BY MOHAMMAD JAVAD MOUSAVIZADEH
NOV 18, 2022 – DAILY SABAH
After the anti-regime protests in Iran in recent weeks and worldwide condemnation, Tehran could partly restore its legitimacy and credibility by starting a new round of negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear agreement
Iran failed to use several golden opportunities to reach an agreement in the complex and delicate negotiations in the past year over resurrecting the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Opportunities do not last forever. It seems the Tehran regime now regrets these missed chances as the talks will not take place again.
These days, the circumstances have changed. Now it is no longer Iran that wants to delay negotiations, waste time and add more conditions to the agreement. In a position of weakness and under global and domestic pressure, the regime more than ever needs a return to the table to restore its legitimacy.
There are reasons for the regime reviving negotiations with world powers. After the widespread protests around the country driven by Mahsa Amini’s death, the Iranian girl who died in police custody, the Tehran regime was condemned and severely rebuked by many countries and international organizations. Besides France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the tragic and brutal death of Amini. In addition, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that condemns her death and the United Nations condemned the violent crackdown against anti-hijab protests.
“Authorities in Iran must fully respect the rights of protestors calling for justice for Amini, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said. Also, the U.N. chief said he is becoming “increasingly concerned” about reports of the death toll rising, “including women and children.”
Historians can dare to testify that the Tehran regime feels the most isolated from the global community it has been since the revolution of 1979. Iranian officials have become entangled in the mother of all regime quagmires. In this situation, the regime could benefit from restarting a new round of talks. It seems that the regime is only now convinced about reviving the talks, not reviving the agreement. Any new round of talks legitimatizes the regime again in the diplomatic landscape. However, it is not that easy. As Tehran’s main rival in the negotiations, the U.S has focused on Iran’s protests, and it should be mentioned that the nuclear talks have been frozen on the agenda by the Biden administration.
Iran has tried to keep the window for talks open, on the other hand, the U.S. secretary of state thinks the revival of the nuclear deal is unlikely for now. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said: “A message has been received from the U.S. Americans are in a hurry to reach the agreement point with Iran.”
“We will never leave negotiating table,” he added.
For his part, Blinken reiterated that he saw little scope for Iran’s new nuclear deal, pointing to the clerical leadership’s conditions as major protests roil the country. “Right now, I do not see a near-term prospect for that moving forward,” he added.
In addition, the new round of sanctions by the U.S., Britain and the European Union have been imposed on Iranian individuals and some companies that supplied Iranian drones to Russia. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Iran-made kamikaze drones have been used in strikes on Ukrainian civilians.
Obama-era lessons for Biden
In this situation, there is a small clue from the past when it comes to restarting possible nuclear talks. There are lessons that Biden can learn from the Obama administration era. During the protests after Iran’s presidential election, American officials did not declare obvious support for the protests. Former U.S. President Barack Obama recently admitted that he made “a mistake” by not supporting the Iranian people’s 2009 Green Movement against the regime. It seems now that any negotiations with Iran by the Biden administration would face a severe backlash from Iranian activists.
Although some Iranian opposition groups have imposed severe pressure on the U.S. to support regime change and tried to keep Washington from negotiating with Tehran, the Biden administration, in a tight spot, is trying to keep the nuclear talks alive and support the protesters in a synchronized manner.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective, the most sustainable means by which to realize that commitment on the basis that is both permanent and verifiable.”
Although social demand by the Iranian people drove the recent widespread protests in Iran, some analysts believe that the economic problems, including high inflation, have prompted a wide spectrum of people to join the protests against the regime. Also, the Tehran regime knows that reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and lifting crippling sanctions could partly reduce the scope of the protests and calm the people.
In August 2022, the EU provided the final text of an agreement after indirect talks between U.S. and Iranian officials wrapped up in Vienna. Afterward, Iran made new demands in nuclear talks beyond the JCPOA, and the efforts of the EU as a mediator did not come to fruition.
According to some reports, Iran demanded to receive a firm guarantee that the next U.S. administration would not be able to withdraw from the deal. Although U.S. diplomats, after the recent protests, are unwilling to return to the talks, Iran, in a position of weakness, could waive its extra demands beyond the JCPOA to encourage the U.S. to return to the negotiation table.
Undoubtedly, even if the regime revives the JCPOA, the new sanctions over human right violation and Iran providing drones to Russia would remain. Even though there is not little doubt that U.S. officials are not ready to launch a new round of negotiations, Iranian diplomats should show more flexibility to get back to where they were two months ago. By most accounts, possible talks will be off to a rough start from the get-go, and the U.S. will not return to the negotiation table unless the protests subside.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Journalist and analyst in international affairs and foreign policy, based in Mashhad, Iran