Published: 22:30, April 7, 2022 | Updated: 22:30, April 7, 2022
Talks on US-Iran deal stall again
By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong

Experts blame Biden’s domestic troubles, Russia-Ukraine conflict for setback, but hope lingers for deal revival  

Photo taken on Dec 3, 2021 shows a meeting of the Joint Commission on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in Vienna, Austria. The meeting was about talks on the nuclear issue of Iran. (EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA / HANDOUT VIA XINHUA)

Negotiations to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have stalled anew in Vienna, protracting a yearlong endeavor even further, with Iran blaming the United States for the latest stalemate. 

Experts say the stumbling block in the way of a breakthrough is the political opposition faced by US President Joe Biden at home, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has led to soaring oil and gas prices globally, also having a negative impact. 

Experts say the stumbling block in the way of a breakthrough is the political opposition faced by US President Joe Biden at home, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has led to soaring oil and gas prices globally, also having a negative impact

Since April 2021, eight rounds of talks have been held in the Austrian capital between Iran and the remaining parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, namely China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, to revive the 2015 deal. 

The efforts came after the US, under former President Donald Trump, abandoned the JCPOA in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Teheran.

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The US said on March 31 that a few outstanding issues remain in the nuclear talks, and that the onus was on Tehran to make those decisions. Iran, meanwhile, also said that there are some outstanding issues, including the removal by Washington of its designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, Reuters reported.

“The principal reason for the delay is the complications induced by the turbulent dynamics of the United States’ domestic politics,” said Jawaid Iqbal, a political science professor and chairman of the Department of West Asian and North African Studies at Aligarh Muslim University, or AMU, in India.

“Biden's low approval ratings, partly due to the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, have bolstered the crudely hawkish sentiments of Republicans and the Israel lobby — both of them strictly oppose the Vienna Talks and demonize Iran,” Iqbal told China Daily. 

On March 14, 49 US Republican senators told the Biden Administration that they will not support the revival of the JCPOA with Teheran, claiming it will weaken sanctions and lessen restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. The US is also scheduled to have its midterm congressional elections this November. 

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On March 30, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions on an Iran-based procurement agent and his network of companies for providing assistance to Iran’s ballistic missile program, including a unit of the IRGC responsible for the research and development of ballistic missiles. 

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh slammed the newly-imposed sanctions as another sign of Washington's ill intent toward the Iranian nation, saying the move shows the US will not miss any opportunity to exert pressure on the Islamic Republic.  

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on March 31 that his country has not withdrawn from the negotiation table, adding that Iran "has not tied the lives of people and economy to the outcome of talks”.

Asif Shuja, an Iran expert and senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of National University of Singapore, noted that the draft text of a potential agreement “is on the table” and that the delay is essentially on account of US and Iran striving to “tilt the drafts in their respective favors”.

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“The acceptance of the present draft or a modified one would be contingent upon favorable geopolitical conditions. The Ukraine-Russia conflict is the latest entrant to the list of those existing geopolitical conditions. This is a new factor in the decision-making process of the leaderships of Iran and the US,” Shuja told China Daily.

He said newly introduced sanctions on Russia provide Iran an opportunity to “fight back” against the US sanctions together with Russia. 

Shuja also noted that “the potential entry of Iranian oil in the market by lifting of sanctions provides the US a way of solving the immediate energy problems of Europe, as well as a long-term solution of lessening Europe's dependence on the Russian gas”.

Arhama Siddiqa, a research fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, said the Ukraine-Russia conflict “does play a prominent role” as Russia is one of the signatories to the deal. Under the deal, Russia “also has the responsibility” for taking control of Iran’s excess enriched uranium. 

“Iran needs the revival of this deal as well given the situation of its economy,” Siddiqa said.  

In March, a Russian demand forced world powers to halt the nuclear deal negotiations, but Moscow later said it had written guarantees from the US that its trade with Iran would not be affected by Ukraine-related sanctions the US imposed on it.

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Mohammad Salami, an associate researcher at International Institute for Global Strategic Analysis, a think tank based in Islamabad, believes that despite the challenges, the negotiations will lead to a deal on the JCPOA.

Biden is looking for some achievements that can be leveraged in favor of his party in the US midterm elections, Salami said, also noting that the Ukraine crisis has come at a time when the Democrats’ congressional election prospects are “dire”.

Iqbal from AMU said the weakening of the US dollar, due to American sanctions against Russia, will aid the “multipolarization of the world order” and strengthen Iran's regional alliances with Russia, China, and other West Asian countries. 

“This may force the US to overcome the power exercised by hostile anti-Iran domestic lobbies and come to the negotiating table,” said Iqbal. 

Xinhua contributed to this report.