By Mohammad Mazhari

U.S. can afford to take some early steps to restore nuclear deal: Fitzpatrick

April 6, 2021 - 12:42

TEHRAN – Mark Fitzpatrick, an associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says that the U.S. can afford to take the first steps to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

"I do think the United States can afford to take some early steps such as releasing some of the Iranian funds frozen in South Korea," Fitzpatrick tells the Tehran Times.

Pointing to the position of Washington and Tehran as key players of nuclear negotiations, Fitzpatrick says that the United States can take some early steps to break the impasse on reviving the nuclear pact.

Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain — all parties to the 2015 deal — discussed on Friday the possible return of the United States to the agreement and how to ensure its full and effective implementation by all sides including the U.S.

In Friday’s talks the participants agreed to meet in person in Vienna on Tuesday, April 6, after “frank and serious talks," according to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, a senior negotiator in the talks.

Here is the full text of the interview with Fitzpatrick over his expectation of this round of talks: 

Q: What is your prediction in regard to the results of ongoing negotiations over reviving the JCPOA? Are you optimistic about the outcome of the talks?

 A: It should not have taken two months for talks to begin on restoring the JCPOA. But now that all parties are at the table - albeit not exactly at the same table. I expect they will be able to work out a "compliance for compliance" agreement within the next few months.

 All parties share the same goal of resuming the deal that was negotiated with such intense efforts in 2015.  It would be tragic if that goal cannot be reached due to political impediments in both capitals.  

Q: What are the main domestic challenges that hinder Biden's return to the JCPOA? Do you think Biden can contain hawkish attempts intended to completely kill the deal?

A: President Joe Biden faces severe political challenges in that he cannot count on a majority of Senators to support a clean "compliance for compliance" restoration of the JCPOA.  Some key senators in his own party have said that a restored JCPOA should have additional conditions, such as an agreement to address missiles and other issues and extend the nuclear limits' timelines.  In particular, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez opposed the JCPOA back in 2015.  Biden needs Menendez's help on many other matters, not least of all getting officials such as Deputy Secretary of State designee Wendy Sherman through the Senate confirmation process.  So, Biden cannot afford to anger Menendez by ignoring his views.  This is one reason Biden has been cautious about lifting sanctions waivers. Ultimately, I expect Menendez will not want to be responsible for killing a deal to revive the JCPOA, but it may take additional time and some compromises that Iran will not like.

Q: Is there any Russian initiative to revive the JCPOA? How do you see Russia and China's role in this regard as they have deep disagreements with the Biden administration?

A:  Russia and China were helpful partners in negotiations that produced the 2015 accord, and their active support will be needed for efforts to revive the deal.  But frankly, they are not the most important players. The key negotiations will involve mainly the U.S. and Iran. China's role may be more important than that of Russia because China can offer more in the way of incentives, including investment and purchase of Iranian oil. The recent cooperation deal signed between Iran and China, lacking in detail though it was, shows Iranians that the potential for global trade once U.S. sanctions are lifted.


Q: Two progressive Democratic members of Congress (Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Ro Khanna) argued that the United States needs to make the first move in returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran also says it is the U.S. that left the agreement and it should be the first party to return to its commitments. What is your comment?

A:  When two parties in a standoff insist that the other must move first, the obvious answer is to take simultaneous steps.  This is a way to work around political impediments to a deal.  Working out the arrangements for simultaneity will require detailed negotiations. This is why it is so important that "proximity talks" are finally beginning.  That said, I do think the United States can afford to take some early steps, such as releasing some of the Iranian funds frozen in South Korea. Such a step could be politically justified in Washington on the grounds that the funds will be used for humanitarian goods, especially in light of the Covid wave that is again hitting Iran.

Q: Do you think the 25-year partnership pact between Iran and China can affect the attempts to revive the JCPOA? Why is the Biden administration worried about China's influence in West Asia?

A:  China and the United States are increasingly at odds on many issues, and most Americans regard China's foreign policy moves with great suspicion in terms of motives and potential consequences in undercutting U.S. national interests. The China-Iran partnership pact is not necessarily detrimental to the United States. In fact, it could even be helpful in acting as an incentive to restoring the JCPOA. Nebulous though the partnership pact may be, it could show Iranian citizens the economic potential if U.S. sanctions were removed and Iran could freely engage in international trade.
 

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