Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/29

  • No officials have returned to Vienna to resume talks on an Iran nuclear deal since leaving for their respective capitals in mid-March.
    • There have been suggestions that negotiators may not need to return to Vienna to finalize an agreement.
  • Though several European officials recently reiterated that a deal is just days away, United States officials’ tone remained more pessimistic.
    • Speaking in Doha, Qatar, about a possible agreement, Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said on Sunday he “can’t be confident it is imminent,” echoing State Department Spokesperson Ned Price’s comments from last week.
    • The European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, also in Doha on Sunday, sounded more optimistic, repeating Western diplomats’ months-old insistence that “we are very close but there are still some issues pending … it is a matter of days.
      • On Monday, however, Borrell seemed less certain, saying “the JCPOA, it’s not getting to an end…. I cannot guarantee that we will reach an agreement.”
    • French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday, “we are near an agreement.
  • Iran’s demand that the United States lift the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation is reportedly the final hurdle to an agreement, despite the JCPOA not requiring the United States to lift such sanctions.
    • Both Malley and Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed over the weekend that the IRGC and some of its individual members would still be sanctioned even if the group was removed from the FTO list.
      • Malley said in Doha, “the IRGC will remain sanctioned under US law and our perception of the IRGC will remain.”
      • Blinken, in a visit to Israel, told Israeli officials that the FTO designation is mostly symbolic.
    • Malley also reportedly said on Sunday, “this is a nuclear deal, we’re lifting those [nuclear-related] sanctions. It’s not intending to address other issues like Iran’s regional policy & other sanctions.”
      • This comment contradicts his previous one, which implied that some sanctions on the IRGC, like the FTO, could be lifted in conjunction with the nuclear deal. Altering any sanctions on the IRGC would equate to addressing “Iran’s regional policy.”
    • There has been growing bipartisan opposition to lifting the FTO in Congress. Most recently, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) told reporters the “IRGC continues to be a dangerous and destabilizing actor,” adding that he “has real concerns” about the potential decision.
  • The European Union’s Enrique Mora visited Tehran over the weekend to meet with Bagheri-Kani as well as Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, reportedly to discuss the FTO issue among other nuclear deal-related topics.
    • Ali Bagheri-Kani, Iran’s chief negotiator in the Vienna talks, said on Sunday “if the American side [will] be pragmatic, it is possible to reach agreement,” meaning the United States conceding Iran’s demand to lift the FTO designation.
      • A senior advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei, Kamal Kharrazi, said on Sunday a deal is, in fact, “imminent,” adding, “it depends on the political view of the United States.”
    • Bagheri-Kani and Amir-Abdollahian said an agreement is in reach if the United States will be “realistic.”
      • On Saturday, Amir-Abdollahian added, “if they are unrealistic & want to make us cross our red lines, they will no doubt be responsible for the failure of the talks.”
        • Last week, he said, “we’re closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before.”
      • Dan Shapiro, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Israel, departed the Biden administration’s team on Iran this week after seven months as a special government employee and part-time senior adviser.
        • In the past, key members of the U.S. negotiating efforts, such as Richard Nephew, have left the team due to reported differences in opinion over the negotiation strategy. Shapiro has not stated any frustrations with the Biden administration’s Iran policy, and his advisory role was temporary to begin with.

JINSA’s Previous Iran Nuclear Talks Updates:

Iran Nuclear Talks Update 3/24

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