Iran Spokesman Expects Nuclear Agreement With Rouhani In Office
Ali Rabiei, the government spokesman, said Tuesday he expected Iran would reach agreement on reviving its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers before President Hassan Rouhani left office in August. “We are neither in a rush in the negotiations nor have a decision to prolong the process,” he told reporters at his weekly press briefing.
But Rabiei said Tehran was “close” to seeing the lifting of United States sanctions, a reiteration of Rouhani’s claim last week that talks nuclear in Vienna with world powers, which started April 6, had reached agreement-in-principle and sanctions would be lifted.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was less optimistic when appearing Monday before committees of the House of Representatives, saying it was unclear if Iran was prepared for “what it needs to do [to] come back into compliance” with the 2015 deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
Iran has gradually extended its nuclear program since 2019, firstly in response to President Donald Trump withdrawing from the JCPOA and imposing draconian sanctions, and more recently after November’s killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist and the April attack, widely attributed to Israel, on the Natanz enrichment plant.
Blinken told the congressional committees that the Iranian program was “galloping forward,” which was reducing ‘breakout time’ – the period required to manufacture a crude nuclear weapon “down, by public reports, to a few months at best…[and if continued] down to a matter of weeks.”
The secretary of state said Washington was “not even at the stage of returning to compliance for compliance,” meaning the lifting of US sanctions incompatible with the JCPOA as Iran returned its nuclear program to JCPOA limits. “We don’t know if that’s actually going to happen,” Blinken noted.
Observers in the Iranian media have suggested Rouhani, who is ineligible to stand for a consecutive third term in the June 18 presidential election, would like to end his presidency by reviving the JCPOA, which his administration agreed as part of a wider strategy of international engagement, but which was upended by Trump’s ‘maximum pressure.’
Some analysts have said that Iranian principlists – many of who opposed the JCPOA – would like to be in the driving seat for any agreement involving the US and to take credit both for surviving ‘maximum pressure’ and from the economic boost expected to follow the easing of sanctions.
Rabiei however, qualified his remarks by stressing that the Vienna talks are subject to approval by “top officials of the Nezam” – or the ruling regime. The word ‘nezam’ in the Islamic Republic political jargon means the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Even US officials recently stated that they are aware that the final decision-maker in Iran is Khamenei.
Rabiei said agreement in Vienna would improve prospects for another strategic aim of Rouhani – acceding to the protocols of the Paris-based International Financial Action Taskforce, FATF, which would facilitate Iran’s interaction with international banking and ability to attract foreign investment. While the FATF blacklisted Iran in February 2020, the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between state bodies and is controlled by principlists, has held up legislation on FATF accession for over two years.