Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/22

  • The biggest, if not the only, remaining sticking point in Iran nuclear deal negotiations is a bilateral issue between the U.S. and Iran: the Iranians are still demanding the United States remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list.
    • The IRGC is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans around the Middle East; it also directs Tehran’s regionwide terrorism campaigns, including through proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Gaza and elsewhere.
    • The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. negotiating team has offered to remove the IRGC from the FTO list “if Iran commits to rein in its regional aggression and refrains from targeting Americans. If Iran doesn’t abide by the agreement, the listing could be reimposed.”
    • Though the FTO designation is largely symbolic – the IRGC would still be a U.S.-designated terrorist entity under Treasury Department lists, and many barriers to doing business with entities linked to the IRGC would remain in place – Tehran has declared the FTO removal to be a redline, and its negotiators have dragged out the Vienna talks in order to try to secure this U.S. concession.
    • Top Israeli officials and Arab officials expressed strong opposition to lifting the FTO designation:
      • On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said they “find it hard to believe that the IRGC’s designation… will be removed in exchange for a promise not to harm Americans…. We believe the [United States] will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists.”
      • On Monday, The Jerusalem Post reported that “the United Arab Emirates is very unhappy with the U.S. move toward removing” the IRGC from its FTO list.
    • Given this remaining hurdle in the talks, comments from U.S., European, Russian and Iranian officials have equivocated about the prospects for a successful and imminent conclusion:
      • On Friday, a senior U.S. diplomat told The Wall Street Journal that the “chances of a deal [are] diminishing by the day and the prospect of a breakdown [is] rising.”
      • On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council facilitator for the Vienna talks – the Irish Foreign Minister – said “the signals are good” for an agreement that weekend.
      • However, that same day Iranian state media rejected the Irish Foreign Minister’s claim as “inaccurate,” stating that the fate of the talks still depends on the U.S. “political decision” to remove the IRGC’s FTO designation.
      • On Monday, U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price said “there has been significant progress in recent weeks, but I want to be clear that an agreement is neither imminent nor is it certain. And in fact, we are preparing equally for scenarios with and without a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA.”
      • Also on Monday, Russia’s lead diplomat for the Vienna talks, Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, sought to deflect blame for his country’s March 4 demand that its trade with Iran be exempted from U.S. sanctions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – an ultimately unsuccessful demand which nevertheless held up talks for more than a week – by tweeting: “Iran and the US need to find a mutually acceptable solution to the last remaining issue to finalise the #ViennaTalks on restoration of #JCPOA. P.S. You can see for yourself that unscrupulous allegations that Russia was ‘an obstacle’ at the final stage of the talks were false.”
    • Sunday marked the Iranian New Year (Nowruz), which is the beginning of essentially a two week holiday in Iran. Government agencies typically remain closed for several days – March 21 through 24 is listed as the official national holiday – and after thirteen days families head outdoors and throw wheat grass into flowing waters.
    • Efforts toward an Iran nuclear deal received another potential setback on Sunday, when Iran reportedly failed to meet a deadline for answering questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about suspected undeclared nuclear sites inside Iran.
      • This latest act of stonewalling by Iran contravenes the first step of an Iran-IAEA roadmap, agreed in Tehran on March 5, to resolve outstanding international concerns about Iran’s past efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.
        • On March 5 in Tehran, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi warned, “without resolving these issues, efforts to revive the JCPOA may not be possible.”
      • On Sunday, the same day of Iran’s missed deadline, Grossi said “it is hard to imagine that anyone can reach a comprehensive agreement like the current JCPOA when talks with the IAEA in the second negotiations are deadlocked.”

JINSA’s Previous Iran Nuclear Talks Updates:

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/16

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