US And Iran Extend Diplomatic Feelers As Tehran Might Get Some Blocked Funds
As Iran was due to restrict its cooperation with United Nations nuclear inspectors on Tuesday [February 23], the United States and Iran continued to search for a common path to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
In a Washington press briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the P5+1, the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, was “the place where we want to have those discussions.” In Tehran, Ali Rabiei, the government spokesman, said Iran was considering a proposal that the US be a guest in talks between remaining signatories of the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Rabiei said Josep Borrell, European Union foreign policy chief, had suggested “setting up a sit-down unofficially, for the purpose of discussions, not negotiations, between Iran and the P4+1, with the US as a guest.”
Iran signed the JCPOA with the P5+1, but President Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018 and imposed draconian sanctions on Iran, which has responded since 2019 by exceeding limits on its nuclear program set by the JCPOA.
While President Joe Biden and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani want to revive the deal, there has been no agreement on how to synchronize moves. Iran has insisted the US must remove sanctions, as required by the JCPOA, before it can return to the JCPOA framework.
While the ‘guest’ formula is likely designed to evade such a precondition, Rabiei said Iran’s participation in informal discussions would still depend on it being “convinced” they would lead to “complete execution of Washington’s commitments.”
A Lengthened, Strengthened Deal
In his press briefing, Price stressed that while the US wanted “an outcome where Iran and the US resume commitments under the JCPOA,” it also wanted to “lengthen and strengthen the deal.” Price emphasized US co-ordination with the European JCPOA signatories, the UK, France, and Germany (E3). “We are no longer working at cross purposes,” he said. “We believe this gives us a position of strength.”
In a statement earlier Tuesday, the E3 reiterated that Iran should “reverse all measures that reduce transparency and…ensure full and timely cooperation with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].” The E3 said they “deeply regret” that Iran was suspending its operation of the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the move reducing access to IAEA inspectors, as well as transparency measures required by the JCPOA.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA head, said Tuesday that Iran’s reducing inspectors’ access had been mitigated by the agreement he reached in Tehran on Sunday. While the IAEA will have delayed access to camera footage, Grossi said the agency would be able “to monitor and to register all the key activities that are taking place throughout this period so that at the end of it we can recover all this information.”
Goodwill Gesture to Iran?
Price declined comment on reports that the US has been involved in talks with South Korea over releasing Iranian funds frozen in Korean banks, which might constitute a goodwill gesture towards Tehran. Price said that any such contacts with an “ally and partner” were confidential.
Rabiei said Iran and Korea had agreed on releasing $1 billion as a first step. Seoul announced Tuesday that Tehran had agreed to Korean proposals to free up some of the funds, which total $7 billion, mainly from oil sales.
Divisions in Iran continued to rumble as the pro-Rouhani newspaper Iran on Tuesday criticized Monday’s vote in parliament rejecting the agreement with Grossi, arguing it contravened parliamentary legislation requiring the suspension of the AP if the US did not lift sanctions.
There is also talk in Tehran of further escalation. On Monday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said Iran might enrich uranium up to 60 percent, above the current maximum level of 20 percent and way above 3.67 percent JCPOA limit. Reuters on Tuesday cited a confidential IAEA report that Iran has now 17.6kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent, since it began enrichment to that level in January. The IAEA also said it was continuing investigations into unexplained uranium particles found at two sites in Iran inspected last year.