Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/24

  • Statements from U.S. officials about the prospects for a new nuclear deal have become more pessimistic in recent days, while the Biden administration faces growing pressure not to lift terrorism sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
  • Axios confirmed that the lead U.S. negotiator, Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley, recently offered to lift the IRGC’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation in exchange for a public commitment to de-escalate malign activities in the region, which Iran declined.
    • Lifting the FTO designation is reportedly the final hurdle to an agreement, but Iran has every incentive to keep dragging out talks while its nuclear programs advances.
    • The FTO designation and its removal are not among the U.S. sanctions commitments spelled out in the original JCPOA nuclear deal; moreover, lifting this designation would unjustifiably enable Tehran to claim the IRGC is not a terrorist organization, among other serious negative consequences for U.S. national security.
  • On Tuesday, Rob Malley, joined by Middle East Coordinator at the National Security Council Brett McGurk, briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) behind closed doors on the status of negotiations. After the briefing, SFRC member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) expressed concerns about the White House considering lifting the IRGC’s FTO, saying “that designation should remain.”
    • SFRC Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) warned that the deal could hand over “$90-$130 billion in sanctions relief” to the Iranian regime while relieving sanctions “against Iran’s worst terror and human rights offenders” and delisting the IRGC, stating that this “does not support our national security interests.” Risch added, “the administration should walk away.”
    • Also on Tuesday, 86 House Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of State Blinken expressing strong opposition to any attempt to remove the IRGC’s FTO designation.
    • A growing number of House Democrats have also spoken out against the potential of relieving sanctions on the IRGC, as Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) recently said he “would have trouble supporting” any deal with sanctions relief for the IRGC.
  • U.S. sources told Axios that the “White House has become increasingly concerned about the domestic political fallout of some kind of a deal with Iran regarding the IRGC and started cooling down to the idea.”
    • On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price repeatedly said, “an agreement is neither imminent nor certain,” adding, “there are a number of difficult issues that we are still trying to work though.”
    • Asked about when negotiators might return to Vienna, Price suggested negotiations may be at a stalemate until the end of the Nowruz holiday in Iran, saying, “typically in the past, we’ve noted that Iranian negotiators tend to take a break during the holiday of Nowruz.” This could mean Iran takes essentially a two-week holiday from the Vienna talks, potentially through the end of next week.
    • Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Wednesday, “we believe that today we are closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before.”
    • That same day, Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami emphasized Iran is operating under the assumption no nuclear deal will be reached, saying, “we haven’t made ourselves and our nuclear plans dependent on #ViennaTalks.”

JINSA’s Previous Iran Nuclear Talks Updates

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/22

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