Negotiators Optimistic on End Game Nuclear Talks

An expert said the US administration has stronger arguments now in favor of a revived deal, “because we have lived through” the disastrous results of Trump quitting the deal
Negotiators Optimistic on End Game Nuclear Talks
Negotiators Optimistic on End Game Nuclear Talks

While the Biden administration has seemingly sought to avoid raising expectations, there are signs that some of the parties believe they could know as early as next week whether an understanding on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal can be reached or not.
Some European and Russian negotiators were expressing cautious optimism Thursday, as what has been billed as the final stretch of talks to see if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action can be restored resumed in Vienna on Tuesday.
“I am still optimistic,” a European negotiator in Vienna told the Diplomatic news website.
“Very well,” a Russian negotiator said about how it is going. “But, of course, additional time and efforts are needed.”
“We are reaching the last steps of the negotiation,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at a panel at the French ambassador residence in Washington on Tuesday. “I do not know if going to be one week, two weeks, three weeks… I hope we are able to reach an agreement in the next weeks.”
“By next week, we should know if there will be a deal or not,” Ali Vaez, director of the Iran program at the International Crisis Group, told the Diplomatic.  “Either breakdown or breakthrough.”
There were hints of positivity from negotiators from the three European parties to the pact, France, Britain and Germany, known as the E3. The British and French negotiators have seemingly newly started tweeting from the talks in a more colorful way, perhaps in an effort to offer Twitter commentary on the negotiations that has been dominated until now by Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA and lead negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov, who offers daily photos and commentary about the proceedings.
Showing a photo of a “welcome home” greeting from his Vienna hotel, French political director Philippe Errera tweeted Wednesday that it was a sure sign that negotiations had been dragging on for too long.
“Constructive exchange” with Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani, the E3 and EU coordinator Enrique Mora this afternoon, Britain’s lead negotiator and director for Middle East and North African affairs Stephanie Al-Qaq tweeted Thursday, tagging her Iranian counterpart and Mora.



Cautious US Approach 

Some non-proliferation experts on a call with the US negotiating team experts last week came away with a sense they were somewhat pessimistic about prospects for reviving the deal. Supporters of reviving the deal also have been frustrated that the Biden White House apparently prefers to have little attention paid to the issue, rather than try to head off well-organized opposition to it as the prospect of a possible deal revival has come within reach.
“The White House wants this issue to remain on the sidelines, and not be as controversial as in 2015,” a US expert on the Iran nuclear diplomacy, speaking not for attribution, told the Diplomatic.
“We are not talking now about something happening in a few weeks … and the entire community that is allied with them is unprepared how to frame it,” the expert continued, adding he thinks the US administration has “stronger arguments now [in favor of a revived deal], because we have lived through” the disastrous results of Trump quitting the deal in 2018.
With the Biden White House apparently hesitant to ramp up a defense of an agreement it is not sure it will get, the administration’s strongest defense of any revived agreement to date has arguably come from a Senate ally, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy.
“Trump’s Iran failures left Biden with no choice but to make a deal,” Murphy headlined a piece in Time on the issue. Trump “scrapped the deal and reimposed sanctions. Not a single other nation joined him.”
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said there is no better, viable alternative.
“There is no viable plan B,” Kimball told me.
“The time it may take Iran to amass a significant quantity of fissile material for a nuclear weapon [an objective Tehran says will never pursue] under a restored JCPOA may now be less than it was in January 2016 when the deal was formally implemented, but it would very likely be at least 6 months and maybe closer to 9—which is far more than if an understanding to restore compliance is not achieved,” Kimball said.
“The Iranians since 2019 have been taking steps designed to maximize their leverage for this moment, to protest everything unfortunately the US did after 2018 designed to blow up the goddamn deal,” Kimball continued.
“No, we don’t have viable alternatives,” Kimball said. “And it may not be possible to fix the damage caused by Trump and his minions on the Hill.”
“The thin silver lining of Trump’s disaster was that at least he was able to test the theory of those that opposed the Iran deal when it was first signed,” Sen. Murphy wrote in Time. “Trump … [spent] four years implementing the deal’s critics’ preferred strategy and [found] only embarrassing failure.”

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