In yesterday’s Washington Post it was reported that there will be no further negotiations between the US and Iran (and other parties) in Vienna over the US and Iran rejoining the JCPOA nuclear agreement that Iran had been adhering to when Donald Trump withdrew the US from it in 2018, then reimposing economic sanctions on Iran, with Iran then starting to violate the agreement in various ways starting a year later. President Biden had promised to rejoin the agreement as part of his campaign, but negotiations on doing so had bogged down.
It was completely unsurprising that the moderate Iranian President Rouhani would be succeeded by a hardliner, Raisi, who is due to take office next month. Nevertheless, there had been reports that Supreme Leader Khamenei in Iran was supporting completing the negotiations with the team of Rouhani before Raisi taking office as a way of getting the deal done and off the desk as it were so Raisi would not have to deal with it. But apparently, he has changed his mind, and if in fact there is to be a successful negotiation and a resumption of both nations rejoining the agreement, it will be done by a team assembled by Raisi after he takes office. I consider this to be bad news as it may indicate no deal will be able to be made.
The report suggested that most of the practical issues had been resolved by negotiations that have happened so far. These involve the timing of how both sides undo their respective actions that pulled them out of the agreement practically. For the US this would be the matter of ending the various economic sanctions while for Iran this would be undoing their advanced uranium enrichment programs they have been engaging in that are beyond the agreement’s limits. These were non-trivial matters to agree to, but reportedly the deal on them was cut. Maybe the best that can be hoped for is that when negotiations resume, at least this agreement is in place to work from.
So, what remains to hold things up? Unfortunately on both sides, it seems to be matters being demanded by hardliners who basically do not want the agreement to be resumed, unrealistic demands. From the Iran side, it is a demand that somehow the US never leave the deal again. Well, maybe this is something the Biden people ought to be willing to grant. But the problem is that it is not something that can really be promised in a credible way given that if Trump or somebody like him gets elected president in 2024 or later, there is simply no way that person can be kept from leaving the deal again as Trump did. Biden can make promises, but there is no guarantee they can be kept. I am not sure what the Iran side wants beyond some promise that cannot be kept necessarily.
On the US side, it is a demand that Iran agrees to follow up talks on such matters that the Trump administration had wanted, and the US had tried to get but could not in the original negotiations back in 2015 for the deal. These include limits on Iranian missile programs and influence on various militias in other nations, such as Iraq and Syria. These might be nice to have, but Iran refused to accept them in 2015, and it has been clear all along that Khamenei is not going to accept them now. Maybe Khamenei could agree to such negotiations and then once both parties rejoin the agreement lets them start but just lets them bog down and go nowhere. But for now, he does not seem to be willing to do that, and if he was, he would have let the current negotiating team make such a deal.
So we seem to be looking at a situation where hardliners on both sides are blocking a final agreement by making what are clearly unrealistic demands. This is not a good sign at all for a favorable resolution of this at all. This should have been a no-brainer for the Biden administration, and they simply should have rejoined the deal upfront, especially once they got an agreement from Iran to rejoin it too without all these extra demands. This is a failure with Biden letting Trump get the better of him in the end.