Ill-advised Action of U.S. Casts Skepticism Over Vienna Talks

December 8, 2021 - 21:23

TEHRAN – Informal meetings in Vienna between Iran and world powers have already kicked off, with the formal get-go of the Vienna talks scheduled to take place on Thursday.

But a series of U.S. hostile measures against Iran has cast a long shadow of doubt over the talks even before they officially resume. 

Iran and the European Union both announced that the Vienna talks would resume on Thursday after a week-long break. Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, announced the resumption date from Moscow while on a visit to Russia. Enrique Mora also did his part to dispel the short-lived uncertainty over the resumption date of the talks, saying Wednesday on Twitter that “The 7th round JCPOA talks will continue tomorrow Thursday in Vienna after consultations in and among capitals.”

He added, “A Joint Commission and a number of bilateral and multilateral contacts will take place.”

Notably, he didn’t call the upcoming round the eighth. He rather said the next meeting will be the seventh round, signaling that the week-long hiatus was an interlude in the seventh round. 

At any rate, the next round is likely to face a bumpy road considering recent U.S. measures against Iran ranging from alleged human rights-related sanctions to seizing Iranian oil shipments en route to Venezuela.

On Tuesday, in what appeared to be a concerted effort to ramp up pressure on Iran, the U.S. departments of Justice and Treasury announced new measures against Iran. 

The Department of Justice claimed that the U.S. seized “two large caches of Iranian arms, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, as well as approximately 1.1 million barrels of Iranian petroleum products.”

“The U.S. government similarly seized the Iranian petroleum products from four foreign-flagged tankers in or around the Arabian Sea while en route to Venezuela,” it said in a statement. “These actions represent the government’s largest-ever forfeitures of fuel and weapons shipments from Iran.”

Concurrently, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has designated a number of Iranian individuals and institutions in connection with alleged “serious human rights abuse and repressive acts targeting innocent civilians, political opponents, and peaceful protestors.”

The U.S. measures came two days before the official resumption of Vienna talks and while informal meetings were underway. Thus, many in Iran and beyond viewed the U.S. actions as an attempt to pressure Iran at a time when it is keen to show goodwill by presenting carefully drafted proposals to break the impasse over how to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

This may be the reason why Iran established a clear link between the Vienna talks and the recent sanctions. “Even amid Vienna Talks, US cannot stop imposing sanctions against Iran. Washington fails to understand that 'maximum failure' & a diplomatic breakthrough are mutually exclusive,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said on Twitter. 

He added, “Doubling down on sanctions won't create leverage—and is anything but seriousness & goodwill.”

Over the past few months, the U.S. has been complaining about the lack of seriousness on the Iranian side to conclude the Vienna talks. The recent round of talks has only exacerbated the U.S. grumbling. On the other side, Iran strived to show its seriousness and goodwill by presenting innovative proposals. 

On Friday, the Western negotiators received two Iranian draft proposals regarding the nuclear- and sanctions-related measures needed to be taken to bring the Vienna talks to a swift conclusion. Instead of studying the Iranian proposals and presenting its own proposals, the U.S. fell for calls from Iran hawks to resort to bullying and doubling down on sanctions pressure against Iran. 

For months now, anti-Iran experts have been urging Biden to take a tougher line on Iran on the incorrect premise that Iran only responds to pressure, a proposition that had been employed by the Trump administration but miserably failed.

With the Vienna talks entering a new, complicated phase, the Biden administration should be careful not to fall into traps set by those who would predictably oppose any kind of agreement with Iran.
 

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