Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is growing increasingly optimistic that a return by the United States and Iran to the 2015 nuclear agreement is getting closer, claiming there had been “major” agreement between negotiators on the lifting of sanctions on Iran.
“We have taken a major and big step and the main agreement has been done,” Rouhani said.
Observers aren’t sure if Rouhani is blowing smoke or not. There’s an election in Iran in less than a month and some experts see Rouhani’s statement as spin on a very complicated situation.
That comment came just as Mikhail Ulyanov, a Russian diplomat involved in the talks, tweeted that it “is obvious now that the Vienna talks on (the deal) will not be completed by May 21 as the participants hoped.” He described the situation as “regrettable but not dramatic.”
“May 21 wasn’t a deadline but a target date. It helped us not to forget about time pressure,” Ulyanov wrote. “The talks will continue until successful outcome.”
That mirrored comments Wednesday by Enrique Mora, the European Union official who chaired the talks between Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran. He said told reporters “we have made substantial progress” though there were “still things to be worked out.”
The Iranian government has made it clear in the past that there will be no discussion of limiting its nuclear program until the sanctions are lifted. Whether negotiators have agreed to those conditions is unclear. If so, it would mean a major concession by the United States. President Joe Biden said during his first week in office that Iran would have to agree to return to the limits of the 2015 deal before the U.S. would lift sanctions. Iran is now enriching uranium to the 60 percent level — far above the 20 percent level they were limited to under the agreement. They have also vastly upgraded their centrifuge technology, giving them the capability of enriching uranium much faster.
No word on an agreement to even restore the original limits on Iran’s nuclear program.
Chinese diplomat Wang Qun was paraphrased by the state-run Xinhua news agency as saying “there is still some distance away from the goal of reaching an agreement.” European diplomats involved said after the talks that the were “beginning to see the contours of what a final deal could look like” but that “success is not guaranteed.”
Diplomats agreed to resume the talks in Vienna next week.
Sanctions on Iran imposed by Donald Trump’s administration proved to be far more damaging than originally believed. The Iranian economy shrank by 6% in 2018 and by 6.8% in 2019, according to International Monetary Fund data.
So with Iran literally on the economic brink, Biden throws them a lifeline. Is Obama’s legacy so important that Biden would sacrifice a huge negotiating advantage just restore a deal that in no way limited Iran’s nuclear program? He might have held out and severely curtailed Iran’s program in return for a gradual lifting of some sanctions. Other sanctions could stay in place until Iran started to behave like a civilized country.
Biden’s surrender will ensure further funding for Hamas and Hezbollah in their war of extermination against Israel. It will also threaten key allies in the Gulf like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
But compared to restoring the luster of the Obama presidency, it’s insignificant.