After weeks of failed starts and back-channel exchanges, Iran and the United States will, next week in Vienna, begin exchanging ideas about how to restore the 2015 nuclear deal. Initially, though, there will be no direct talks between the two countries, officials in Europe and the United States said on Friday. Restoring the nuclear agreement would be a major step, nearly three years after President Donald J. Trump scrapped it, and perhaps begin a thaw in the frozen hostility between the two countries.
France's top diplomat spoke with his Iranian counterpart Saturday and urged Iran to be "constructive" and avoid further nuclear escalation ahead of talks next week aimed at trying to salvage a global accord curbing the Iranian nuclear program. The United States and Iran said Friday they will begin indirect negotiations next week, in one of the first signs of progress in efforts to try to get both countries back into compliance with the 2015 accord. Then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord in 2018, and Iran has been steadily violating its restrictions ever since.
Iran has begun enriching uranium with a fourth cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-2m machines at its underground Natanz plant, a report by the U.N. atomic watchdog showed, in a further breach of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. It was the latest of many steps by Iran raising pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden with the two sides in a standoff over who should move first to salvage a deal that was meant to curb Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb, if it so intended.
UANI IN THE NEWS
During my 24 years of service in the U.S. Senate, one of the subjects on which progress was not blocked by partisanship was U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. For years, strong bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress working with presidents of both parties enacted economic sanctions and other measures aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear program, as well as its support for terrorism, regional aggression and suppression of human rights of the Iranian people. Unfortunately, that bipartisan consensus on Iran policy ended in response to the Iran nuclear deal of 2015, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
…The third day of the forum ended with a panel on "UAE-USA relations under the new White House Administration", featuring Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the United States and Mr. Norman Roule, a senior advisor to the Counter Extremism Project and United Against Nuclear Iran, who joined the forum remotely for this panel moderated by news anchor Ms. Hadley Gamble.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
In Vienna on Tuesday, the signers of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will come together with what would appear to be a simple task. They want to restore compliance with an agreement that put strict controls on Iran’s nuclear enrichment, to ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon, in return for the lifting of punishing economic sanctions. Both Iran and the United States insist that they want to return to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A. But nothing about the meeting will be simple.
With the first serious efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal unfolding this week, President Biden faces an increasingly urgent dilemma: He can go slow, risking war and a collapse of talks, or move fast, even if it means a possibly flawed deal that damages his ambitious domestic agenda. Iran, the U.S., the European Union and the five other nations that signed the 2015 nuclear pact, including China and Russia, will gather in Vienna starting Tuesday in hopes of salvaging an agreement that the Trump administration set ablaze but that other world powers struggled to keep alive.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran wants the United States to lift all sanctions and rejects any “step-by-step” easing of restrictions, the foreign ministry said on Saturday ahead of planned talks in Vienna next week on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and global powers. The comments came as France urged Iran to show a constructive stance in the indirect talks with Washington in the Austrian capital, which will be part of broader negotiations. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Tehran opposed any gradual easing of sanctions.
OPEC’s crude production rose last month as rebounding supplies from Iran and Libya complicated the group’s efforts to keep global markets in balance. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries boosted output by 300,000 barrels a day to an average of 25.33 million a day in March, according to a Bloomberg survey. Iran and Libya accounted for most of the increase. OPEC+ agreed to increase oil production gradually in the coming months, making a cautious bet on a summer economic rebound as the world recovers from Covid-19.
The March 24 accident of the giant Panamanian container ship Ever Given sparked reports about the future of the Egyptian Suez Canal amid talks about alternative commercial transport projects. The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) managed to free the ship on March 29 after being stranded in the canal for nearly a week, and maritime traffic subsequently resumed. Along with the SCA and the Japanese company that owns the ship, navigation experts launched on March 30 investigations into the circumstances and causes of the ship’s grounding.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
As Iran marks the 42nd anniversary of a referendum that helped to solidify its 1979 Islamic Revolution, there is growing talk inside and outside the country of a need for another referendum to spur change, but little agreement about who should conduct such a vote and how. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first Islamist supreme leader who seized power from Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in February 1979, ordered a national referendum to be held weeks later try to secure public approval for the question of whether or not to turn the nation into an “Islamic republic.”
