May the Vienna Talks Push Iran to Seek Completely Independent Directions?

I am pessimistic about the outcome of new round of Vienna talks. Both sides are completely intransigent, and have been for a long time. Both sides want the other party to back down and make concessions before they will move. Iran insists on all sanctions being lifted. The United States insists on Iran returning to the status before Trump withdrew from the JCPOA–both reduced enrichment of uranium, and return to full IAEA inspections. With neither side giving an inch, there can be no progress. The key to success is to agree to have action simultaneously. This will require a brokered solution with a third party operating in good faith with both Iran and the United States.  

I do not believe all parties are serious about returning to the JCPOA. President Biden is suffering from a drop in popularity. He cannot make concessions to Iran without suffering politically. The slightest concession will result in vicious attacks from Republicans, led by former President Trump. The Republicans are just waiting for this, waiting to pounce on President Biden. Iran’s new government does not want to appear weak vis-a-vis the United States, and so they are also not making any concessions. They also fear, quite correctly, that they will make concessions, and then the United States will not respond. This is what happened many times in the past.   The United States always wants to blame Iran, but it is a simple fact that President Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA. It is not Iran’s fault. So, I think Iran is rightful when it comes to guarantees.

According to some reports, the current impasse is not because of an Iranian sense of immunity to pressure; rather it is largely because President Biden is refusing to commit his administration to lift sanctions on Iran during the remaining years of his presidency, even if Iran fully complies with the nuclear deal. If President Biden’s popularity recovers and the Democratic Party shows strength in the next year, he will be in a stronger position to negotiate with Iran. For now being “tough” on Iran is a much better political position for him domestically. 

The United States has been demonizing Iran since the time of the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79. There is absolutely no political value for either Democrats or Republicans in making concessions to Iran. No American politician ever lost a vote by attacking Iran. American politicians of either party who seem to be “soft” on Iran are attacked immediately. It is political suicide to agree to Iran’s terms without obtaining something substantial in return.

Some critics say the nuclear dispute is not resolvable through technical discussions. This is a political issue that is rooted in distrust between the U.S. and Iran. So, they need mutual trust. The JCPOA took nearly two years to negotiate with a great deal of yelling and shouting. The United States is not a trustworthy treaty or agreement partner. Iran has also used the lever of uranium enrichment to increase or decrease pressure on the United States and its European partners in the JCPOA. So both sides can be accused of acting in bad faith. Trust can only be built when people actually adhere to their promises.

Europe could be a much stronger, much more effective mediator in these talks. Thus far the European partners in the JCPOA have been very weak–almost non-existent in these talks. I would love to see France, the UK, or Germany step up and become a forceful mediator in these talks. Thus far they have been completely cowardly–mostly because they fear that they will suffer sanctions from the United States if they show the slightest favoritism to Iran.

Iran is already moving toward leaving the economic sphere of the United States and Europe. The move toward China, India, and Russia is a very clear direction for Iran’s future now. Without any cooperation from the United States in negotiations, and without any positive action toward mediation from Europe, we may see Iran seeking completely independent directions to solve its economic difficulties. The United States will regret this if it happens.

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