Iran-US Nuclear Deal ‘in Sight’ as Republicans Vow to Kill It

February 10th, 2022 - by Dave DeCamp / & Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Iran Nuclear Deal Talks to Resume:
The US Claims an Agreement Is ‘in Sight’

Iran says the deal can only be revived
if the US is willing to give the
necessary sanctions relief

Dave DeCamp /

(February 7, 2022) — Representatives from the US and Iran and the other nations involved in the indirect negotiations to revive the nuclear are returning to Vienna, and the talks are set to resume on Tuesday. Going into this round, the US State Department said a deal is “in sight,” but also warned time is running out on the talks.

“A deal that addresses all sides’ core concerns is in sight, but if it is not reached in the coming weeks, Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances will make it impossible for us to return to the JCPOA,” a State Department spokesperson said. US officials claim the JCPOA would no longer be relevant after a certain point, but Iran can always bring its nuclear program into the strict limits set by the deal no matter how advanced it becomes.

Meanwhile, in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said progress depends on whether or not the US is willing to lift the necessary sanctions. “We expect the delegations, including the United States, to return with clear instructions to fulfill their commitments under the JCPOA and remove the sanctions,” he said, according to Iran’s PressTV.

Khatibzadeh said giving Iran enough sanctions relief to reap the economic benefits of the JCPOA is “Iran’s red line in the talks.” According to AFP, Khatibzadeh also said there’s been “significant progress” made on other issues in Vienna, including on guarantees for sanctions relief.

On Friday, the US restored sanctions waivers on Iran’s nuclear program that were rescinded by the Trump administration. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said the move was “good but not enough.”

“The lifting of some sanctions can, in the true sense of the word, translate into their goodwill. Americans talk about it, but it should be known that what happens on paper is good but not enough,” Amirabdollahian said.

Senate Republicans Vow to Block Iran Deal
If President Biden Skips Congressional Review

Dave DeCamp /

(February 8, 2022) — A group of 33 Senate Republicans are warning that they will try to block a revival of the Iran nuclear deal if President Biden doesn’t present the terms for the agreement to Congress for review and approval.

Led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Republicans said in a letter to Biden that the president is required by a law passed in 2015 to present Congress with any new “agreement” made with Iran for a 60-day review period. Under the law, Congress could pass a resolution of disapproval that can block the nuclear deal.

If Biden doesn’t submit the agreement to Congress, the Republicans didn’t specify how they would try to block the deal. But the letter pointed out that since the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, isn’t a treaty, it could be torn up by the next administration if a Republican is elected in 2024.

“Any agreement related to Iran’s nuclear program which is not a treaty ratified by the Senate is subject to being reversed, and indeed will likely be torn up in the opening days of the next Presidential administration, as early as January 2025,” the letter reads.

Any nuclear agreement with Iran would never get the two-thirds approval needed in the Senate to become a treaty since virtually all Republicans and some Democrats would oppose it. This has posed a challenge for the US and Iran’s negotiations.

Tehran wants guarantees that the US won’t withdraw from the JCPOA again if it is revived. But President Biden cannot promise that future administrations will stay in the agreement. In earlier negotiations, the previous Iranian government settled for a guarantee that Biden wouldn’t leave the JCPOA during his term, but Biden refused to make the vow.

The JCPOA negotiations in Vienna resumed on Tuesday. Going into the talks, the State Department warned time is running out, but also said an agreement is “in sight.” Iranian officials said progress depends on whether or not the US is willing to lift the necessary sanctions.

Is Peace Growing Between US and Iran?
Biden Waives Some Trump-Era Sanctions

Juan Cole / Informed Comment

(February 5, 2022) —Al Jazeera English reports the Biden administration has restored a key waiver for Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program that allows third parties such as Russia and France to consult with Tehran about how to dial back and repurpose the program. Without the waiver, if some officials had gone off to Tehran to advise the ayatollahs on these matters, they could have been fined and sanctioned by the US.

Specifically, the waiver allows helping Iran decommission its planned heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak, providing its medical research reactor with fuel, and taking out of the country excess stockpiles of low enriched uranium beyond the quantities allowed by the JCPOA.

On Tuesday, David E. Sanger, Lara Jakes and Farnaz Fassihi had reported at The New York Times that a return to the 2015 nuclear deal by the USA, which was sabotaged by Trump in May, 2018, may be imminent.

There does seem to be movement on the Iran talks in Vienna. Earlier this week Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Dubai-based al-Arabiya that he was “optimistic” about the course of the negotiations, according to BBC Monitoring. Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told the Iranian parliament this week that arrangements are now in place, owing to the negotiations, for a “win-win” agreement.

Both American and Iranian hard liners are attempting to scuttle the talks. Virtually no one in the Republican Party supports the negotiations, and the Israeli lobbies are up in arms at the very idea of peace with Iran.

In Iran, some members of the far right Steadfastness Front have attempted to convince Iran’s clerical Leader, Ali Khamenei, to abandon the talks and to enrich uranium at an even higher level in hopes of dividing Russia and China, who support Iran, from France, Britain and the US. The government of President Ibrahim Raisi, who is himself a hard liner, has nevertheless committed itself to a successful outcome to the negotiations if Iran can achieve genuine sanctions relief from the US.

The US waiver on nuclear consultations was revoked in 2020 by then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two years after Trump had withdrawn from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had limited Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities in return for the dropping of UN and US sanctions. The US Republican Party, however, refused to allow the lapsing of US sanctions on Iran, and even sabotaged an Iranian plan to buy passenger jets from Boeing, costing America billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

Since not allowing other countries’ officials to help dismantle Iran’s uranium enrichment programs serves no conceivable US purpose, Pompeo’s move has to be seen as one of the stupidest formal government policies ever enacted.

Iran had scrupulously adhered to its obligations under the 2015 deal even after Trump trashed it and imposed a financial and trade blockade on Iran. Tehran, however, ceased strictly abiding by the 2015 treaty two years after Trump destroyed it, on the reasonable grounds that it had never received the sanctions relief promised it in return for mothballing 80% of its civilian nuclear enrichment program.

Tehran is negotiating in Vienna indirectly with the US through meetings with the remaining signatories to the JCPOA, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany. The US has an office in Vienna on the sidelines of these talks and is being consulted by its allies.

Iran’s right wing president, Ibrahim Raisi, says he is willing to go back into compliance with the JCPOA if the US lifts all sanctions on Iran. The Biden administration says it is willing to offer some sanctions relief, but will not lift sanctions imposed for reasons other than the nuclear program.

Raisi also wants some mechanism enacted that will prevent the US from slapping sanctions back on and pulling out of the deal again in 2024 if the Republicans take the White House.

The Trump financial and trade embargo imposed from 2018, which went so far as to stigmatize Iran’s central bank as a terrorist organization, has devastated the Iranian economy. If Leader Khamenei does permit the 2015 deal to be resurrected, despite his deep and justified suspicion of the US, it will only be because he wants his economy back and fears unrest if the US maximum pressure continues.

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