Sixteen weeks after being officially paused, nuclear deal negotiations between the United States and Iran are expected to pick back up in Qatar on Tuesday, June 28.
The resumption of talks follows European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s visit to Tehran over the weekend, despite no outstanding issues being resolved during his trip.
Iran is still demanding the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation as well as political guarantees that future U.S. administrations will abide by any deal.
Borrell stated that “the US and Iran will talk – not directly – with a facilitation by me and my team as coordinator.” Though Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China were all at the table during the eight rounds of nuclear negotiations in Vienna, there has been conflicting reporting about who will partake in the Doha talks.
AmwajMedia reported that none of those countries will take part, while The Washington Postwrote that Iran and the U.S. will continue to negotiate indirectly through “Britain, France and Germany,” adding that “Russia and China, as signers of the deal, are also at the table.”
Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley is expected to arrive in Doha on Monday.
Western officials continue to warn, as they have for over a year, that time is running out for a deal to be reached, without providing specific deadlines. Iran, meanwhile, has put the burden for diplomatic progress on the United States.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated on June 13 that Iranian leaders “have to decide… very quickly, if they wish to proceed with what has been negotiated and which could be completed quickly if Iran chose to do so.”
Borrell corroborated Blinken’s words, telling the United Nations Security Council on June 16, “The time for decision [regarding a new nuclear deal] is now.”
After meetings in Tehran, Borrell on June 25 echoed a previous comment from International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi regarding only having weeks remaining until a “fatal blow” is dealt to the deal, saying, “look if we continue like this, the game is over, if you let the cameras to be switched off for one or two more weeks.”
State Department Spokesman Ned Price likewise stated on June 16, “There is a deadline [for negotiations],” though as usual he did not specify further.
On June 23, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated, Iran is “serious about reaching a good, strong and lasting agreement.” Amir-Abdollahian added that negotiations will only gain ground if there is “realism from the American side,” and, in a call with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on June 23, blamed “US bullying” for unproductive negotiations.
Senators from both sides of the aisle agree that continuing talks is not a viable plan for restraining Iran’s nuclear development.
On June 16, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) acknowledged to Jewish Insider that the Iranian regime’s actions and demands in negotiations “are gravely concerning, and I’m not optimistic about the path forward.”
On June 19, Senator James Risch (R-ID) said, “I do know where the negotiations stand, and they should’ve been over.“
On June 19, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) stated, “I’m not optimistic there will be such a deal. The administration believes that strategically it makes sense to keep the offer on the table, but I don’t see the pathway forward.”
Menendez had stated a few days earlier, on June 15, “For all intents and purposes, there are no talks.”
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) said on June 19, “At this .. it is unclear whether the Iranians want a deal or not. There’s some disagreements within Iran itself.”
In recent weeks, Iran has escalated the development of its nuclear program, in part as a response to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governor’s condemnation of Iran on June 8.
Iran has started to use the IR-6 centrifuges it installed on June 8 to enrich uranium, the IAEA reported on June 20. Iran has also placed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas into its Fordow centrifuges, which is needed for uranium enrichment.
At its Natanz nuclear site, Iran is also constructing a “vast new network of tunnels” able to hold a “massive enrichment facility that would be impervious to bunker-busting bombs and cyberattacks.”
Biden administration officials “believe that the primary purpose of the new facility is to replace the centrifuge facility that was severely damaged in a sophisticated attack last year.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh claimed on June 20 that Iran’s actions flouting its former commitments under the JCPOA, including turning off cameras and blocking access to nuclear facilities, would be “reversible” if a new nuclear agreement is reached.
Iran reportedly launched a 25.5 meter-long solid-fuled rocket, capable of carrying a satellite of 485 pounds, into space, aiming to “gather data in low-earth orbit and promote Iran’s space industry.” Though it is unclear when exactly the rocket launch took place, it was aired on Iranian state media “against the backdrop of heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program.”
Next steps in preventing a nuclear Iran will likely be a critical topic of discussion on President Biden’s upcoming Middle East trip, as U.S. regional partners are growing concerned about the lack of progress under the administration’s current strategy.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz committed to working with world powers as negotiations restart, saying on June 27, “with the expected or possible resumption of the nuclear talks, we will continue to work together with the United States and other countries in order to make our position clear and influence the crafting of the deal – if there is such.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett remarked on June 20 that Israel’s top goal for Biden’s visit will be “to finalize a clear joint plan of action together with the US to stop Iran’s nuclear program.”
Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman noted earlier in June “that the US had still not articulated a comprehensive strategy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, ballistic missile arsenal and support for regional militant groups.”