Iran’s hard bargaining tactics raise the stakes at Vienna nuclear negotiations

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Some experts fear that a return to the JCPOA could end up offering Iran an eventual pathway toward developing nuclear weapons. (AFP)
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Updated 29 May 2021

Iran’s hard bargaining tactics raise the stakes at Vienna nuclear negotiations

  • Escalation of nuclear activity and other moves seen as part of strategy to get US sanctions removed
  • Experts warn that a return to 2015 deal could give Iran a pathway toward developing atomic weapons

WASHINGTON, DC: The ongoing parley in Vienna between Iran and five signatories of the 2015 nuclear accord has begun to look like the proverbial game of chicken. The hawk — Tehran — has no pressing reason to yield to the dove’s demand that it abide by the limits set by the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Being in the role of the hawk, however, does have a downside for Iran: It runs the risk of overplaying its hand and ending up with nothing to show for its single-minded pursuit of getting the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration removed, analysts say.

Likewise, it may make sense for Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf to voice his opposition to further renewal of the deal allowing inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites, but there is no proof so far that such bargaining tactics are working.

That said, Tehran must be pleased to hear the warning just sounded by Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is “very concerning” as the radioactive metal used to power nuclear reactors is being processed to purity levels that “only countries making bombs are reaching.”

“Iran often plays hardball in negotiations, and I suspect that it’s testing the limits to see what it can get away with,” Matt Kroenig, a professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told Arab News.

“In the end, however, I suspect we’ll see a return to the nuclear deal with the terms as formulated in 2015. Iran needs the sanctions relief, and the Biden administration wants (what it will portray back home as) an early diplomatic victory.”

But some experts fear that a return to the JCPOA — from which the US unilaterally pulled out in May 2019 — could end up offering Iran an eventual pathway toward developing nuclear weapons. Additionally, they say, if Iran is allowed to continue to violate IAEA safeguards, a dangerous precedent would be set.

“Tehran could be overplaying its hand regarding an issue that Washington and its European allies view as separate from the JCPOA — the IAEA’s ongoing safeguards investigation,” Andrea Stricker, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Arab News.

“Iran has extorted the IAEA in three key ways since February. First, Tehran forced the agency into a terrible position of negotiating a bridge monitoring agreement, something it should never do with any state.




Iran’s hardline stance on IAEA inspections have been accompanied by continuous collaboration with regional militant groups, say experts. (AFP)

“As members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, states sign up to an IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreement and can add an additional protocol, but they don’t get to pick and choose which elements of those agreements they’ll comply with. By letting Iran do this, the IAEA set a very dangerous precedent for other proliferant states.”

One of the JCPOA’s more controversial conditions was to halt any further public revelations and inspections of Iran’s military research and tests related to nuclear weapons. Six years later, there is a sense that the revelations by a 2018 Israeli spy agency raid — which yielded tons of classified Iranian documents detailing various past covert nuclear weapons work — should prompt a comprehensive IAEA investigation into the military dimensions of Tehran’s nuclear program.

“There’s a fundamental incompatibility with how the JCPOA was used from 2015 to 2018 to shelve the IAEA’s investigation, and the fact that new information about Iran’s nuclear weapons activities has since come to light,” Stricker said.

“This underscores that the IAEA can’t perfunctorily close an open safeguards investigation. It must first methodically determine whether Iran’s nuclear program has military dimensions and seek to ensure any such activities have ended.

“From 2002 until 2015, the IAEA investigated the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. However, the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 pushed the IAEA into another devastating compromise: Closing its investigation and issuing an incomplete, final report.”
 




One of the JCPOA’s more controversial conditions was to halt any further public revelations and inspections of Iran’s military research and tests related to nuclear weapons. (AFP)

Jason Brodsky, a Middle East analyst and senior editor at Iran International, says Tehran has yet to be held accountable by the P4+1 — the UK, France, Russia and China plus Germany — for its uranium-enrichment escalation and stockpiling because of their determination to preserve the JCPOA, so it may have calculated that resistance will produce even more concessions.

“It’s worth noting that the international community merely issued strongly worded demarches while continuing to negotiate following Iran’s announcement that it was enriching uranium up to 60 percent in April,” he told Arab News.

“However, if Iran adopts such a stance on the IAEA monitoring agreement, it risks further isolating itself.”

While the general consensus of analysts is that Tehran’s hard line is aimed at extracting concessions from the US and the remaining JCPOA signatories while sacrificing little in return, an unfolding power struggle in the run-up to Iran’s presidential elections in June may also be a contributing factor.

“Granted, it’s the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who makes the final decision on such matters, but the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) does have a role to play. And the SNSC’s internal dynamics have changed since the original nuclear deal was signed in 2015,” Brodsky said.