The US called on Tehran to immediately and safely release all US citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran. Speaking at a press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter stressed that the “abhorrent act of unjust detentions” for political gain must cease immediately, whether in Iran or anywhere around the world. Iran must also account for the fate of Robert Levinson, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz, who is a UK citizen, said Porter.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The United States welcomes the meeting set to take place on Friday between Iran and world powers to discuss the nuclear deal and sees it as a positive step, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday. Officials from Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain will meet virtually on Friday to discuss a possible return of the United States to the 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union said in a statement on Thursday.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran has arrested an “Israeli spy” and a number of other people who were in contact with foreign intelligence services, Iranian state media reported on Monday, without giving the nationality of those arrested. “An Israeli spy has been arrested in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province ... also other spies who were in contact with several countries’ intelligence services have been arrested as well,” it quoted an Intelligence Ministry official as saying. Israeli officials did not immediately comment on the report.
A number of Iranian military leaders, from both the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), are among the likely candidates for Iran’s presidential election, which will be held on June 18. Among these candidates are the former IRGC air force commander and former defense minister in the Rouhani government Hossein Dehghan; former IRGC commander and current Secretary of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council Mohsen Rezaee; and the former head of the IRGC’s Khatam Al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters Brig. Gen. Saeed Mohammed, as well as other politicians with a military background, including Ali Larijani, Parviz Fattah and Mehrdad Bazrpash.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran’s foreign minister has taken to the social media forum Clubhouse to answer questions in front of 8,000 people, in a move regarded by some as showing an unprecedented degree of openness but denounced by others as a fix in which unwelcome queries were not permitted. Javad Zarif is the latest in a line of politicians to try out a medium that is proving increasingly popular in Iran amid a growing demand for political debate and discussion.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has expressed concern over the decline in voter turnout, warning that the collapse of the elections and the referendum is equivalent to "the end of the revolution." Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Rouhani warned low voter turnout would be a major blow to the path taken by the Iranians, in reference to 1979 referendums on the adoption of the Islamic Republic. The presidential elections, scheduled for June 18 are important after Iran has seen its lowest turnout in a parliamentary election since the 1979 revolution.
“The enemy takes advantage of [cyber]space to reduce people’s participation in elections through psychological methods,” said Iran’s Supreme Leader in a speech on March 21. He was discussing the role of the internet in the context of the upcoming presidential election on June 18. “Cyberspace must be managed. There is no doubt that this possibility must be used by people and it brings freedom to people. It is also very good. However, this means must not be made available to the enemy to hatch plots against the country and against the nation,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei added with a hint of sarcasm.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Top Israeli officials are concerned that the United States is preparing to restart the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran without strengthening it, according to a new report. Israeli officials were dismayed by an interview U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley conducted with PBS NewsHour Friday in which he discussed returning to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action without insisting on lengthening the period before restrictions on Iranian nuclear policy are loosened and then ended, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The plot just thickened in the contest to shape post-conflict Syria: Russia, Turkey and Qatar have launched a new trilateral “consultation process” to promote a political solution to the 10-year civil war. Crucially, it does not include Iran. The goal, it would appear, is to pave the way for broader Gulf Arab re-engagement with Syria, and a concomitant marginalization of Iranian influence. Since the war was effectively resolved in December 2016 when pro-government forces overran opposition-held eastern Aleppo, most of the action has centered around the so-called “Astana process” that began in January 2017, in which Russia, Turkey and Iran have been negotiating over the spoils.
CHINA & IRAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has thrown his full weight behind the recently signed 25-year partnership deal between Beijing and Tehran, reaffirming in statements on social media that the agreement does not require parliamentary approval. Iranian officials have been applying multiple titles in reference to the signed document, details of which remain undisclosed to the Iranian public. The secrecy has only fueled concerns and triggered unending speculation that the Iranian government is offering too much in exchange for too little.
IRAQ & IRAN
The United States has announced its desire for Iraq to be independent from Iran, with regard to self-sufficiency in energy and other economic sources, expressing its willingness to strengthen cooperation with Baghdad. Ned Price, spokesperson for the US State Department, said in a press briefing on Thursday that the United States put in the context of its partnership with Iraq agreements that have been concluded in past strategic dialogues.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran has established a foothold on America's doorstep and is expanding in South America, experts say, especially by cultivating close ties with the Nicolas Maduro government in Venezuela. "It should come as no surprise that two of the world's leading human rights abusers have become even closer over the last several months. All American lawmakers should be deeply concerned about the growing ties between Tehran and Caracas," warned Bryan E. Leib, executive director of the New York-based activist group Iranian Americans for Liberty.