“At virtual JCPOA JC meeting, Iran & EU/E3+2 agreed to resume in-person talks in Vienna next Tues. Aim: Rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures. No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary.” Tweet by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif
“Thanks to the grace of God we are a superpower today.” Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force
“I’ve said this before, but it would be infinitely easier if we had direct conversations with Iran. You could imagine for all these questions how hard it is when the United States tells the EU, the EU tells the Iranians, the Iranians tell the EU, and then come back to us. There’s – it’s much more cumbersome.” Senior State Department Official
“Iranians do not trust the US, therefore, Washington must begin to fulfill its JCPOA obligations to gain the trust of the Islamic Republic.” Majid Takht-Ravanchi
“We assess that we still have a credible chance of reaching a deal that is in the best interest of America’s security, as well as the security of our allies.” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 2015
“Iran’s nuclear rights have been accepted by all.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
“Iran is open to talks with the United States if Washington apologizes for leaving the JCPOA and compensates Tehran accordingly.“ Iranian President Hassan Rouhani June 2020
You are in a room. The atmosphere is tense. You are filled with anticipation of what is yet to come. The outcome of your efforts depends entirely on two other entities, not currently in the room, and both have determined to stay apart from each other. In fact, in celebratory fashion, everyone involved has decided to come back after a weekend break, to their separate rooms, and not talk to one another.
Your mood is dependent on which room you are in; should you be in room number one, filled with your compatriots from the UK, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the EU, you are probably wondering how this is all going to play itself out. There is little that you can do but listen, offer suggestions, and keep convincing the two recalcitrant participants in the other rooms to stay, and at least consider what the other might have to say, even though they are not talking.
If you are in room number two, you are from Iran. In your eyes, you are the victim of super-power bullying. You are, in your mind a super-power, and not to be trifled with. You have little taste for the constraints being proposed by the world body, and though you insist that your intentions concerning the development of a nuclear development program are only intended for peaceful purposes, your actions continue to seem otherwise.
In room number three are the Americans. They are recognized as a legitimate world super-power and are determined to decrease the proliferation of the development of nuclear weapons globally. The American government has sent its representatives to Vienna to “not talk,” to try and convince the Iranians that it was a mistake for the US to have pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and see if they can explore any grounds for Iran and US rapprochement on the matter.
This has been the second week of these “non-discussion,” discussions, and everyone is encouraged because no one has gone home yet. So far, that is all there has been, about which to be encouraged. Events at this point have seen little mature statesmanship; mostly gamesmanship has been evident. There is still more than meets the eye, as far as what is actually unfolding. Aims of the discussions seem to be clearly going down two distinctly different roads.
The Iranians are focused on the crippling sanctions that were placed on Iran by the United States after it pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018 and are defiantly refusing to budge on their side until all sanctions have been lifted as well as reparations paid to Iran by the USA for the economic damage caused by the sanctions.
The United States is focused on getting back to the spirit of the JCPOA, which is the delaying of the development of a nuclear weapon by Iran. They have also recognized that the weaknesses of the JCPOA need to be addressed. Those weaknesses include a stronger language over the development of ballistic technology, capable of delivering nuclear warheads. They also include the matters of Iran funding state-sponsored terrorism through their proxy fighters within the Hezbollah, Hamas, and Houthis.
Where do these discussions stand today? That will be our main point of discussion in this week’s edition of “More than Meets the Eye.”
First, if you want to freshen up your memory, as to what the provisions are concerning the JCPOA and the specific issues within the agreement, click here.
By all accounts, the first round of talks which concluded last week, were constructive. Two expert-level working groups were quickly formed on sanctions and nuclear issues in order to develop a plan for what the US and Iran would need to do to come back into compliance with the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Furthermore, all parties agreed to reconvene in Vienna this week for further discussions – a positive result, in and of itself.
The explicit details of what resulted in last week’s discussions in Vienna are vague, although comments by US and Iranian officials have shed some light on the positions of each side and the related sticking points.
What is Iran’s current position?
“Iran has doubled down on the key elements of its negotiating position during and after the talks last week, including 1) the US must remove all sanctions imposed by the Trump administration; 2) Iran will then verify their removal before bringing its nuclear program back into compliance; and 3) all of this has to happen in one move, not as the result of a step-by-step process. There was also no indication that Iran was willing to engage in direct dialogue with the US. These positions are in direct conflict with those of the US, and in some cases, the agreement itself. As a result, they present a significant challenge to reviving the deal. Resolving them will require creativity, compromise, and a softening of Iran’s demands.”
Iran has called for the United States to return to the deal but has said it is not willing to discuss expanding the accord further. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CFR in September 2020 that Iran will “absolutely not” renegotiate and that the United States should compensate Iran for damages caused by sanctions, which he says amount to $1 trillion.
A significant piece of the equation is that Iran feels it has the moral high ground since it was the US who pulled out of the agreement in direct violation of international law. There was in fact, no breach of international law by the departure of the US from the agreement. It was very deliberately negotiated, not as a formal, legally binding treaty among its parties, but as a legally non-binding diplomatic accord based on political, instead of legal, commitments. (I say this only to point out that Iran’s position of high ground is a fragile argument.) Certainly, the departure of the US from the JCPOA compromised the integrity of the US, and in the future, international agreements there will be suspect, as to whether the US will stand by its agreements, however, legally, the US has every right to leave.
The second significant piece of the Vienna equation is the distinct distrust that Iran has for the US and their distrust of the Iranians. It is difficult to come to an agreement with someone you believe is lying to you, and has been lying the entire time. This lies at the heart of the departure of the US from the JCPOA. Even though the IAEA continued to provide quarterly reports of compliance by the Iranians, the US Intelligence, as well as that of its allies, indicated that there were secret facilities not being surveyed and that the entire time Iranians were continuing to commit acts of malfeasance under the table. In other words, the US believed it was being played. Iran’s feelings were mutual.
What is the current position of the US?
The position of the US is that Iran has not been in compliance with JCPOA tenets and that the JCPOA itself is designed to allow the Iranians to retain secrecy on its nuclear weapons intentions. According to the JCPOA, there is no provision for IAEA inspectors to request permission to visit military nuclear research facilities. In other words, the international community needs to base their beliefs on the word of the Iranian government, which says there are no military-grade nuclear activities happening in Iran. “Just trust us.” In the environment of distinct distrust, this has caused a lot of apprehensions.
What is the bottom line?
Is there any justification for apprehension from the US? (I could go into a long and detailed list of non-compliance measures by Iran since 2002, but I will simply site a fascinating article published by the Congressional Research Service entitled, “Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations,” allowing you to read it for yourself. There are plenty of reasons for the entire international community to be concerned. Why aren’t they? -Actually, some are concerned. Every Arab country in the Middle East is concerned. It would be easy to simply chalk this up as another radical religious rivalry between the Sunni and the Shi’a, but it is a lot more than only this. The Sunni and Shi’a conflict environment simply provides a battle space for these tensions to exist and grow.
“For the United States to simply return to the nuclear agreement would be a major strategic blunder. The deal was based on assumptions that ultimately proved flawed and overly optimistic. The accord did not tame Iran’s policies, empower moderates in Tehran, pave a path to a good-faith relationship with Iran allowing for further cooperation, or “block all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.” Rather, from 2015 onward, Iran increased its support to regional proxies. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remained the ultimate decision-maker as the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) grew more influential. Tehran deceived the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding the military dimensions of its nuclear program despite committing to act in good faith, and it continued researching and developing advanced centrifuges that could significantly shorten its breakout time. If a future Iran policy is to avoid producing a similar outcome, it must counter Iran’s malign regional activities and resist the temptation to try to game Iran’s political dynamics. At the same time, it should allow for a more intrusive inspections regime and more restrictive and longer-lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.”
The JCPOA represents a significant piece of international diplomatic negotiating. It was a two-year process, involving many different players and members of the highest political order. Its ambitions were exceedingly great and were built on some important assumptions which proved to be false. Rather than stepping back and relooking at the assumptions, re-calibrating and trying a different tack, the owners of the process dug in deeper, intractably ensconcing themselves into their assumptions, because of their life’s work, their opus was at stake. There is a good lesson to be learned here. When we discover that we are going in the wrong direction, speeding up and driving harder will not get us to a new place. It will only get you to the wrong place, quicker.
As I have written before, I think the JCPOA was a naive agreement into which to enter, but I also believe that more thought could have gone into how the US got out of it. The wholesale unilateral abandonment of the agreement was sloppy statesmanship. The facts are there, and one can only look at them for even a brief time, before beginning to ask hard questions. As stated above, “For the United States to simply return to the nuclear agreement would be a major strategic blunder. The deal was based on assumptions that ultimately proved flawed and overly optimistic.”
Let’s hope that the negotiators during this iteration will see things differently.
Staying informed is the place we must all begin. There is so much agenda-driven news in the media today. -Do I have an agenda? Yes. It is my agenda to offer another viewpoint, a researched approach that looks at what is not being said or written. Look at the resources below and you will see that there is not one mainstream source being cited.
Read. Analyze. Reason. Evaluate.
Germany Increasingly a Center for Terrorism in Europe… https://ctc.usma.edu/germany-increasingly-a-center-for-terrorism-in-europe/
France: Extremism and Terrorism… https://www.counterextremism.com/countries/france
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org