Iran Nuclear Talks Update 5/6

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  • With negotiations over a new Iran nuclear deal stalemated due to Tehran’s demand that the United States remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list, Reuters reported on May 2 that “Western officials have largely lost hope the Iran nuclear deal can be resurrected.”
    • While the United States previously offered to lift the FTO designation in exchange for various commitments from Iran, including ending its pursuit of retribution for the 2020 killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the more recent line from officials is that some form of “reciprocity” would be needed from Iran, though they have yet to officially rule out de-listing the IRGC and continue to show an interest in reaching an agreement.
      • “If [Iranian officials are] not prepared to drop extraneous demands, continue to insist on lifting the FTO, and refuse to address our concerns that go beyond the JCPOA then, yes, we’re going to reach an impasse that is probably not going to be surmountable,” said a senior U.S. official earlier this week.
    • As covered in JINSA’s previous Talks Update, despite expressing a desire to return to the negotiating table in Vienna, Iranian officials insist they are sticking to their red lines, and that they have zero intention of walking back any of their positions, including demanding the FTO de-listing and refusing to foreswear aggression in the Middle East.
  • When asked about past statements saying time was running short to reach an agreement with Iran, on Wednesday State Department Spokesman Ned Price said, “we don’t think of this as a temporal clock. This is a technical clock,” suggesting that the administration is trying to avoid any admission that its good-faith diplomatic efforts have failed due to Iranian obstinance.
    • This appears to contradict administration officials’ repeated statements for months that “there is only a little time” before Iran’s nuclear program would be too advanced for the United States to benefit from any negotiated agreement.
  • Price also said that “a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is very much an uncertain proposition,” therefore the U.S. is “now preparing equally” for “a scenario in which we have a mutual return to compliance” and a “scenario in which there is not a JCPOA and we will have to turn to other tactics and other approaches to fulfill what is for us a requirement.”
    • American and Israeli officials have discussed options for a “plan B” if no agreement is reached, with top national security officials having met multiple times over the past year. Axiosreported on April 24 that “the Biden administration has recently started discussing a scenario in which the nuclear deal isn’t revived,” and “Israel is pressing the administration to cooperate on a ‘Plan B’ in case that happens.”
      • See JINSA’s November 2021 National Security Brief: “S. & Israel ‘Plan B’ for Iran” for more on how the U.S. can prepare for a breakdown in nuclear deal talks.
  •  Two Senate motions on May 4 added to the already long list of bipartisan congressional concern over the rumored concessions that the U.S. negotiating team has agreed to provide Iran.
    • In a bipartisan vote (62-33) on Wednesday, the Senate passed a motion to instruct conferees sponsored by Senator James Lankford (R-OK) insisting that any agreement with Iran 1) addresses the full range of Iran’s destabilizing activities, not just its nuclear program, 2) “does not revoke” the IRGC’s FTO designation, and 3) keeps in place all other existing sanctions on the IRGC.
    • In another bipartisan move, the Senate passed (86-12) a motion sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) that demands oversight on terrorism sanctions on Iran and the Iranian regime’s cooperation with China.
      • Top Iranian officials – including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, during a recent visit by the Chinese defense minister – have emphasized their desire to expand cooperation with China, a party to the original JCPOA nuclear deal.
  • Al-Arabiya reported on May 5 that “there is growing frustration within the State Department due to the centralized decision-making in the hands of only a few officials.”
    • The article also notes that Richard Nephew, a former member of the U.S. negotiation team in Vienna who reportedly left his position due to disagreements with the Biden administration’s approach, briefed Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) but “provided more information than Malley had agreed on.” Malley then allegedly “voiced his frustration to Blinken.”
    • Days after Nephew’s departure from the negotiating team was announced, Senator Menendez delivered a speech on the Senate floor strongly criticizing the prospective nuclear deal.