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Vienna and the United States’ Miscalculations

Vienna and the United States’ Miscalculations

Friday, 3 December, 2021 - 11:00

Talks of the negotiations’ failure preceded the delegations of the participant countries’ arrival to Vienna. However, for some of the participants, the very fact that they are returning to the negotiating table inspires optimism that the two main sides of the negotiations, “the United States and Iran,” will reach some kind of settlement that will form the basis of future negotiations once intentions are gauged. But do the two sides genuinely intend to find a solution? Can they make difficult and painful concessions, or will both sides’ domestic and foreign circumstances derail the opportunity presented by the seventh round of talks in Vienna?

On the Iranian side, the negotiating team’s cohesion is obvious. And, this time, it has all the pillars of the regime’s backing, with Tehran having set a series of objectives that it wants to achieve. In addition, Iranian decision-makers have already planned for the prospect of their negotiating team coming back from Vienna empty-handed. On the other hand, the US team seems confused. This confusion stems from the divergences within the administration on how to deal with Iran in general and the nuclear deal in particular. A wider schism splits the institutions of government in the US. This is particularly evident when we look at Congress, which is also split. On the one hand, there are the Republicans, who oppose any new deal or lifting sanctions. One the other, we have the Democrats, who are caught between the need to get the Iranian question out of the way and the Biden Administration’s lack of a strategic vision. That has left some of them apprehensive about any step taken by the Biden administration that could impact the midterm elections, as Trump’s administration had succeeded in turning the negotiations with Iran into a major public opinion issue domestically.

In practice, it could be said that the American side is behind the negotiation’s dysfunction. It seeks to conclude a piecemeal agreement with Tehran that sets the groundwork for a gradual return to the initial agreement, regardless of the implications on the Middle East’s collective security. However, a faction within the Biden administration seeks to grant Tehran major concessions under the pretext of containing its nuclear weapons program, promoting Republican Senator Bill Hagerty to tweet that “[It is] outrageous that Rob Malley, Biden’s negotiator, wants to go beyond JCPOA & bribe Iranian regime with total lifting of sanctions.”

Before its delegation arrived in Vienna, the Iranian leadership raised the bar, reiterating the goal it seeks to achieve through this round, the lifting of sanctions. It will thus not go along with the principle of one step for another and will not present any concessions regarding its nuclear program besides those that had been part of the previous deal. Despite its impossible demands, Tehran, given the state of its economy and its citizens’ living conditions, cannot hide its desire to reach a deal that meets some of its terms.

Nonetheless, the nature of Iran's regime makes backing down under pressure to internal liabilities and foreign pressure impossible. The Iranian decision-makers, despite their pressing need for the benefits that the deal- even if it is preliminary- would present, do not find making significant concessions to be a viable option. That pushes us to believe that this round will end like those that preceded it and that Iran will continue to insist on taking more than the other side can give. Indeed, Tehran does not seem prepared to return to full compliance with the nuclear deal before the sanctions imposed on it are lifted.

Moreover, the Iranian negotiators want assurances from the US administration that its decision to lift sanctions will be taken quickly. For Tehran, swift and full compliance with the deal must be met with US commitments to swiftly lift sanctions and guarantees that it will not withdraw from the agreement.

Despite the negotiations’ difficulty and the apprehensions around the details, Tehran did not stop blackmailing the countries of the P5+1 group. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Wednesday that Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity, using advanced centrifuges, at the Fordow facility built inside a mountain. This plan demonstrates the extent of Iran’s defiance and the United States’ reversal of its position. And so, the simplified view adopted by some pillars of the Biden administration regarding the containment of Iran’s nuclear activity could leave the previous deal, with all the harm that would imply for the region, reinstated.

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