Iran backtracks on previous months of nuclear talks

Iranian officials continued to maintain that the talks are about lifting US sanctions, as opposed to their country’s nuclear program.

 Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives for a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria, November 29, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER)
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives for a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria, November 29, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER)

Everything previously discussed in talks for Iran and the US to return to the 2015 nuclear deal is still negotiable, Iran’s top negotiator Ali Bagheri said on Tuesday, as the revived talks went into their second day.

The remarks contradict EU negotiator Enrique Mora’s report at the close of negotiations on Monday, that they were building upon agreements reached in the first six rounds of talks in April-June of this year.

"Drafts are subject to negotiation,” Bagheri told Iranian state media. “Therefore, nothing is agreed on unless everything has been agreed on. On that basis, all discussions that took place in the six rounds are summarized and are subject to negotiations. This was admitted by all parties in today's meeting as well."

Iranian officials continued to maintain that the talks are about lifting US sanctions, as opposed to their country’s nuclear program, even though the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 deal was called, limited uranium enrichment in addition to gradually lifting sanctions.

Russia's Ambassador to International Institutions in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said that the US reaffirmed that it was willing to lift all post-JCPOA sanctions if Iran returns to full compliance with the agreement.

 Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani wait for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria November 29, 2021.  (credit: EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani wait for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria November 29, 2021. (credit: EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

"But in multilateral diplomacy the devil is in the details," Ulyanov tweeted. "The concrete list of sanctions to be lifted is subject to negotiations."

In addition, Iran demands a "guarantee by America not to impose new sanctions...The talks are about the return of the US to the deal and they have to lift all sanctions and this should be in practice and verifiable,” Bagheri said.

The Islamic Republic had made similar demands in earlier rounds of talks, which American negotiators, led by Iran Envoy Rob Malley, have said the US cannot give, as President Joe Biden cannot force future presidents to maintain his policies.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said they will "not accept anything less than sanctions removal and we will not commit to anything more than what is in the JCPOA."

Adding to the JCPOA will not be part of the negotiations, he said.

World powers and Iran reconvened in Vienna on Monday for the first time since June to negotiate an Iranian and American return to the JCPOA.

Bagheri said negotiations would start with a discussion of lifting sanctions on Tuesday, "and then other issues”; he did not explicitly mention talks to limit Iran's nuclear program.

Iran continued to refuse to negotiate directly with the US, and each country’s team was in a separate room in Vienna’s Palais Coburg.

Israel opposes the JCPOA because it insufficiently limited Iran’s uranium enrichment, and, in fact, legitimizes further enrichment after the agreement expires, which paves the way for an eventual nuclear bomb. In addition, the JCPOA did not address Iran’s other malign actions in the region.

Skepticism that Iran would be willing to return to the 2015 agreement is widespread. As such, the US is considering an interim agreement that some diplomats have called “less for less,” which would likely mean the US lifting some sanctions in exchange for Iran freezing – not rolling back – its nuclear program, which has advanced far beyond the JCPOA’s restrictions.

This is a significantly worse scenario, as far as Israeli officials are concerned, because, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday, it would mean “Iran won't just keep its nuclear program…they'll be getting paid for it.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss Iran talks, a day after he did the same with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Macron met with International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi on Monday to discuss the verification and efforts to restore continuity of knowledge about Iran's nuclear program, among other issues.

Macron also spoke with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the phone on Monday, after talks concluded in Vienna.

France’s goal is “to see Iran return to full respect for all of its commitments under the JCPOA and that the United States return to the agreement," the French readout stated, and Macron "underscored the need for Iran to engage constructively in this direction so that the exchanges allow a swift return to the agreement. Iran must return without delay to compliance with all of its commitments and obligations.”

Macron also called on Iran to “quickly resume cooperation that allows the [IAEA] to fully carry out its mission.”

Raisi’s office said he urged Macron to work to “conclude the negotiations and lift the sanctions against Iran” and said that the US “must gain the confidence of [Iran] for the negotiations to proceed in a real and fruitful manner.”

The Iranian president argued that “sending a full team to the talks shows Iran's serious will in these talks.”

That team is of nearly 40 men is made up mostly of figures dealing with economic matters, and none on the nuclear side.

Another indicator of the regime's expectations from the talks, Iran expert Omer Carmi pointed out on twitter, is its state budget proposal. The budget, with a fiscal year beginning in March, is based on an assumption that Iran would sell 1.2 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), while the Majlis, Iran's parliament, said in September that it seeks sanctions removal to allow for a minimum of 2.5 million bpd.

Bennett said on Monday that Iran’s “murderous regime should not be rewarded,” he said, calling on the world to make sure not to allow “hundreds of billions of dollars [to be] poured right into their rotten regime.”

“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality. I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran's nuclear blackmail,” Bennett said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Israel must be "strong and independent to present its own solutions to defend ourselves, by ourselves, when we decide we it must be done."

Israel has been sharing intelligence with its allies about Iran's continued race towards a nuclear weapon, Gantz said.

"I say to our partners: The time that passes must have a price in economic sanctions and military action so the Iranians will stop their nuclear race and regional aggression," Gantz said.