15.04.2022 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Iran and the US – When Will We See a New Agreement?


Extensive negotiations on the so-called Iranian nuclear deal have been conducted in Vienna over the last 12 months, many highly complex drafts have been prepared, a lot of obstacles have clearly been overcome, and now, at last, it appears that there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, media organizations around the world agree on one point: the final result of the negotiations will depend on the attitude towards a key player – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  The media, quite justifiably, see the Biden administration as stuck between a rock and a hard place – and it is unclear how it will be able to resolve this complex issue to the satisfaction of both countries, not to mention Iran’s Arab neighbors.

From Iran’s perspective the answer is quite clear. If the Biden administration wants to reach an agreement, the IRGC, which was added to the US list of foreign terrorist organizations (the FTO list) after the former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, needs to be removed from that list. The IRGC is seen by Iran’s government as an integral part of the national army. And by, in effect, classifying the Iranian army as a terrorist organization, the US is laying its own army to the same charge. And, indeed, there is a lot of evidence to confirm this view. One has only to remember the acts of terror committed by the “high principled” US army in Yugoslavia, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. Following those illegal acts the above-mentioned nations not only lost their independence – in many cases they literally “broke apart” as the national government mechanisms were destroyed.

However, the current administration is facing a great deal of resistance from those, both at home and in the Middle East, who do not want to see the issue of the IRGC’s status resolved, and this is making Joe Biden’s task much more difficult. A number of Republican Congressmen have made efforts to prevent the US administration from cancelling the sanctions against the IRGC as part of any new nuclear deal with Tehran. Republicans Brian Mast and Scott Perry have submitted a draft bill of the so-called Preventing Terror Sympathizers from Appeasing Terrorists Act, which would prevent the White House from removing the IRGC from the FTO list without the approval of Congress. The draft states that the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization “may not be revoked or rescinded, except by a joint resolution of Congress.” While the Democrats retain a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, there is opposition to the new Iran nuclear deal on both sides of the House, and as a result it is possible that the new draft law may be approved.

And last week another draft law with bipartisan support was submitted to the House of representatives. This law would require the Biden administration to disclose to what extent the easing of sanctions would boost the capabilities of the IRGC. Although, under a 2015 law, the White House is required to submit any deal with Iran to Congress for approval, it is becoming increasingly evident that the administration intends to avoid complying with this requirement. After all, former President Barack Obama used executive powers to approve the original deal in 2015, as it was clear that it might be blocked by Congress.

Joe Biden is under growing pressure to veto the removal of the Revolutionary Guards from the FTO list, and this is putting him in a difficult position. He wants to finalize the nuclear deal with Iran so as not to appear weak in front of his European allies, especially at the moment, when the west is experiencing serious problems. But lifting the sanctions on Iran would also have the effect of increasing the amount of oil on the international market, thus lowering energy prices. The current high energy prices are raising the risk of a recession, economic slowdown, and a sharp drop in living standards, especially in the “affluent West”.

But if Joe Biden reaches an agreement with Iran on the signing of a nuclear deal in the coming weeks, the Washington’s relations with its traditional allies in the region, including Israel and the Gulf states will suffer. Diplomats from the Gulf states already admit quite openly that relations with Washington are going through one of the worst phases in the last 70 years. In recent weeks officials in the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been more direct than usual in their comments to Western diplomats, making no secret of their disagreements and grievances with the policies of the US and its allies. As reported by the British newspaper The Guardian, one unnamed Western diplomat told one of his Saudi counterparts had said that “this is the end of the road for us and Biden, and maybe for the US also.”

Officials from the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, are angry with the Biden administration’s policies towards the Houthi rebels in Yemen: its decision to remove them from the FTO list, its failure to support Saudi Arabia in the war against the rebels and its reluctance to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. They also fear that the Biden administration’s wish to revive the nuclear deal and lift the sanctions on Iran may threaten the security of the Gulf region and strengthen Iran. It is significant that in spite of repeated calls by US officials for the Gulf states to increase the supply of oil in the global market, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have reaffirmed their adherence to the quotas agreed under the OPEC Plus agreement, forcing Joe Biden to announce that it is taking the unprecedented step of dipping into the US strategic oil reserve in order to reduce energy prices.

The above factors have put an extra burden on the already challenging negotiations with Iran. The negotiations have been on hold since mid-March, and are now facing a moment of truth, with Tehran and Washington blaming each other for the failure to make progress. Saeed Khatibzadeh, official spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, has announced that the Iranian negotiators will not return to Vienna and continue with the year-long talks to revive the nuclear deal (officially, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) until Washington has resolved outstanding issues. “As yet, we have not had a definitive answer from Washington,” he added, although in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, said that an agreement was “close”.

However, Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, in a characteristically dogmatic statement, blamed Tehran for preventing the conclusion of a deal. In the usual American manner, he insisted that time was running out, and that Iran was still working on its nuclear program and approaching a “breakthrough” – the point where it had the capacity to create a nuclear weapon, effectively making any new agreement worthless. That point, he warned, was just “weeks” away.

A careful analysis of Ned Price’s statement suggests that the Americans, unable to offer any effective resistance to Iran, are resorting to their usual tactic – populist rhetoric backed up with unfounded allegations. Of all people, the Iranians have always excelled at dialogue, and even if they have sustained defeat on the battlefield they have been able to achieve their goals through negotiation. As for the Americans, when it comes to negotiation, all they can do is wave a big stick around and threaten others. Always isolated from the rest of the civilized world, the US leadership lacks the experience and skill required to achieve its goals at the negotiation table. The last thirty years have provided ample evidence of that failure, and it is no surprise that peoples and nations are returning to the model of a multipolar world.

During a trip to Israel and Morocco, in which he met a number of Arab officials, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was unable to come up with anything other than the frequently-repeated argument that the longer the signing of a nuclear deal with Iran is delayed, the closer Iran will be to its goal of producing sufficient uranium to create a nuclear bomb. US officials have stated, off the record, that its removal from the FTO list will have little effect on the IRGC, as they are also under a long list of other sanctions which will not be lifted if the nuclear deal is signed. In an attempt to reassure the leaders of the Gulf states, US special envoy Robert Malley has promised that the US will uphold the sanctions against the IRGC even if it is removed from the FTO list.

In the meantime it appears that, through sheer inertia, Washington is continuing to exert pressure on Iran. The US Treasury Department has announced new sanctions will be imposed on a number of organizations and companies which it accuses of being involved in the purchase and supply of equipment for the Iranian ballistic rocket program. America’s short-sighted diplomats seem unaware of the fact that 40 years of US sanctions have had no impact on the Iranians’ determination to follow their own path without kowtowing to Washington and its satellites.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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