Iran made many demands as it resumed talks Monday with the U.S. and other world powers aimed at salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal, doubling down on its position before negotiations first started in the spring and raising doubts over an early breakthrough. The talks, taking place in the Austrian capital amid a strict coronavirus lockdown, are intended to agree on the steps Iran and the U.S. will take to return into compliance with the 2015 deal, which lifted most international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for strict but temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear work.
Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me. Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.
The U.K. and Israel announced a new decade-long deal covering trade, defense and tech. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid shook on the new agreement in London which is aimed at stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. “We will work night and day to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power,” the pair wrote in a joint article for the Daily Telegraph, on the same day that talks on salvaging the Iran nuclear deal restart in Vienna.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…With that as a backdrop, some regional analysts say covert support from China — one of the key signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal — has helped to keep the Iranian economy afloat over the past few years and may even have made President Raisi even less motivated to negotiate with Washington. At issue specifically are Chinese purchases of Iranian oil, which have steadily increased since President Biden arrived in office in January. Data compiled by United Against Nuclear Iran, a bipartisan advocacy group in New York, shows nearly 1 million barrels per day of Iranian crude were reaching China last spring, even as global oil prices were starting to climb sharply.
…Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran thinks the Iranians “intend to drag out these talks as they calculate they can advance their nuclear program as leverage for more concessions at the negotiating table.” Brodsky says previous approaches by the world powers have failed. “The maximum carrots and minimum sticks approach that has been employed over the past few months by the US and the E3 (France, Germany, and the UK) has emboldened Tehran to think this way,” he said.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The setting was right, but the atmosphere chilly. After a break of more than five months, talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed on Monday in the Palais Coburg, the luxury hotel in Vienna where the original pact was signed with much fanfare, in a more optimistic time. With a more conservative government now in place in Iran, and a new set of Iranian negotiators who have said talks need to start with a complete lifting of sanctions, the mood was somber among Western negotiators. But as the first round of formal discussions ended Monday, negotiators also tried to be upbeat.
Iran struck a maximalist tone Tuesday after just one day of restarted talks in Vienna over its tattered nuclear deal, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated. Iranian state media reported the comments by Ali Bagheri, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, and Mohammed Eslami, the country’s civilian nuclear chief. It remained unclear, however, whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president or signaled serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 deal that saw Tehran strictly limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
EU, Iranian and Russian diplomats sounded upbeat as Iran and world powers held their first talks in five months on Monday to try to save their 2015 nuclear deal, despite Tehran taking a tough stance in public that Western powers said would not work. Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 in a move which infuriated Iran and dismayed the other powers involved - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A U.S.-based news outlet that covers news in Iran says at least 214 people, including 13 minors, were arrested last week in a police crackdown on demonstrators protesting crippling water shortages in the central city of Isfahan. Thirty people were wounded in the eyes by pellets fired by police officers on November 26, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). Severe drought and water diversions have been blamed for drying up the Zayandehrud River that runs through Isfahan, some 400 kilometers south of Tehran.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has said the United States interests are “incompatible” with Iran’s in the region. He also slammed the “maximum pressure” campaign adopted by the administration of former US president Donald Trump. Raisi’s remarks were made in his address to the Economic Cooperation Organization’s (ECO) summit, which was held in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, on Sunday. “By withdrawing from the nuclear deal, imposing unilateral sanctions and establishing the policy of maximum pressure, the US proved that its interests are incompatible with our collective interests in the region,” Raisi stressed.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The Arab coalition struck Iranian Revolutionary Guard experts in Yemen’s capital, the Saudi Press Agency reported. The coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites. The operation complies with international humanitarian law and its customary rules, the coalition said. The coalition has hit a number of sites in the capital in the past few weeks in an effort to deteriorate the capabilities of the Iran-backed Houthi militia.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
China, Russia and Iran pose three of the biggest threats to the U.K. in a fast-changing, unstable world, the head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency said Tuesday. MI6 chief Richard Moore said the three countries and international terrorism make up the “big four” security issues confronting Britain’s spies. In his first public speech since becoming head of the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, in October 2020, Moore said China is the intelligence agency’s “single greatest priority” as the country’s leadership increasingly backs “bold and decisive action” to further its interests.