Iran nuke talks back over weekend, but could drag into August


Iranian officials started to leak that they would like a deal by August, around when the country’s new president, who will be elected on June 18, actually takes office. YONAH JEREMY BOB

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, US, September 26, 2019


Talks between Iran, the US and the world powers in Vienna to resolve the nuclear standoff will be renewed this weekend, but could drag into August.

After earlier mixed messages from the parties about whether the talks would restart on Thursday as originally planned,

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendt Sherman said on Wednesday that the latest round of talks would restart over the weekend.

Despite optimism from some EU, Russian and Chinese officials that a return to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal could have been accomplished weeks ago or during this round, both US and Iranian officials made loud noises this week that the talks were not near an end.

Other Iranian officials started to leak that they would like a deal by August, around when the country’s new president takes office.

Earlier in the spring, Iranian President Hassan Rouhanii had made a series of positive statements that nearly all issues were resolved, indicating that he clearly wanted a deal before May 21.

At the time, May 21 was the deadline that the Islamic Republic had set for the US to lift sanctions, threatening to otherwise end international nuclear inspections.

That deadline was somewhat artificial, and Tehran extended the deadline for cooperating with IAEA inspectors to June 24. This raised speculation that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not want a deal before the June 18 presidential election.

The thinking was that Khamenei wanted a deal around the June 18-24 period so that the expected hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, could take credit and not Rouhani.

If Khamenei did not want a deal in late June, why would he extend the deadline with the IAEA only one month and have to breach yet another of several deadlines Iran has tried to impose on the Biden administration, dating back to the end of 2020?

Khamenei, not the president, is the final voice on major strategic issues like the nuclear standoff, and many say he has wanted to punish Rouhani as being overly cooperative with the West.

Now it appears that the short extension was to try to keep pressure on the US, but that a deal in August around when the new president takes office would be equally acceptable to Khamenei.

“There is an interest to reach understandings until August,” said Iran expert Dr. Raz Zimmt, a fellow at INSS and an editor at the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. “Though in principle talks could be continued beyond then, maybe even with the same negotiators.”

Questioned on how Iran would explain violating yet another self-imposed deadline on June 24, Zimmt said: “As long as the talks are continuing, it is always possible to extend cooperation with the IAEA again and again, though each time it is more and more complex and burdensome.”

Iranian officials claimed on Thursday that the US was insisting that the Islamic Republic return to the JCPOA’s nuclear limits before sanctions are lifted.

In fact, Washington has said it is willing to sequence lifting sanctions simultaneously to a return to the nuclear limits.

Meanwhile, Iran’s presidential candidates held a debate earlier this week in which Raisi, the front-runner and favorite of Khamenei, did take some hard questions from other candidates.

However, he did not need to defend himself much as other hard-line candidates lashed out at any candidate who attacked him, saying they should be banned from public office for their radical views.



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