On Monday, 29 November, 2021, delegates and diplomats from the US, China, the UK, France, Russia, Germany and Iran restarted negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear programme in Vienna, Austria. The talks are expected to last a few weeks and are the first official meeting to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme since 2015, when, under the President Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani administrations, a deal was agreed. In 2018, former US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal, and it is hoped that the current talks can revive the previous agreement.
MEMO sat down with Emad Kiyaei of the Middle East Treaty Organisation (METO) to discuss the significance of the talks. According to Kiyaei: “We had a choice – war or diplomacy. A deal happened in 2015, and it put all of these comprehensive measures in place and we thought we were done with this issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.”
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed on 14 July, 2015, committed Tehran to scaling back its nuclear development in exchange for a relief in economic sanctions on the country. After Trump pulled out of the agreement, his administration sought not only to reimpose sanctions on the Islamic Republic before the 2015 deal, it also added tougher and more general sanctions.
“The [Trump administration] went after Iran’s trading partners through what is known as secondary sanctions, so they went to, let’s say, South Korea and said, ‘Are you sure you want to trade with Iran? If you do so, we’ll cut you off from the US market.’ And so, a lot of Iranian trading partners throughout Asia and Europe decided it’s a high cost to deal with Iran. So not only did Iran come under US sanctions, but the secondary sanctions resulted in the Iranian economy being battered,” Kiyaei explained.
There has been a lot of delay and controversy surrounding the current talks. Many feared Iran would not be interested in reinstating the previous deal, to which the outside powers are looking to return.
“The fact that it has commenced is already an achievement. There was a lot of talk that the new Iranian administration under (Ebrahim) Raisi will not be open to discussing the Iranian nuclear deal over again. What we have heard from inside the negotiations and from reports is that, at least from the moment it has begun on Monday, Iranian delegation and diplomats and negotiators have agreed to continue the previous rounds and not to start from scratch. That’s good news. They’ve already entered into what is known as these working groups that focus on those three things: how do we get the sanctions removed, how do we make sure Iran’s nuclear programme is reversed and how do we sequence all of this,” shared Kiyaei.
Not everyone is happy to see the talks go ahead. Israel has objected to any attempt to reach a new deal with Iran over its nuclear programme. As the talks began, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid toured European capitals and urged European Union (EU) governments not to trust Iran’s intentions, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released statements threatening that Tel Aviv is ready to escalate against Iran.
“The Israeli government position vis-a-vis Iran is well known. They have been for years… you can chronicle the fact that they have constantly said, ‘Iran is at the verge of a nuclear weapon, Iran is going to have a nuclear weapon by 2000, by the year 2010, we are three weeks away from an Iranian bomb.’ Mind you, the only nuclear weapon state in the Middle East is Israel, the only country in the Middle East that is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is Israel. So when we are putting these threats and these warnings in perspective, we have to acknowledge the reality that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon,” concludes Kiyaei.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.