Joe Biden’s nascent bid to revive the Iran nuclear deal for a “longer, stronger” diplomatic agreement is already facing deep skepticism and potential hurdles in Congress — including from the president’s own party. GOP hawks are making sure that they'll have a say, and potentially an effective veto power, over any attempt by the Biden administration to roll back the aggressive sanctions that former President Donald Trump levied on Tehran after withdrawing the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear nonproliferation accord with Iran.
U.S. officials said a deal to revive a nuclear accord with Iran and ease sanctions isn’t imminent, and separately denied an Iranian report on an impending prisoner swap. “The short answer is there is no deal now,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. U.S. diplomats “will keep working at that over the coming weeks to try to arrive at a mutual return” to the nuclear deal within guidance laid out by President Joe Biden, he said.
High-ranking diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia and Britain made progress at talks Saturday focused on bringing the United States back into their landmark nuclear deal with Iran, but said they need more work and time to bring about a future agreement. After the meeting, Russia’s top representative, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted that members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “noted today the indisputable progress made at the Vienna talks on restoration of the nuclear deal.”
UANI IN THE NEWS
Even Iran has its bipartisan moments in American political circles. Democrats and Republicans alike now largely agree that the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, needs to be renegotiated and its provisions strengthened. Members of both parties believe that any prospective agreement must address Tehran’s ballistic missiles and its suspect regional activities. Yet often missing is any serious consideration of Iran’s human-rights record. The most consequential victims of the theocratic regime are its own citizens, and their plight shouldn’t be ignored.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
President Biden told the director of Israel's foreign intelligence service, Yossi Cohen, on Friday that the U.S. has a long way to go in talks with Iran before it agrees a return to full compliance of the 2015 nuclear deal, per a senior Israeli official briefed on the talks. State of play: Cohen, who has been director of the Mossad since 2016, laid out Israel’s position on the issue, telling Biden it would be a mistake for the U.S. to return to the deal without improving it first. Biden assured Cohen that the U.S. will continue to seek Israel's input in the future.
Sweden’s Security Service disclosed in its 2020 intelligence report that Iran is seeking Swedish technology for its nuclear weapons program, according to the Jerusalem Post. The report stated that Iran also is conducting industrial espionage, which is mainly targeted against the Swedish hi-tech industry and Swedish products that can be used in nuclear weapons programs. "Iran is investing heavy resources in this area and some of the resources are used in Sweden."
Diplomats are aiming for a revived nuclear deal with Iran to be signed in three weeks, they said, after new talks on Saturday in Vienna. “It’s too early to be excited, but we have reasons for cautious and growing optimism,” Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov said. “There is no deadline, but participants aim at successful completion of the talks in approximately three weeks. Is it realistic? We will see.” The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, collapsed in 2018 when the US withdrew and President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator said on Saturday Tehran expects U.S. sanctions on oil, banks and most individuals and institutions to be lifted based on agreements so far in Vienna talks, Iranian media reported, while Washington again played down the prospect of an imminent breakthrough. Russia and Western European powers meanwhile gave contrasting accounts of the task ahead in the talks to bring Iran and the United States fully back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal, as the talks adjourned for six days.
OPEC oil output has risen in April as higher supply from Iran countered involuntary cuts and agreed reductions by other members under a pact with allies, a Reuters survey found, adding to signs of a 2021 recovery in Tehran's exports. The 13-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries pumped 25.17 million barrels per day (bpd) in April, the survey found, up 100,000 bpd from March. Output has risen every month since June 2020 with the exception of February.
Iran said it reached an agreement with parties to the 2015 nuclear deal for the Biden administration to lift a raft of economic sanctions that could propel talks aimed at restoring the historic accord. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the negotiations in Vienna on Saturday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said there was an “agreement in place” over lifting sanctions on “most individuals” and on Iran’s energy, autos, financial, insurance and ports sectors, adding that negotiations were “ongoing” on penalties that apply to other individuals.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
U.S., U.K., and Iranian officials have all dismissed or otherwise downplayed unconfirmed reports out of Iran that suggested deals had been struck to swap prisoners against the backdrop of high-profile nuclear talks over Iran's nuclear activities. The United States said reports of an agreement to exchange prisoners and free up billions in Iranian assets were "not true," while British officials avoided linking a U.K. national's case to current talks, and an Iranian envoy said a U.S. exchange was "not confirmed."
Female human rights activists imprisoned in Iran face increased jail terms and transfers to prisons with “dangerous and alarming” conditions, hundreds of miles away from their families, according to campaigners. Warnings of the deteriorating treatment of female prisoners in Iran come days after Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian national who has served a five-year prison sentence in Iran, was sentenced to a further year in jail and a year-long travel ban by the Iranian courts.
