Lack of American political decision has brought Vienna talks to a halt

April 3, 2022 - 20:8

TEHRAN – Talks in Vienna over reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have come to a standstill due to the Biden administration’s inability to make tough political decisions. 

After a week of diplomatic blame-game between Russia and the West over who’s throwing a wrench into the Vienna talks, prospects for the imminent conclusion of the talks have become bleak due to Biden dithering over the last remaining issues.  

After the war in Ukraine broke out, the European negotiators in Vienna accused Russia of preventing the conclusion of the talks for fears that the possible resumption of Iran’s oil exports would make it easy to drive Russian oil and gas out of European markets.

Russia categorically rejected the accusation and, together with Iran, pointed the finger of the blame on Washington for refraining from making political decisions required for concluding the talks. 

Iran says it has made all the tough decisions that are necessary for advancing the talks. Over the course of the talks, Iran provided innovative solutions to a number of thorny issues such as guarantees and verification measures. But the U.S. kept refusing the proposals all while refraining from coming up with innovative solutions.

In a phone conversation with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian addressed the latest developments concerning the negotiations in Vienna. He told the world’s top diplomat that the U.S. needs to take action to help conclude the talks. 

While Iran says a deal in Vienna is imminent, the U.S. keeps dampening hopes for a deal. Amir Abdollahian told Guterres that the negotiations are about to result in a deal. “We are close to an agreement in the negotiations and we have conveyed our proposals on the remaining issues through the European Union’s top negotiator to the U.S. side, and the ball is now in the U.S. court,” he said.

Guterres also described the important negotiations in Vienna as significant and expressed hope that the parties to the talks will reach an agreement as soon as possible.

The U.S., however, has a different assessment of the current state of play in Vienna. U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley told CNN's Becky Anderson in Doha last week that a nuclear deal “is not around the corner and is not inevitable” due to outstanding issues that “matter deeply” to parties involved in the talks, one of which is Tehran's demands regarding the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Iran has demanded that the U.S. remove the IRGC from its so-called Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) because, many in Iran and beyond, believe that the Trump administration’s decision to designate the IRGC as an FTO was mainly driven by a political motive to make it harder, if not impossible, for any future administration to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The FTO designation has taken a center stage at the talks because of a number of reasons. First, many believe that the designation is politically motivated and is designed to prevent Iran from fully benefitting from any relief from sanctions. Second, it could be used by the U.S. to escalate military tensions in the region. 

Mohammad Marandi, a professor at the University of Tehran, said the designation matters because it gives the U.S. a pretext to militarily target the group, according to CNN. 

“When the United States and Iran both have a presence [in the Persian Gulf] and the two sides consider the other navy to be a terrorist organization, then are no lines for communication, and that could create major problems,” he said.

The designation also signifies the internal weakness of the Biden administration which fears the political fallout of removing the IRGC from the FTO list. But this has nothing to do with Iran. It is Biden’s problem, not Iran’s. 

Iran has done its part and is ready to conclude the talks if the U.S. shows seriousness. The Biden administration has been accused of trying to link the Vienna talks to developments in the region, a move that would almost certainly complicate the talks and further postpone their conclusion.

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