Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri in Vienna in August 2022, right before talks reached an impasse

Iranians Caught Between Optimism, Pessimism Over Nuclear Talks

Sunday, 02/19/2023

Iranian media sounded optimistic this week following news on Wednesday that Tehran and Washington seemed to be negotiating over a prisoner exchange deal.

But gradually the optimism dissipated as no follow-up news was heard and the foreign ministry spokesman on Saturday told a local news website that the talks have stopped.

Moderate conservative Khabar Online in Tehran was quick to pick up the news about "Progress in the Iran-US negotiations." The website's editors were upbeat that finally, US officials have spoken positively about the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is another name for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Khabar Online observed that "Although some analysts maintain that pressures by Israel and disputes with the Congress as well as some domestic political issues give reasons to the Biden Administration to be reluctant about resuming the nuclear talks, yet the bigger picture indicates a more positive outlook compared to past weeks and months."

Indirect nuclear talks between Tehran and Washington reached a deadlock in September 2022, when at the same time antigovernment protests broke out in Iran. The US in early October signaled that it is not focused on the negotiations any more and is determined to support the rights of protesters.

US special envoy for Iran Rob Malley meeting Omani officials on Feb. 15, 2023

The US Special Representative for Iran, Robert Malley thanked Oman for securing the release of US hostage Baqer Namazi earlier, during a meeting with Muscat officials.

A prisoner deal would reportedly involve the release of Iran’s frozen funds in South Korea and rumors said that Qatar will probably oversee the way Iran will spend the released assets to make sure that it will do nothing with the money other than purchasing food and medicine.

Apart from statements by President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iranian nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami also told the press that Iran is prepared to continue the nuclear negotiations based on previous agreements.

Regardless of any real or imagined progress, Iran's former ambassador to London, Mohsen Baharvand warned in a commentary he wrote for Etemad Newspaper that the possible death of the JCPOA will have unforeseeable repercussions. Baharvand said: "After the death of the JCPOA is announced any of the two parties might resort to actions that would endanger regional and international peace.”

Iran's former ambassador to London, Mohsen Baharvand

The former diplomat said one of the complications was after saying that finalizing a nuclear agreement is not part of their priorities, the United States and Europe realized that without the JCPOA, Iran may terminate its voluntary implementation of the "additional protocol," which allows inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.

Meanwhile, reformist activist Fayzollah Arabsorkhi said that policymaking in Iran about the nuclear talks is based on expectations that are not achievable. Arabsorkhi added that Iranian hardliners who are currently in charge are in a way aligned with Israel's policy about the Iranian nuclear program. He said generally, the JCPOA serves Iran's interests but delaying the negotiations for such a long time is not in Tehran's interest.

Arabsorkhi added that the Iranian negotiators should realize that talks cannot just serve Iran's interests. To be successful, negotiations should serve the interests of both sides.

In yet another development, the former chief of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign relations committee Heshmatollah Falahatp[isheh said that the reason for the failure of the talks to revive the JCPOA so far is that the Rouhani administration was too cautious and the Raisi administration too radical. He added that both governments missed the chance of reaching an agreement.

Falahatpisheh said, that when in December 2020 the hardliner parliament voted on stringent conditions for a deal, former President Hassan Rouhani gave in and did not try harder for a quick agreement.

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