Qatar will host indirect talks between Iran and the United States in the coming days, Iranian media reported on Monday, amid a push by the European Union to break a months-long impasse in negotiations to reinstate a 2015 nuclear pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“Iran has chosen Qatar to host the talks because of Doha’s friendly ties with Tehran,” Mohammad Marandi, a media adviser to Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, told the ISNA news agency.
A source briefed on the visit said that US Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, was expected to arrive in Doha on Monday and meet with the Qatari foreign minister. An Iranian official told Reuters that Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, would be in Doha for the talks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Iran’s Tasnim news agency cited a source at Iran’s foreign ministry as saying that “Bagheri will travel to Doha on Tuesday.”
The pact appeared close to being secured in March when the EU invited foreign ministers representing the accord’s parties to Vienna to finalize an agreement after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and the Biden administration.
But the talks have since been suspended, chiefly over Tehran's insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
Last week, one Iranian and one European official told Reuters that Iran had dropped its demand for the removal of the IRGC’s FTO sanctions, but still two issues, including one on sanctions, remained to be resolved.
Nothing is agreed until everything is agreedSaeed Khatibzadeh
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said on Monday.
The 2015 nuclear pact imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. Then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, reimposing tough economic sanctions on Tehran.
Iran’s clerical establishment responded by breaching the pact’s nuclear restrictions, including a 3.67% cap on the level to which it could purify uranium and a 202.8-kg. limit on its enriched uranium stock.
“The Iranians are clever,” said Dr. Matthew Kroenig, government and foreign service professor at Georgetown University. “They are going to pretend to negotiate as they stride toward the bomb. It is worth trying negotiations, but the US and its allies and partners should be realistic. A deal that actually stops Iran’s nuclear progress is incredibly unlikely,” Kroenig said. “It is time to prepare military options.”
ELLIOTT ABRAMS is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. He said that unless Iran has decided to give up on the delisting of the IRGC, “there is no explanation for resumption of the talks and no reason for optimism about getting an agreement.”
“Perhaps the other parties, in Europe, wanted another session,” said Abrams.
John Hannah, Randi and Charles Wax Senior Fellow at JINSA said that it’s very hard to know what the significance of these talks will be. “Even in the absence of an agreement, both sides may have an interest in the appearance that negotiations are still alive. The alternative might be an escalating direct confrontation that neither really wants at this point.”
“As a negotiating tactic, President Biden’s decision to draw an unambiguous red line against removing the IRGC from the FTO list was an important clarifying moment,” he said. “For the first time since the Vienna talks began, the administration was calling Iran’s bluff and saying no to its unreasonable demands. If Iran actually wants a deal and the sweeping sanctions relief on offer, it will either need to back down or make its own compensating concessions to the United States. This should be an important lesson for the Biden administration that being willing to walk away from a deal can actually increase US leverage.”
Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, said that the renewal of the JCPOA is definitely still on the table. “The Europeans, among others, are seeking a deal that delists the political wing if the IRGC and offers significant financial inducements to Iran – conditions that could well satisfy its cash-strapped regime,” he said. ‘The US remains open to a deal while assuring its Middle East allies that it also committed to their security. Either way – deal or no deal – Israel must prepare to defend itself.”
Naysan Rafati is Crisis Group’s Iran Senior Analyst. His research is focused on the Iran nuclear deal and Iran’s regional policies. “I think the European diplomatic push this weekend is based on a sense that time is running short because of Iran’s increased nuclear activity and decreased transparency since the IAEA Board of Governors passed a censure resolution over its lack of cooperation on the IAEA’s safeguards investigation, as well as the fact that having the two key parties in one place – even if the talks would remain indirect – can make for a more efficient discussion,” he said. “But it’s also the case that some of the key issues remain unresolved, and a shift in the style of negotiations is no guarantee that the deadlock on substance can be broken.”
Mark Dubowitz, chief executive at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that negotiations may be back on track, “because Iran’s game is to ask for the outrageous and then settle for the egregious.”
“After Iran envoy Rob Malley put the delisting of the IRGC as a terror organization on the table at the beginning of the Iran talks, Tehran decided to wait until the last minute and then demand this as a precondition of its return to the nuclear deal,” he said. “The bipartisan backlash against this was intense and President Biden decided not to give into this outrageous demand. But now, Iran has Biden where they want him and they will likely ask for a number of egregious concessions on other matters, which he will argue to Congress that he has to give or there will be no deal.”