TOP STORIES Trump's shadow looms over fading Iran nuclear talks

Trump’s shadow looms over fading Iran nuclear talks


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WASHINGTON. Many factors are to blame for the fading prospects for a revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But perhaps nothing has hindered the Biden administration’s efforts more than the legacy of President Donald Trump.

Of course, it was Mr. Trump who pulled out of the Obama administration-brokered nuclear pact with Iran in 2018, calling it “the worst deal ever.”

But Mr. Trump did more than pull the plug. US officials and analysts say his actions have made it much more difficult for America to negotiate with Tehran, which has made demands beyond the nuclear deal that President Biden has refused to comply with without concessions.

The original pact limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions that had crippled the country’s economy. After Mr. Trump pulled out of the deal and re-imposed sanctions, Iran also began violating its terms.

With no compromise on the new deal in sight and Iran steadily moving towards a nuclear capability, the Biden administration may soon be forced to choose between admitting that Iran can build a bomb or taking military action to prevent it from doing so. Iran claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as the production of medical isotopes to diagnose and treat diseases.

Mr. Trump handed Mr. Biden an unnecessary nuclear crisis, Robert Malley, State Department chief negotiator, told senators at hearings late last month, adding that the chances of saving the deal had become “negligible.”

Negotiations in Vienna on the renewal of the deal have been suspended since mid-March. On MondaySecretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said that Iranian leaders “need to decide, and decide very quickly, if they are to proceed with what has been agreed and what could be completed quickly if Iran chooses to do so.”

This month after US and European allies criticize Iran For refusing to cooperate with international inspectors, officials in Tehran redoubled their efforts by deactivating and removing several surveillance cameras at their nuclear facilities.

Mr Blinken said Iran’s move was “not reassuring”.

On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Iran had proposed a new plan to the United States but did not provide any details.

“Iran has never run away from the negotiating table and believes that negotiations and diplomacy are the best way to reach a good and lasting deal,” he said in Tehran.

A senior administration official in Washington close to the talks said he was not aware of any new proposals from Tehran, but “of course we remain open” to ideas that could lead to an agreement.

According to several people familiar with the negotiating process that Mr. Biden launched early last year, Mr. Trump’s legacy haunts the negotiations in at least three notable ways.

First, this is what Iranians call a huge breach of trust: Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal, despite Iran’s commitment to its terms, confirmed Tehran’s fears about how quickly the United States could change course after the election.

At the negotiating table in Vienna, the Iranians demanded guarantees that any successor to Mr. Biden would not be able to cancel the deal again.

At the end of February, 250 out of 290 Iranian parliamentarians signed letter President of Iran, urging him to “learn from past experience”, “not entering into any agreements without first obtaining the necessary guarantees.”

Biden officials explained that this was not possible given the nature of the American democratic system. (Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran began under President George W. Bush and were completed in a 2015 deal as part of Mr. Obama’s presidential commitment. The agreement was not ratified as a treaty by the US Senate.)

Iranians have a related concern: foreign companies may be reluctant to invest in Iran if they believe the US sanctions hammer could collapse again after the next presidential election.

Mr. Trump has created a second major setback for the restoration of the agreement, imposing about 1,500 new sanctions against Iran. Iran has insisted that these sanctions be lifted, no more than Mr. Trump declared the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group in 2019. Previous administrations have denounced the Revolutionary Guards, which monitor Iranian military proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen and aid insurgents in Iraq who have killed Americans. But they were wary of identifying a foreign government unit as a terrorist group.

Iranian negotiators said that in order to reach a new nuclear deal, Mr. Biden must drop the label of terrorists of the Revolutionary Guards. But Mr Biden refused without Iran first making other concessions — and Mr Blinken described the group as a terrorist organization as recently as April.

Some analysts call this question largely symbolic, but largely so. The United States had already imposed tough sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards and the group’s commanders, and the effects of the sanctions were expected to have long-term effects on Iran’s economy. However, in May, the US Senate voted 62 to 33 to approve a non-binding resolution barring Biden from removing status. Some key Democrats backed the measure, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Majority Leader. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote a message of approval. on twitter after Mr. Biden informed him that the appointment would remain.

A senior administration official said the United States was willing to renounce its terrorist status, but only if Iran was willing to provide new assurances on security concerns related to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks, did not become more specific, except to say that Iran refused to give up any positions.

People familiar with the talks point to a third, logistical path in which Mr. Trump’s legacy looms: Iranian officials have refused to talk directly to US officials since Mr. Trump pulled out of the deal. (Mr. Trump further angered Iran by ordering the assassination of top Iranian military commander Qasim Soleimani in 2020.)

During the talks in Vienna, Mr. Malli communicated with Iranian negotiators, sending messages through European intermediaries from a hotel across the street. This slowed down the process and sometimes led to time-consuming misunderstandings.

Trump administration officials and their associates more or less anticipated such complications, as they crafted a policy that was partly intended to make any future negotiations more difficult without a dramatic change in Iran’s behavior.

Mark Dubovitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank hardline on the Iranian government, was an outside architect what he described in 2019 as a “wall” of Trump administration sanctions against Iran, including declaring the Revolutionary Guards as terrorists.

“I am satisfied that the wall of sanctions has largely stood because it must stand,” Mr. Dubovitz, who has strongly opposed the nuclear deal, said on Monday. “Iran should not get sanctions relief unless it stops the underlying behavior that led to the sanctions in the first place.”

Biden administration officials say Mr. Trump made maximalist demands on Iran that were unrealistic, even with the intense economic pressure Mr. Trump was putting on Tehran.

The Trump administration “predicted that Iran would not restart its nuclear program and that Iran would come to discuss our other problems,” Mr. Mulley said at a Senate hearing. “I wish they were right. Unfortunately, they turned out to be wrong on all counts.”

Iran began ramping up its nuclear program after Mr. Trump pulled out of the deal. But Mr. Dubovitz said she has accelerated uranium enrichment to more dangerous levels and taken other threatening steps after Mr. Biden made it clear he was keen to return to the 2015 deal.

Dennis Ross, a Middle East negotiator who has worked for several presidents, said both sides still have incentives to compromise.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei needs sanctions relief on his economy. As for Mr. Biden, Mr. Ross said that “at the moment he has no other way to limit the Iranian nuclear program – and it is moving forward right now” with less oversight from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr. Ross acknowledged that the nuclear deal, which had limited support in Congress even in 2015, looks less attractive today, with Iran acquiring more nuclear know-how and key “expiration clauses” in the agreement expiring in just over some years. . But he said Mr. Biden might still want to go back to the deal “not because he thinks it’s so great, but because the alternative is so bad.”

“Otherwise,” he said, “the Iranians can just keep moving forward.”

Farnaz Fassihi provided a report from New York.

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