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Thursday, October 6, 2022

Nuclear talks falter as Iran charges ahead regionally

By Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

The joint statement made this week by France, Germany and the UK ended speculation about the Vienna talks aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran. They expressed disappointment that 18 months of negotiations had produced nothing and frustration over Iran’s seesaw negotiation strategy of going back and forth over its demands, raising hopes in one session and dashing them in the next.

Tehran’s habit of bringing up non-nuclear issues thwarted progress, but the straw that finally broke the camel’s back was its attempts to be exempted from nonproliferation safeguards that are at the heart of Iran’s obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and not just the JCPOA.

Tehran’s intransigence in the JCPOA talks and in dealing with the International Atomic Energy Agency is combined with its strident statements and actions in the region, all indicating that it is in no mood for compromise. It is daring its adversaries into taking tougher action if they can. Apparently the Iranian regime believes that, as the West is preoccupied with the Ukraine crisis, it will not act and will give Iran a free hand in the region.

Iran’s demands at the nuclear talks became impossible to accommodate, perhaps by design. As in every agreement, the initial idea was to restore “compliance for compliance,” meaning each party to the agreement commits to implementing its part of the bargain. However, while Iran rejected any suggestions of expanding the JCPOA’s scope, it kept introducing new, extraneous demands, such as lifting non-nuclear sanctions.

The three European countries have negotiated with Iran, in good faith, since April 2021 to restore and fully implement the JCPOA. In early August, after a year and a half of negotiations, the EU, which served as the JCPOA coordinator, submitted a final set of texts that would allow for an Iranian return to compliance with its JCPOA commitments and a US return to the deal.

Brussels bent over backwards to accommodate Iran’s never-ending tweaks, but that was not enough to secure a deal. In the final package, the EU made additional changes that took the Western parties to the limit of their flexibility. But that was not enough, as Iran has chosen not to seize this critical diplomatic opportunity. Instead, it continues to escalate its nuclear program way beyond any plausible civilian justification.

While negotiators were edging closer to an agreement, Iran reopened new issues that relate to its legally binding international obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Safeguards Agreement concluded with the IAEA. This demand was especially alarming as it raised serious doubts about Tehran’s intentions and commitment to a successful outcome regarding the JCPOA. Iran’s new demand also contravened its legally binding obligations.

The IAEA’s Board of Governors adopted in June, by an overwhelming majority, a resolution calling on Iran to take urgent action to answer the agency’s outstanding questions. Three months later, Tehran has not done so at all, as confirmed by the IAEA director general’s latest report.

Separate from the JCPOA talks, the international community has, through the IAEA, made it very clear that Iran must fully and without delay cooperate in good faith with the agency. It is obligated to provide technically credible answers to the IAEA’s questions on the whereabouts of all nuclear material on its territory. The JCPOA talks should in no way be used to release Iran from its legally binding obligations under the global nonproliferation regime, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Safeguards Agreement.

While the nuclear talks falter, in the region Iran has different designs. Its armed forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, last week issued a warning to countries hosting US troops and bases. The warning was posted by the official news wire IRNA, saying that the “terrorist American armed forces” have reduced forces in the Gulf and have relegated the defense of those dependent on it to the “Zionist child-killer army.” Bagheri added that Iran was planning to expand its air and naval presence in the region, including through missiles and drones.

Earlier, Iran’s navy said it had seized two US surface drones in the Red Sea, claiming that the unmanned vessels jeopardized maritime safety. According to a statement, the “frigate Jamaran seized the two vessels on September 1” and released them “after international shipping lanes were secured.” The navy also aired footage of more than a dozen Iranian naval personnel pushing two drones into the sea from the deck of their vessel.

Iran, of course, has no coastline along the Red Sea but it has been building up its naval presence there over the past decade. Its presence in the Red Sea raises questions about its expanding military footprint beyond the Gulf, as it assumes the role of a traffic cop in the region’s international waters.

On Aug. 30, the Pentagon said an Iranian ship had seized an American military unmanned research vessel in the Gulf, but released it after a US Navy patrol boat and helicopter were deployed to the location.

Tehran’s meddling in regional affairs has also increased. Rocket attacks against Iraqi Kurdistan have continued, mostly by Iran-allied militias but at times from Iran directly. Politically, 11 months after successful elections in Iraq, Iran has prevented the formation of a new Cabinet and the appointment of a new president, insisting on giving its allies the leadership regardless of their relatively poor showing at the polls.

Lebanon has descended into chaos and economic paralysis thanks to Hezbollah, Iran’s operational arm in the region. Yemenis have not been able to sit at the negotiating table as Iran’s allies there have thwarted UN efforts to start the process toward a political solution.

Thus, it appears that Iran’s regional policies are in sync with its nuclear talks, all premised on the idea that it can get away with charging ahead as a rogue state, refusing compromises in the belief that the world is too distracted by Ukraine to do anything to stop it. Muscular diplomatic action is needed to disabuse Tehran of these notions and persuade it to sue for peace.(Courtesy Arab NEWS)

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