US and Iran at loggerheads over nuclear deal despite claims of progress

Stalled talks over reviving a 2015 deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons have revealed tensions between Washington and Tehran as each side tries to avoid blame if year-long negotiations collapse .

Talks in Vienna, Austria, stalled last month despite repeated assurances from negotiators, including Britain and France, that a deal was within reach.

The American and Iranian teams expressed mutual distrust. Iran has said any deal should come with a guarantee that a future US leader cannot unilaterally withdraw from it.

Congress appears divided, with many Republicans saying the deal won’t address serious national security concerns, including Iran’s controversial ballistic missile program, and what 49 of 50 Republican senators recently called “continued support of Iran to terrorism and its flagrant violations of human rights”.

Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes and its missile strategy or related regional policy should not be part of a nuclear deal.

On Monday, Iranian officials spoke out on social media.

“If there is a break in the talks in Vienna, it is because the American side has asked for too much,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on his official Twitter account.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs acts with power and logic to achieve the nation’s higher interests and respect the red lines. We will never go too far with America. If the White House behaves realistically, a deal is achievable. »

He was referring to US President Joe Biden’s power to use his veto if US politicians block a deal.

Earlier, Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Mr Amirabdollahian, said the country’s negotiators would not return to Vienna until Washington settled “outstanding issues”.

“If Washington answers the outstanding questions, we can go to Vienna as soon as possible,” he told reporters, without going into details.

For nearly a year, negotiators from a group of world powers known as the P5+1 – the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – have worked with Iran to restore the agreement.

In 2018, he was dropped by US President Donald Trump, who wanted to broker a deal from scratch.

The original agreement was intended to limit Iranian stockpiles of enriched uranium, including low- and medium-enriched varieties. The latter is easier to enrich heavily, which could then be turned into weapons-grade material.

These reduced stocks and limited enrichment processes would be inspected and verified by UN analysts.

In return, most economic sanctions, with the exception of some related to Iran’s support for terrorist groups, would be lifted.

Hurry up

US State Department spokesman Ned Price suggested it was Tehran that could undo the deal at any time. He said time was running out.

“Anyone involved in the talks knows precisely who made constructive proposals, who brought in non-JCPOA related demands, and how we got to the current moment,” Mr. Price told reporters, using the acronym of the agreement officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“Iran has been able to reduce this breakout time from its starting point to a point where we can measure it in weeks rather than months. For us, this is unacceptable as a long term proposal.

But the deal is not dead.

“We still believe there is an opportunity to overcome our remaining differences,” Mr. Price said.

It’s not just the US-Iran standoff that complicates matters.

Russia, a signatory to the 2015 agreement reached by the Obama administration, complicated the talks last month with a request for written guarantees to obtain broad exemptions from the international sanctions imposed on it because of its invasion of the Ukraine, so that it can do business with Iran.

Israel and several Middle Eastern countries are also concerned about Iran’s long-range missile and drone programs and accuse Tehran of providing proxy militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, including Hezbollah and the Houthis.

Iran-backed militants have launched attacks on countries ranging from Iraq to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hosted a summit with top diplomats from four Arab countries and US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken.

“This new architecture – the shared capabilities we are building – intimidates and deters our common enemies, first and foremost Iran and its proxies,” Lapid said after the talks alongside his American, Emirati, Bahraini, Moroccan counterparts. and Egyptian.

Mr Blinken reassured Washington’s regional allies if diplomacy with Iran failed.

“As neighbors and, in the case of the United States, as friends, we will also work together to address common security challenges and threats, including those of Iran and its proxies,” he said. he declared.

In 2020, Iran attacked US troops stationed at Ain Al Asad Air Base in Iraq with missiles that caused dozens of concussions.

The attack followed an escalating spiral between Iran-backed militias and US forces that left an American contractor dead. The United States then carried out a drone strike near Baghdad airport that killed a senior Iranian military strategist, General Qassem Suleimani, leading to the Iranian attack.

Last month, Iran claimed responsibility for a missile barrage that struck near the US consulate compound in the northern city of Erbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, saying it was in retaliation to an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Updated: April 05, 2022, 09:05

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