Kuwaiti Newspaper Says Iran And US Talking Over Reviving Nuclear Deal
The Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida has reported contacts between Iran and the new United States administration of President Joe Biden. Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi in an interview published in an Italian paper on January 23 denied there had been confidential discussions, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on January 20 questioned a French report that Iran’s United Nations envoy Majid Takhtravanchi had met Biden’s representatives in New York.
Al-Jarida on January 24 cited a source in the office of President Hassan Rouhani that Takhtravanchi had indeed acted as a go-between, carrying messages on the potential revival of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 before imposing draconian sanctions. Both Rouhani and Biden want to restore the deal, which Iran has itself violated since 2019 by expanding its nuclear program beyond the limits of the deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
According to the Kuwaiti report, Tehran informed Biden that the JCPOA should be renewed through the existing JCPOA mechanisms and committees, with the US lifting sanctions as it agreed when signing the agreement. Tehran repeated its past insistence that it would not accept linking the deal to other issues, including defense and security – so rejecting suggestions in Washington that JCPOA revival should depend on Iran giving up its missile program and links with regional allies, including Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad or Hezbollah.
Takhtravanchi conveyed Iran’s expectation it would seek, through JCPOA structures, compensation for the economic losses caused by sanctions imposed by Trump. Compensation would most probably be a non-starter with many in the US and its regional allies.
Iran also stressed it would not accept that JCPOA signatories – currently Iran, the US, Russia, China, the UK, Germany, and France – be increased, so rejecting suggestions in Israel and Gulf Arab states that they be formally involved. According to Al-Jarida, Tehran said it would discuss its defense, including its missile program, in United Nations-supervised talks over regional security, including Israeli missiles and atomic weapons.
Al-Jarida presented Iran’s position as seven conditions, although it was unclear how the seventh - a rejection of a two-state Israel-Palestine with the territory’s future settled by a UN referendum - related to Iran’s consistent position that the JCPOA remain based on separating its nuclear program from other matters. The referendum has been a stated aim going back to President Mohammad Khatami that sits uneasily with militant rhetoric heard at public rallies.
The question of which sanctions, not all of which relate specifically to the nuclear program, would be lifted in reviving the JCPOA is not straightforward. Trump introduced many sanctions his administration claimed would thwart Biden in restoring the JCPOA, and Zarif wrote in a recent Foreign Affairs magazine article that Tehran expected Washington to begin by “unconditionally removing, with full effect, all sanctions imposed, reimposed, or relabeled since Trump took office.”
Rafael Mariano Grossi, head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, pointed out in December that reviving the JCPOA required discussion and agreement over timing and phasing that the IAEA would then monitor. In a second interview on January 11 Grossi said that “weeks” rather than “many months” remained to save the agreement.
The Al-Jarida story was picked up by the Times of Israel. Israelis have reacted with alarm to Biden appointments of veterans from the Obama administration, including Tony Blinken, Jake Sullivan and Robert Malley–Biden’s picks for Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and reportedly Iran envoy.
Major General Yaakov Amidror, former head of the National Security Council and close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently said that if the US returned to the JCPOA, Israeli would have “no choice but to act military against Iran to prevent it from manufacturing a nuclear weapon.”