Iran puts on 'winning' face ahead of Vienna talks - analysis

At home Iran’s media doesn’t have high hopes for the meeting this week with JCPOA signatories, where US experts may review a timetable to reduce sanctions and return to the deal.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends a joint news conference after meeting with Norway's Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide in Oslo, Norway, August 22, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends a joint news conference after meeting with Norway's Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide in Oslo, Norway, August 22, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tehran expects to score at least the appearance of a win during talks on Tuesday in Vienna with Iran deal signatories.
While Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “urged the three European parties to the 2015 nuclear agreement to honor their commitments under the historic pact and act constructively in the upcoming meeting in Vienna,” Iran’s Press TV reported, others argue that Iran has anyway defeated the West during sanctions by increasing indigenous production.
Zarif made his comments in a phone call with the British foreign secretary on Saturday, Iranian media reported.
The Tuesday meeting between the parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will attempt to revive it three years after former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018.
Senior officials from Iran, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China will attend the JCPOA joint commission “in what appears to be the first serious push to reinvigorate the deal” since US President Joe Biden took office, Iranian media reported, adding that Tehran told the UK it wants the US to lift the “illegal” sanctions Trump imposed. Iran has also urged France to be “constructive.”
Iran says that while the US is sending diplomats, they are not expected to meet face-to-face.
“The agenda of this [JCPOA joint] commission meeting is the removal of all US cruel sanctions against Iran, and in other words, clarification of how parties [to the deal] should fulfill their commitments,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at his weekly press briefing on Monday.
This means Iran’s opening bid is quite high, and yet Tehran doesn’t seem to believe its own talking points.
“Khatibzadeh added that the Tuesday meeting... is just a periodical meeting between Iran and the P4+1 similar to those held in the past months,” Press TV reported.
The head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, has said Iran outwitted the West by creating indigenous production, and he critiqued those who are running to Vienna.
 “As much as some gentlemen meet to get concessions from the Westerners, if they had taken the time to remove the barriers to production, many problems would have been solved, and many closed factories would have been activated,” Raisi said, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.
Implied here is that while Zarif and others set high hopes for Vienna, Iran should be seeking assistance elsewhere, perhaps with its new friends in Beijing.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said the lawmakers should focus on the economic debates and the Supreme Leader’s emphasis on “neutralizing” sanctions. He wants the economy to subsist independently of the West.
Bureaucratic inefficiency, conflicts of interest and “of course, the corona and sanctions have increased the country’s economic problems in recent years,” Ghalibaf said.
In short, he is arguing that sanctions alone are not the main thing, but rather issues closer to home.
While critics of the Biden policy in the US have argued that he is returning to Obama-era politics on Iran, the administration’s actual policy has generally asserted that Washington is listening to the concerns of Israel and other countries in the region.
So what might come out of the Vienna meeting?
One agreement relates to a timetable. The Biden administration is sending “experts” to Vienna who will hammer out details of America’s return to talks, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. The report did not indicate if former negotiator Robert Malley was going. “This is a first step,” Malley tweeted.
According to the Journal report, the goal is to make headway prior to Iran’s June presidential election. Iran has tried to sell this as an American attempt to prevent “hard-liners” from winning the election.
 However, the “hard-liners” tend to be the same as the “moderates” in Iran, and Iran uses this talking point only with the West. Iran doesn’t hold up mythical “moderates” with Russia and China.  With predictions that it will take weeks just to agree on a “timetable,” it is unclear how any headway can be made before the June election.
Iran wants a “gesture” from the US, such as some sanctions relief, but it continues to say it is enriching uranium beyond the 2015 guidelines and stockpiling it.
While the US walked away from the Iran deal, there is no evidence that Russia or China think it is acceptable for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Absence of a deal was often sold by Iran’s lobby in the US as “war,” meaning that either there is a deal or there is “war.”
But a third option was that Russia and China, which Iran respects more than the West, would eventually question Iran’s banter about uranium production and demand that it not build a weapon.
The US tends to view matters through its own lens, thinking that it might win Iran’s cooperation if it removes some Trump-era sanctions. Zarif appears to be gambling on this. At home, Iran’s own media is more skeptical.