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Despite Announcement of “Final Text”, Iran Prolongs the Impasse in Nuclear Talks

Nuclear negotiations between the Iranian regime and six world powers reportedly concluded on Monday in Vienna with the presentation of a “final text” detailing the prospective revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. International media differed, however, on the meaning of these reports, with outlets like CNN and the Associated Press intimating that the text prefaced a mutual agreement that would bring a definitive end to 16 months of on-and-off negotiations, while outlets like Bloomberg News explicitly stated that the negotiations had concluded with “no deal”.

It was not immediately clear how the “final text” differed, if at all, from a draft agreement that had been presented in the last week of July by Josep Borrell, the head of foreign policy for the European Union. In any event, Borrell’s commentary on both drafts was virtually identical, emphasizing their exhaustion of opportunities for compromise as well as the need for the Iranian regime to make political decisions that will close the issue on the basis of existing proposals.

Tehran’s response on Monday was also effectively the same as its response in July, with figures like the regime’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian glossing over Borrell’s uncharacteristic ultimatums in order to promote the idea that negotiations may still be ongoing for some time to come.

Borrell posted to Twitter: “What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text. However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals.”

By seemingly placing the onus of such decisions on all of the participants, Borrell seemed to imply that there were still holdouts on the agreement among two or more of the negotiating teams. However, this does not appear to be the case in reality, since the purpose of the pending agreement is only to restore American and Iranian compliance with the terms of the JCPOA, and American officials have made it clear that they are prepared to accept a restoration agreement based on the EU’s proposals.

The US State Department said as much when negotiations resumed last week for the first time since a brief exchange of dialogue in Doha, instead of Vienna, at the end of June. It reiterated that statement after negotiations concluded on Monday, with a spokesperson saying, “For our part, our position is clear: we stand ready to quickly conclude a deal on the basis of the EU’s proposals.”

The spokesperson went on to highlight the comparative inconsistency of Tehran’s statements, noting that officials have repeatedly said they are committed to a conclusion of the democratic process, but that now it is time to “see if their actions match their words.” Other commentators have noted the same inconsistency with some, like British spy chief Richard Moore arguing that the regime’s repeated refusal to either accept a draft agreement or walk away from the negotiations is potentially indicative of a defined strategy of drawing out the process indefinitely.

This interpretation of the regime’s motives was arguably reinforced when the Vienna talks resumed last week and Iranian officials promptly contradicted statements from the European coordinator, Enrique Mora, which suggested that the focus would be on the new draft Borrell had presented in advance. The Iranian regime Foreign Ministry declared instead that the focus would be on the much vaguer goal of “advancing the negotiations,” and that success in that goal might still lead to several additional rounds of talks.

That narrative was actively promoted by the Iranian state media outlets, which also boasted of ongoing advancements in the country’s nuclear program, including the activation of advanced centrifuge arrays in the fortified nuclear facility at Fordo. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specifically boasted that that facility was protected against foreign attack, including nuclear attacks, and that it could quickly enrich uranium for use in a nuclear weapon if adversaries provoked the regime into its much-feared “breakout”.

The regime’s official news agency, IRNA also issued a report last week which cited a self-professed expert on international affairs, Hassan Abedini, to argue that Iran was “entitled” to such provocative nuclear advancements after the US expanded enforcement of economic sanctions. In spite of obvious disputes related to such claims, the same article rejected the notion of mediation among the negotiating parties as a precursor to the resumption of full-scale negotiations.

The following day, the Iranian regime’s Oil Ministry announced plans to increase the country’s output of petroleum products to pre-sanctions levels, thereby implying that the regime is unconcerned about the lifting of those sanctions in line with the re-implementation of the JCPOA.

One thing that now appears to be relatively undisputed is Tehran’s ongoing commitment to another demand deemed irrelevant by Western officials and negotiators, namely the closure of an inquiry by the International Atomic Energy Agency into the past military dimensions of the Iranian regime’s nuclear program.

Since shortly after the conclusion of negotiations leading to the JCPOA, the IAEA has been pushing for answers about the source and current whereabouts of nuclear material, traces of which were found at four undeclared sites in Iran. In June, the agency’s board of governors finally censured Tehran for non-cooperation with that probe, after several years of incomplete or non-credible answers.

The decision on safeguards claims belongs solely to the IAEA, and neither the EU nor the entire collection of nuclear-negotiating teams is in a position to override the agency’s determinations. And even if it could, the current consensus among Western officials appears to be that there is no room for further adjustments to the existing draft. “The text is on the table,” the statement said. “There will be no re-opening of negotiations. Iran must now decide to conclude the deal while this is still possible.”

The Iranian regime is taking advantage of this elongated process of talks/no talks to further develop its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles as means to deliver a payload. Mohammad Mohaddessin, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), reiterates the proven fact that Tehran will only respond to a policy of firmness and decisive measures.

“Iran’s regime will not relinquish nuclear weapons. Its officials talk of bomb production. Negotiations give Tehran the time needed. If the world doesn’t want nuclear terrorists they must show firmness, reactivate United Nations Security Council resolutions, and wide-ranging sanctions/inspections,” Mr. Mohaddessin said in a tweet. “20 years ago, the NCRI unveiled Iran’s Natanz and Arak sites. Instead of sanctions and punishment, the West chose talks and major concessions. Big mistake! If a firm policy was adopted Tehran would never be so close to the bomb. The world should not repeat the same mistakes,” he explained.