The UK and Iran are in discussions over a £400m debt that the UK owes, a government minister has said - but the talks are not linked to the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The UK owes the money for failing to deliver tanks Iran bought in the 1970s. British-Iranian national Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in jail in Iran, believes she has been imprisoned as leverage for the debt. Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the talks were ongoing. But he said it was "completely inappropriate" to link them to the detention of British dual nationals, saying: "They are separate issues."
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The United States on Sunday denied a report by Iran's state television that the arch-foes had reached a prisoner swap deal in exchange for the release of $7 billion frozen Iranian oil funds under U.S. sanctions in other countries. Iranian state television said on Sunday that Tehran would free four Americans accused of spying in exchange for four Iranians held in the United States and the release of the frozen Iranian funds. The U.S. government denied that an agreement has been reached. Iran's envoy to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said the report could not be confirmed, adding that Tehran has always called for a full prisoner exchange with Washington.
Top Biden administration officials and U.S. senators crisscrossed the Middle East on Monday, seeking to assuage growing unease among Gulf Arab partners over America’s re-engagement with Iran and other policy shifts in the region. The trips come as the U.S. and Iran, through intermediaries in Vienna, discuss a return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that former President Donald Trump abandoned three years ago. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies, excluded from Obama-era nuclear negotiations, have repeatedly pressed for a seat at the table, insisting that any return to the accord must address Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for regional proxies.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the U.S. and Iran are not close to an agreement to revive U.S. participation in the 2015 nuclear pact. "There is no deal now," Sullivan said to host Martha Raddatz on ABC's "This Week." On Sunday, Iran state television reported that it would free prisoners with Western ties in exchange for billions of dollars from the United States and the United Kingdom. Sullivan said nothing had been agreed upon amid ongoing negotiations in Austria.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Israel is once again warning that it may have no choice but to preemptively attack Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. And its air force is becoming more capable of executing such a challenging mission. In late April, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen warned that a “bad” nuclear deal between the United States and Iran “will send the region spiraling into war.”
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's supreme leader on Sunday criticised its foreign minister, who said in a leaked interview that the elite Revolutionary Guards had more influence in foreign affairs and Tehran's nuclear dossier than him. In the interview, aired by the London-based Iran International Persian-language satellite news channel last week, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he had "zero" influence over Iran’s foreign policy. Zarif has been the public face of Iranian diplomacy as it deals with a host of issues, including talks with world powers on how to revive Iran's 2015 nuclear accord that Washington abandoned three years ago.
After coming under fire from Iran’s supreme leader, the country’s foreign minister offered him a direct and extensive apology Sunday for recorded comments leaked to the public last week. The recordings that surfaced of Mohammad Javad Zarif, including a blunt appraisal of the country’s internal power struggles and criticism of the powerful late Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, have sent shock waves through Iran less than two weeks before presidential elections.
A chemical factory near the central city of Qom caught fire Sunday, Iranian media reported, a blaze that injured at least two firefighters. Videos showed heavy black smoke rising from Movaledan chemical factory in the vicinity of Qom, one of Iran’s prominent religious cities. The cause of the blaze was not immediately known. Twenty fire engines and 150 firefighters were dispatched to the site, the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Qom fire department spokesman Hamid Karimi as saying.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
As efforts continue in Vienna to bring the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran, Israel sent a high-level delegation of intelligence and defence officials to Washington last week to try to dissuade the US from returning to the accord, while at the same time, it prepares for after it does. The Israeli delegation, which included Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and the heads of the military intelligence and strategic branches, held several meetings with top American officials to discuss the repercussions of US reentry into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Over strong Israeli opposition, and despite Iranian promises to destroy the Jewish state, US President Joe Biden is moving quickly to restore Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, paving the way for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. At the same time, there has been a decided uptick in the number and severity of Palestinian and Iranian attacks against Israel. My sources inside the US government suggest one factor behind this may be tacit Biden permission or support for increased violence from Gaza and a new intifada if Israel refuses to accede quietly to a new Iran deal or takes “unapproved” steps to defend itself against the Iranian threat. This would be a catastrophic mistake and horrific breach of trust. But on the facts, the idea the Biden government would pressure the Israeli government by green-lighting Iranian or Palestinian terror attacks against innocent Israelis cannot lightly be dismissed.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
In a prime-time television interview four years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia dismissed the idea that his kingdom could somehow find an accommodation with its archrival, Iran. “How do we communicate?” he asked. “The mutual points that we can agree on with this regime are almost nonexistent.” Now, Prince Mohammed is finding those points as he embarks on a diplomatic effort to defuse tensions between the two regional powers that have underpinned conflicts across the Middle East.