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Vienna… Deadlock and Widening Opportunity

Vienna… Deadlock and Widening Opportunity

Saturday, 11 December, 2021 - 06:45

The consensus among the foreign ministers of the European troika taking part in the nuclear deal negotiations in Vienna (France, Britain and Germany) is that the second phase of the seventh round of negotiations, which resumed Thursday, is the last chance for Tehran to return to compliance with the nuclear deal.

Nonetheless, in the negotiating business, especially when such statements are made by diplomats, these warnings cannot be labeled as anything but a tactic to ramp up the pressure on the other side. In negotiations that are so consequential for international security and stability, no round can be considered the last chance, even if the statements were issued by the military leadership, as these types of negotiations often draw out, with delays and even procrastination common. Finding an opening that goes through the wall of negotiations may take a lot of time, even if losing this time is no longer in the interest of any of the parties.

However, despite hinting at a dead end, US Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinkin’s latest interview with the Wall Street Journal, in which he used more acute rhetoric, asking Tehran to adopt a different approach in the negotiations and warning of a stalemate and that “the runway is short,” also included criticism of his country’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. He also sent Tehran an important message when he said that US officials continue to believe that “the best way, the most effective way, to resolve the nuclear challenge posed by Iran is through diplomacy and through a return to mutual compliance with the so-called JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal.”

Despite the United States’ laxity, Tehran has not found its way back to mutual compliance. In the previous round, the gap between the main sides (Tehran and Washington) was huge. The former wants Washington to immediately lift the sanctions that the Trump administration had imposed in 2018. As for the latter, it wants Tehran to return to compliance with the 2015 deal. However, both sides are clinging to the hindrances preventing these steps from being taken. The way Washington sees it, the Biden administration cannot lift all sanctions before putting the decision to Congress, and that takes time Tehran cannot tolerate.

As for Tehran, it is not ready to return to compliance unless it receives legal and international assurances that the US administration will not pull out of the deal. Thus, it seems that Tehran is in a negotiating position in which it is searching for guarantees that maintain the agreement and mechanisms that ensure sanctions are lifted all at once. So far, though, it has not found out how to ensure that it gets what it wants, and it has not given the other side the concessions needed to convince it to grant it those guarantees.

The predicament facing the Iranian delegation returning to Vienna is that it left its country as the national currency dropped 6 percent in value following the failure of the first phase of the seventh round of negotiations. Also, Tehran’s regional or international options are currently closed off. The changed regional circumstances begin with the battle in Marib, as the legitimate Yemeni government has succeeded in going from defense to attack, leaving Iran without the outcomes it had been counting on in Marib, which has left it losing a card it could have played to apply pressure and defend its regional influence.

It is also facing the threat of the situation in Iraq slipping totally out of its control, with the threat of intra-Shiite conflict ever-present since Iran’s Iraqi subordinates lost the latest Iraqi parliamentary elections. As for Lebanon, which is usually used to apply pressure in two directions: The first is stability in the Mediterranean basin, and the second is Lebanon’s borders with the Israeli entity, where domestic Lebanese circumstances have turned Hezbollah into a disruptive force that cannot be used to apply pressure on the other negotiators.

Regarding Syria, agreements with Moscow have limited its impact on the negotiations in Vienna. Though the negotiations are on the nuclear issue, that means Tehran cannot swap its regional influence for concessions.

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