEA are at odds over explanations Iran has given over the pre-2003 work, with the agency’s dissatisfaction prompting France, Germany, the UK, and the US to successfully move a resolution at the agency’s governing board in June censuring Iran.
In Tehran, Mohammad Eslami, Iran’s nuclear chief, told IRNA that Iran had no reason to respect JCPOA nuclear limits, given the deal was “quasi-obsolete,” and that it expected an end to “false claims,” a reference to the pre-2003 work.
In his tweet Marandi highlighted Iran’s demand for guarantees that the US and Europeans respect Iran’s access to world markets as required under the JCPOA, suggesting they could not hope to both restore the 2015 deal and “keep a wrecking ball at hand…able to expand the sanctions regime at will.”
Which sanctions are ‘nuclear related,’ and which are not, has been a central theme of talks, both in Vienna, where the process paused in March, and in a bilateral US-Iran round in Qatar June mediated by the European Union.
Asl and Bagheri Kani active
Mohsen Naziri Asl, Iran’s recently appointed ambassador to the IAEA, emerged Thursday in Vienna as a leading participant, while Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani met Enrique Mora, the EU chair of the talks, and the Russian IAEA ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who in past rounds of negotiations has been an enthusiastic tweeter.
Previous Vienna talks followed a format where remaining JCPOA signatories – China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, and the United Kingdom – met formally under JCPOA auspices, with the US participating indirectly. There were also constant bilateral meetings of various parties - other than between Iran and US, as Iran refuses to meet US diplomats.
The resumption of talks in Vienna, surprising observers after a five-month gap, comes after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell circulated in late July a written text outlining a possible path to agreement.
Washington confirmed Wednesday that Rob Malley, its chief negotiator and special Iran envoy, would be in Vienna. Malley tweeted that while he welcomed “a good faith attempt to reach a deal,” US “expectations are in check.”