Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/16

  • A new nuclear agreement with Iran once again looks imminent in the wake of three key developments in the last 24 hours:
    • Russia said it’s received the guarantees it asked for and is ready to agree to a deal;
    • The United States is reportedly considering lifting the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); and
    • Iran released two British hostages in exchange for more than $500 million.
  • Iranian Foreign Minister (FM) Amir-Abdollahian said, “2 of 4 remaining issues (Iran’s red lines) in Vienna Talks have been resolved, but 2 issues including economic guarantees are still unresolved. If US is ready to settle these two, we’re ready to convene ministerial gathering in Vienna ASAP.”
    • It is unclear what two remaining issues or economic guarantees specifically he is referring to, though one is presumably the IRGC’s terrorist designation.
  • After playing a major role in forcing a “pause” in the Vienna negotiations with their last-minute demands that Western sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine don’t interfere with Russian-Iranian economic activity, Russia appears potentially to be dropping those demands, or to at least be satisfied with the guarantees that have been provided, suggesting that the only remaining roadblocks to reaching an agreement are between the U.S. and Iran.
    • While Russia initially demanded guarantees that Ukraine-related sanctions wouldn’t prevent it from trading broadly with Iran and that the two nations’ economic ties in general wouldn’t be affected, sources now say Russia is walking back those demands and accepting more narrow guarantees “ensuring that Russia could carry out the nuclear work it is mandated to do under the 2015 nuclear deal.”
      • Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow received written guarantees that its cooperation with Iran won’t be impacted by U.S. and E.U. sanctions: “We received written guarantees. They will be included in the text of the agreement on the resumption of the JCPOA”.
    • Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian: “Russian side gave assurance it sees no connection between Ukraine issue & Vienna Talks and that when Iran’s demands are met and we reach the point of agreement, they’ll confirm the agreement. Mr. Lavrov said ‘if you inform me today, we’ll be ready to confirm the deal tomorrow.’”
    • State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that “we are not going to sanction Russia for undertaking, for participating in nuclear projects that are part of the” nuclear deal.
    • An anonymous “senior western diplomat” told The Wall Street Journal, “Russia says [it is] happy with [the] guarantees on nuclear projects and [is] not asking for anything else … So we can go ahead with negotiations that are now exclusively US-Iran.”
  • Axios reported today that the United States is “considering” lifting the IRGC’s designation as an FTO, something Iran has been demanding for months.
    • Former State Department official Gabriel Noronha, who has written extensively about the details of the agreement being negotiated in Vienna, first reported the potential removal of the IRGC’s FTO designation on March 2, tweeting, “Malley has proposed to the Iranians that the U.S. will remove the IRGC from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list & sanctions if the Iranians simply promise to talk to the United States in new negotiations about their ‘regional activity’ (aka terrorism).” According to Noronha, Iran refused Malley’s offer “because they want an unconditional removal of the IRGC’s FTO designation.”
    • According to Axios, since the IRGC designation is not a nuclear issue, “any decision would take the form of a separate bilateral understanding between the U.S. and Iran.”
  • In a sign that a potential agreement is closer to being reached, Iran freed two British hostages, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, who returned home to the United Kingdom today. Though it’s reported that the U.K. paid Iran roughly $530 million to free the hostages, Iran says Britain owed it the money due to a decades-old dispute regarding a canceled order for British tanks.
    • Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been held hostage in an Iranian prison since she was sentenced to five years in prison in 2016, having been charged with seeking to overthrow the government.
    • Ashoori, a retired engineer, had been an Iranian hostage since 2019, when he was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges that included espionage for Israel.
    • A third dual national, Morad Tahbaz – a U.S., British, and Iranian citizen – was reportedly also released from prison in Iran on furlough. Tahbaz was in an Iranian prison for four years.
    • Iranian FM Amir-Abdollahian claimed the money had been given to Iran days ago, adding that “releasing the prisoners has nothing to do with paying the debt.”
      • Amir-Abdollahian: “I announce clearly that there is [a] link between the release of the money and the individuals who had been arrested and tried on spying and security charges and their guilt was proven.”
    • British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the money had been “ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods,” though she did not elaborate on how the U.K. could enforce such a restriction.
    • Iran still holds multiple Americans hostage, and Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley has said a nuclear deal is unlikely as long as Iran holds U.S. hostages.

JINSA’s previous Iran Nuclear Talks updates:

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/15

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/11

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/7

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/3

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/2

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/1

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 2/28