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17.05.2022 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Unsuccessful Maneuvers of the US-European Allies on the Iran Nuclear Front


Europeans’ hopes of reviving the Iran nuclear deal are rapidly fading, forcing them to seriously consider how to limit the progress of Tehran’s nuclear program at a time when their master, the US, is once again screwing Europe over in order to accomplish its own goals.

While Western powers have not yet completely given up hope of reviving the 2015 deal, there is a growing belief that it is too late to save it.  Many Western diplomats have voiced their feelings that efforts to revive the deal are likely to be close to collapse. And this is by no means the fault of Tehran, but a gross miscalculation on the part of Washington and senior officials in the Biden administration driven by their selfishness.

After months of sporadic negotiations, the deal seemed destined to come back to life in early March, when the European Union, the coordinating negotiator, invited ministers to Vienna for a deal. But negotiations failed when Iran demanded the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. This issue of the IRGC has not been resolved and US President Joe Biden is finding it difficult to overcome internal opposition to remove the IRGC from the terrorist list as the US midterm elections approach, scheduled for November 8 this year.

Under these circumstances, EU foreign policy official Josep Borrell sent his deputy and negotiating coordinator Enrique Mora to Tehran in an attempt to break the current deadlock on the diplomatic track. At the end of March, Mora visited Tehran and Washington to try and find a way out of the predicament in which the current US administration has trapped itself through its own stupidity and incompetence. After Mora’s visit, the US side couldn’t think of anything better than to make false accusations against Iran for imposing its demands outside the context of negotiations. And so again on May 10, Mora showed up in Tehran to hold talks with Iran’s top leadership in a faint hope of salvaging the nuclear deal. Europe is being forced to do so by the very negative consequences of the sharp rise in inflation and price increases that have been the ill-considered consequence of obediently following the now very aggressive US policy.

Western diplomats immediately warned vociferously that talks could collapse if Iran itself does not propose a way out of the crisis. However, it is precisely the fault of the United States, which is simply unable to negotiate in the right direction. “Iran and the Iranian mullahs are to blame” is a refrain that has been repeated for years in the West when it comes to relations in the Iran-Europe-US triangle. In the current context, Borrell and Mora are now trying to “persuade” Iran to sign the final text reached by the negotiating parties in Vienna without removing the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations, thus leaving the issue for the future.

So far, Iran does not seem to want to give up the demand to remove the IRGC from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. IRGC Navy Commander Alireza Tangsiri told the Mehr news agency in early May that Iran had “rejected offers and concessions” from Washington to lift sanctions against the IRGC in exchange for giving up plans to avenge the death of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a dastardly airstrike ordered by former US President Donald Trump. Tehran’s request to remove the IRGC from the list of foreign terrorist organizations faces opposition from many US lawmakers who falsely consider it a terrorist organization.

Washington has made it clear that it has no plans to delist the IRGC, but at the same time believes that if Tehran wants Washington to take a “step outside the agreement”, Iran should also address some US concerns outside the agreement. It is clear that both sides do not want to acknowledge the failure of almost a year of indirect negotiations.

As a result, the deal could be derailed as the world is now focused on other issues, notably the surge in oil prices, which would allow Iran to generate more revenue from oil exports in the current environment, while continuing to circumvent US sanctions. The pause on the future of the Vienna talks also comes as Western circles, including those in Washington, believe that Iran is only weeks away from obtaining the fissile material it needs to build a nuclear weapon, if it so desires. It seems that Tehran and Washington have decided to leave the nuclear deal to fate, while each insisting on its own self-interest and preferring to get the most out of signing this important document.

Despite the ongoing talk of some kind of American plan to resolve the Iranian nuclear program, if the deal is not renewed, the number of good options is rather limited. With the exception of US or Israeli military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, the only serious advantage the major powers have is to stop Iranian oil exports – something Trump was betting on before his electoral defeat to Biden. It is well known that China is the main buyer of Iranian oil, and sources say it will continue to do so as oil supplies are all declining and Beijing has received preferential prices from Tehran. Incidentally, while Washington previously had tacit support from Moscow and Beijing for restricting Iranian exports through US sanctions before the 2015 deal, there is no such consensus now because of Joe Biden’s rabid policy of helping neo-fascists in Ukraine.

Supporters of a revived Iran nuclear deal say the deal will fill vacuum left by Russia amidst the global energy crisis, easing in some ways the Biden administration’s problems. Mohammad Marandi, Iran’s negotiator on the nuclear program, bluntly told the Teheran Times that “the growing consequences of the Ukrainian war will force the United States to make a deal with Tehran.” Earlier, answering a question about China’s purchase of Iranian oil in violation of US sanctions, the Chinese foreign ministry declined to go into detail, but reiterated Beijing’s opposition to US extraterritorial sanctions and called on the United States to lift its unilateral sanctions. Iranian oil exports rose to an average of 870,000 bpd in the first quarter of this year, according to Middle East Economic Digest, up from an average of 668,000 bpd in the last quarter of last year.

Indeed, the United States will have to deal with reduced Russian oil exports on the one hand, and the impending reduction in Iranian oil exports if the deal falls through, on the other. Iran now sells about half the amount of oil it could have sold if US sanctions had been lifted, but because of rising prices it earns the same income. Many observers ask the legitimate question why Tehran should make painful concessions when it already enjoys good oil profits. Before negotiations stalled, Iranian political analyst Ahmad Zeidabadi wrote in the Ettelaat newspaper that “some conservatives see increased oil sales as some indication that sanctions have been lifted and that there is no need to revive the agreement.”

It was only natural that, in the current difficult circumstances, it seemed possible to give up on the nuclear deal between Iran on the one hand and the US and Europe on the other. But it is not all that simple, and there are plenty of good reasons that are pushing the parties to revive the 2015 deal. It will all depend on who is more skillful and professional in their negotiations. And then there is the powerful factor of time which is now playing against the worthless and senile rulers of the US.

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

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