“President Hassan Rouhani faces competition from Ghalibaf and Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, both of whom joined the SNSC after the JCPOA came into being. What has further complicated matters is Raisi’s decision to run for president. This is in part why we see the mixed messages from Tehran over the IAEA monitoring agreement.”

Advocacy groups opposed to the 2015 nuclear accord have also warned that a new deal would be incomplete if it does not address Iran’s links with a number of designated terror groups and its hosting of Al-Qaeda leaders.
 




Some experts fear that a return to the JCPOA could end up offering Iran an eventual pathway toward developing nuclear weapons. (AFP)

Bryan E. Leib, executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty, is blunt in his assessment of the Vienna negotiations. “The Biden administration is playing a dangerous game with the world’s most notorious state sponsor of terrorism that ultimately puts American allies and American troops in the region in harm’s way against the regime’s aggression,” he said.

Leib’s concerns are shared by many former Trump administration officials who enforced the “maximum pressure” campaign that revived and expanded sanctions on Iran’s nuclear research and development network, and on terror-linked individuals and organizations. Their worry is that Washington’s negotiation strategy would not only leave the US less secure but endanger the Middle East as well.

They argue that Iran’s hardline stance on IAEA inspections, its push for sanctions relief and its ramping up of its nuclear activity have been accompanied by continuous collaboration with regional militant groups.

“Because of its (the Biden administration’s) eagerness to throw away the hard-won leverage and make unprecedented concessions to the Iranian regime, I do think Iran feels it holds all the cards when it comes to the nuclear negotiations,” Simone Ledeen, a former Trump Pentagon official, told Arab News.

“In fact, in early May an unnamed senior administration official told reporters that ‘success or failure now depends on Iran.’ It’s the most stark and troubling indication that the US administration remains untroubled by the many signals that Iran will make no concessions.”

 

Ledeen’s opinion is seconded by Len Khodorkovsky, a former senior State Department official, who said: “The Biden administration’s astonishing generosity in surrendering its leverage in Vienna has undoubtedly motivated the Iranian regime to push the envelope. The big concern is that the Biden administration, like the Obama administration, is willing to sacrifice everything at the altar of a deal, even a bad deal that harms US national security and that of our regional allies.”

In the final analysis, Tehran is still no closer to achieving its goal of getting President Joe Biden to find a way back into the JCPOA than when he officially entered the White House in January. Indeed, at its current stated pace of uranium enrichment, Iran could very well end up with the wherewithal for exploding a nuclear device, but not the sanctions relief it desperately craves.

On the other hand, as IAEA chief Grossi diplomatically pointed out in the interview he gave to Financial Times, “with a program with the degree of ambition, sophistication that Iran has, you need a very robust, very strong verification system … otherwise it becomes very fragile.”

Preventing Iran from gaining the capability to build nuclear weapons will require, at a minimum, stringent measures backed by strict monitoring of all of Iran’s underground facilities, including the ones it has presumably not disclosed.

Twitter: @OS26

 


Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

Updated 6 sec ago

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

  • Tunisia seeks to secure an IMF loan to save public finances from collapse

TUNIS: Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Sunday night in a poor neighborhood in the capital against poverty, high prices and the shortage of some foodstuff, escalating pressure on the government of President Kais Saied, as the country suffers an economic and political crisis.
Tunisia is struggling to revive its public finances as discontent grows over inflation running at nearly 9 percent and a shortage of many food items in stores because the country cannot afford to pay for some imports.
The North African nation is also in the midst of a severe political crisis since Saied seized control of the executive power last year and dissolved parliament in a move his opponents called a coup.
In the poor Douar Hicher district in the capital, some protesters lifted loaves of bread in the air. Other chanted, “Where is Kais Saied?.” Angry youths burned wheels.
Protesters chanted “Jobs, freedom and national dignity,” and “We can’t support crazy price hikes,” “Where is sugar?.”
Food shortages are worsening in Tunisia with empty shelves in supermarkets and bakeries, adding to popular discontent at high prices of many Tunisians who spend hours searching for sugar, milk, butter, cooking oil and rice.
Videos on social media showed on Sunday dozens of customers scrambling to win a kilogram of sugar in market.
Tunisia, which is suffering its worst financial crisis, is seeking to secure an International Monetary Fund loan to save public finances from collapse.
The government raised this month the price of cooking gas cylinders by 14 percent for the first time in 12 years. It also raised fuel prices for the fourth time this year as part of a plan to reduce energy subsidies, a policy change sought by the IMF.


Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

Updated 25 September 2022

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

  • A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Sunday that Iran’s crackdown on protests is “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable,” as Tehran vowed no leniency against the unrest gripping the country.
A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
At least 41 people have died, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll, although human rights groups say the real figure is higher.
In a statement on behalf of the EU, Borrell said: “For the European Union and its member states, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
Moves “to severely restrict Internet access by the relevant Iranian authorities and to block instant messaging platforms is a further cause for concern, as it blatantly violates freedom of expression,” he added.
Amini was arrested on September 13, accused of having breached rules that mandate tightly fitted hijab head coverings as well as ripped jeans and brightly colored clothes.
Iran’s judiciary chief on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency.”


Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest

Updated 25 September 2022

Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest

  • Protests over Amini’s death have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran
  • At least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began

DUBAI: Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday it summoned Britain’s ambassador to protest what it described as a hostile atmosphere created by London-based Farsi language media outlets. The move comes amid violent unrest in Iran triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody.
The state-run IRNA news agency reported the ministry also summoned Norway’s ambassador to Iran and strongly protested recent remarks by the president of the Norwegian parliament, Masud Gharahkhani.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody after being detained by Iranian morality police launched unrest across Iran’s provinces and the capital of Tehran.
Protests over Amini’s death have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran. State TV has suggested that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began Sept. 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities put the toll at least 11, with more than 1,200 demonstrators arrested.
The Foreign Ministry’s website said it summoned Simon Shercliff, the UK’s ambassador to Iran, on Saturday and protested the hosting of critical Farsi-language media outlets. The ministry alleges the news outlets have provoked disturbances and the spread of riots in Iran at the top of their programs.
Iran said it considers the news agencies’ reporting to be interference in Iran’s internal affairs and acts against its sovereignty.
The crisis in Iran began as a public outpouring of anger over the the death of Amini, who was arrested by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly wearing her Islamic headscarf too loosely. The police said she died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account.
Amini’s death has sparked sharp condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations.


Amid unrest, Iranian Guard attacks militant group in Iraq

Updated 25 September 2022

Amid unrest, Iranian Guard attacks militant group in Iraq

  • The Guard’s ground forces fired artillery from positions within Iran’s West Azerbaijan province
  • Iran's official news agency says intelligence forces have arrested members of a separatist group

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Saturday attacked a Kurdish militant group’s base located in the north of neighboring Iraq, state media said, a week after widespread anti-government protests began over a young woman’s death in police custody.

IRNA said the Guard’s ground forces fired artillery from positions within Iran’s West Azerbaijan province, attacking what it described as a “terrorist group” based across the border in Iraq. The report did not elaborate.

IRNA also said some members of a separatist group, so-called “Komleh” in Iran, were arrested by intelligence forces, without giving details.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to Iran’s military, quoted the Guard’s statement as saying the operation will continue in order to ensure border security.

Tasnim added that the attack targeted the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the north of Iraq and took place at 16:00 local time, and caused serious damage to them.

The Guard’s attacks were in response to the support of the separatist group for the recent unrest in the country, as well as their attempt to import weapons into Iran, the report said.
The death of a 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being detained by Iranian morality police, has launched unrest across Iran’s provinces and capital of Tehran. Amini’s family hails from Iran’s Kurdish region.

State TV suggested Saturday that 41 protesters and policemen have been killed since the protests erupted last Saturday. He said official statistics would be released by the Interior Ministry. According to a tally by The Associated Press, there have been at least 11 deaths from both sides since protests began after Amini’s funeral.


Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

Updated 25 September 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

NABLUS: Israeli troops killed a Palestinian militant in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, Palestinian sources said, with Israel’s army saying soldiers fired on “armed suspects” during a routine patrol.
The army said that “hits were identified” after soldiers fired toward “armed suspects driving in a vehicle and a motorcycle” near Nablus in the northern West Bank, an area that has seen near daily violence in recent months.
The Palestinian health ministry named the man killed as Saed Al-Koni.
A loose coalition of fighters called “The Lions Den” that has recently emerged in Nablus claimed Koni as one of their members.
Among the members of this group was teenager Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi, who has become a folk hero on social media since his killing by Israeli forces in August. Pendants of Al-Nabulsi are on sale in the markets of Nablus Old City.
Koni’s death was the second in the Nablus area in the past two days.
On Saturday, a Palestinian driver was killed by Israeli troops after what the army called an “attempted ramming attack,” but which Palestinians said was a traffic accident.
The army said soldiers and police opened fire on a vehicle after the driver “attempted to run them over” during a patrol outside Nablus.
The Palestinian foreign ministry described Muhammad Ali Hussein Awad, 36, as a “defenseless Palestinian” who was not “posing any danger.”
“The Israeli police deliberately shot Awad, with the aim of killing him, after his vehicle collided with a police vehicle in a traffic accident,” the ministry said.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six Day War of 1967.
Israeli forces have faced criticism over their frequent use of lethal force in response to perceived threats.
Israel is on high alert ahead of the Jewish high holiday season which begins on Sunday evening with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of raids in the northern West Bank, including Nablus and nearby Jenin, in pursuit of individuals it accuses of involvement in deadly attacks targeting Israelis.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians.