By Marwan Asmar
There is no need for recriminations, altercations or arguments. Everyone knew the Vienna nuclear talks, eventually started between the 4+1 countries and Iran minus the United States wasn’t going to be a walk-in-the-park. It’s tough talking ahead, like it or leave it but this is with way things are.
Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, is right when he says the United States would continue to pursue diplomatic means with Iran because it is “among the best options available,” if his voice can be heard among the media noise. Such talk does not please the Israelis whose soldiers are “training” with the possible intent of attacking Iran and thus derailing the talks.
This might explain also why the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is visiting Israel possibly to calm down fears and stop any rash action among the Jewish political and military leaders to missile Iran.
But this continues to lie in the realm of conjecture with different signals being sent forward especially as the recent meeting between the Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz with the US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin demonstrates with the latter stressing the importance of the American-Israeli strategic relationship.
In the light of the first Vienna meetings beginning on 29 November and its “fits-and-starts” course, right up till today, Blinken is on record for registering there will be “alternatives” drawn up if the Vienna talks fail regardless of the fact its early days.
But what is true he is basing his assumptions on what he is being told by the British, French and German delegates who make part of the 4+1 contingent that includes Russia and China. At the moment they are his eyes and ears.
They are expressing different kinds of frustrations to the Americans who are taking part in the talks in directly because of the fact that ex-president Donald Trump took America out of the 2015 nuclear deal, officially termed as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2018 and which Blinken openly criticised as “disastrous” because of the present complications about the unique nature of nuclear technology.
European frustrations are emanating from what their delegates say about Iranian officials, a team of 40 nuclear experts who flew into the Austrian capital and by far the largest delegation. They say Iranian delegates are not serious about discussing the terms of the accord and are “foot-dragging” on different point of views. But if you are not serious why bring that much delegates that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to upkeep?
However, this is rejected out of hand by the Iran chief negotiator Ali Bagheri-Kani who points out Iran is completely serious about the talks and is aiming for a “good deal” in the form of revitalising the 2015 accord and getting to establish an accord on nuclear proliferation.
In all fairness however, the problem facing the delegates, especially the Europeans and Americans now, is multiple. Taking Washington out of the deal was crucially bad because it allowed Tehran to increase its uranium enrichment from just a few percentage points to sore to 60% which means getting well on the way to producing a nuclear bomb soon.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is on record for stating the world community would stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb which means the Vienna talks are one important avenue regardless of the other option of attacking Iran which is what trigger-happy Israel wants. But this option would be like leading the world into a conflict of the unknown.
The problem as well relates to the Iranian delegates as Bagheri-Kani put on the table, and right from the beginning of the talks, two sticking issues relating to their stand: US sanctions removal and nuclear deliberations. For Iran, the first is a principle issue and leads to the second on the progress of nuclear talks.
At first glance these two seem to follow one another, but not so, for there appears to be a large degree of flexibility by the Iranian delegates. This might be one of the reasons why the Europeans are frustrated because the first issue, that of sanctions, is not in their hands but relate to Washington which is keeping the pressure up and piling up more sanctions. That’s one aspect. Another is the fact the Europeans and the Americans want to add another “file” to JCPOA – the so-called Iran missile ballistic program which it is claimed has grown substantially.
However, Bagheri-Kani is making it clear that this is a “no-go area” and what Iran is prepared to discuss is the 2015 nuclear deal and nothing else; that of course includes monitoring and inspection by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its return to Iran.
From another angle it appears Iran is only having difficulties with the western allies. The Russian delegates are making it clear they have no problem with the way things are going and the most important thing is to get back to the original nuclear deal signed with 2015.
Mikhail Ulyanov said he was optimistic about reaching a deal with Iran in Vienna but he said that parties would need to be patient and negotiate. This means that they would need to take their time and be prepared to hammer out a deal that can’t be “overnight” but take as many weeks and even months.
This is the way negotiations are……