(December 1, 2021 / JNS) Experts from the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) agreed that not much would come out of the current round of indirect negotiations that began this week between the United States and Iran on coming back into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
JINSA president and CEO Michael Makovsky, and vice president of policy Blaise Misztal, were joined by Ambassador Eric Edelman, JINSA Gemunder Center counselor and Iran policy project co-chair, and JINSA senior fellow John Hannah. The group held a broad discussion of the resumption of the talks in a virtual panel.
Hannah and Edelman said political changes in Iran with the election of hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi indicate that the country is disinterested in re-entering the JCPOA—the Iran nuclear deal agreed to in 2015 and made void by the United States leaving the agreement in 2018 under former President Donald Trump.
Hannah said he believes that one reason Iran agreed to reconvene the talks pointed to conversations that the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was going to pass a censure resolution last week against Iran at its meeting. The Iranians saw re-entering the negotiations as a way to freeze the board’s decision.
“Nobody will want to do anything to upset the resumption of talks,” he said. “So that’s, I guess, one possibility that the Iranians had an immediate tactical goal of making sure that nothing happened in in the meeting of the IAEA that would—in any way, shape or form—hurt their interests.”
Another reason may be that the Iranian regime wants to do the minimum to keep allies such as Russia and China in the process.
Still, Hannah said he didn’t believe anything will get done, especially in the first week. The Iranians are rumored to be coming to the table with conditions that the United States simply cannot accept.
“Iran is going to be so extreme; they have actually said … this is not a nuclear negotiation. This is not about mutual compliance with the JCPOA. This is only a negotiation about the American lifting of sanctions, Iran having a month to evaluate whether it’s getting the full benefit of sanctions [relief], and it’s about America paying compensation to Iran for having withdrawn from the deal. And the kind of guarantee that the United States will never ever again withdraw from the deal, or try and reimpose sanctions on Iran,” he explained. “So that is truly another universe that the Iranians are operating, and if those are the positions they take, and I think there’s every reason to believe they will.”
Edelman, on the other hand, thinks the Iranians are not interested in rejoining the JCPOA, which it believes did not favor their country, and are requesting a negotiation of a new deal that is more favorable to them.
Over the past five months, Iran has made dramatic advancements in its nuclear program, including enriching uranium up to 60 percent, giving it more leverage in the negotiations.
Hannah disagreed with Edelman that the old deal was not favorable to Iran and said that under the current situation, Iran might view re-entering the old deal as a way to seek more sanctions relief while leaving its current state of nuclear advancement in place, especially as many of the provisions of the 2015 sunset clauses expire in a few years.
Another option for Iran is to drag on the process while continuing its current course towards a nuclear weapon, knowing voices internationally and in the United States oppose draconian measures or military action by Israel or America for fear of disrupting the negotiations.
‘A bad way to go into negotiations’
Makovsky, who has just returned from meetings with officials in Israel, said there is a sense of tremendous pessimism in the Jewish state. Israel is a country, he said, that is critically affected by what Iran does but does not have a seat at the table during these negotiations, leaving it to voice its opinions publicly or privately to European and American leaders.
He said Israeli leaders see the United States as weakened from a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and were shocked and dismayed that the United States did not retaliate after an attack on American forces last month by Iranian-backed forces, even though it was in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes.
“That is not good for the United States, period, heading into these Vienna talks, that we have basically no deterrence—that people or enemies think it’s safer to attack us than it is to attack our allies,” said Makovsky. “That’s a bad way to go into negotiations with Iranians, direct or indirect.”
He said that while Israel is determined not to let Iran have a nuclear weapon, its new government’s approach of not creating tensions with leaders in the United States has gotten it very little in return.
“I think the Israelis need to pivot, and policymakers here need to pivot, to give Israel the tools it needs because however this plays out in Vienna, deal or no deal, dragging out negotiations … I think the Israelis feel they have the clock ticking louder and louder, and they have to prepare. And I think the United States’ job should be to give Israel the tools as soon as possible.”
Senior military officials in Israel, he said, no longer have hope that America will step in militarily to deter a nuclear Iran.
JINSA has over the years argued for accelerating deliveries of Boeing KC-46 air-refueling tankers, precision-guided munitions both offensive and defensive, and Lockheed Martin F-35 and McDonnell Douglas F-15I fighter jets.
“If we’re not going to do the job, we should give Israel the tools. And, by the way, if you do it more publicly, it will also enhance America’s diplomatic leverage with the Iranians. Doing it sooner than later has a lot of benefit,” said Makovsky.
‘Iran is a major problem, a major irritant’
Meanwhile, while some indications that the patience of America’s European allies is wearing thin with Iran’s lack of movement towards a deal, there is no more pressure from them besides strongly-worded statements and finger-wagging.
China and Russia appear satisfied with allowing Iran to drag out the process while being a thorn in the side of the United States.
“If the Russians were thinking logically and in terms of national interest, they would be at least as concerned as we—if not more—about a nuclear-armed Iran since Iran shares a border with Russia. And, at least, notionally they claim on nonproliferation grounds to be concerned about this,” said Edelman.
“But they’re also quite aware of the fact that Iran is a major problem for us, a major irritant,” he continued. “They probably don’t mind that in the least. They would probably be happy with an Iran that was a threshold state, but without actually testing and actually exploding their weapon. But at the end of the day, repeatedly, they have shown that putting a thumb in our eye is more important to them than other priorities.”
The most serious threat against Iran would come from European countries that are still part of the JCPOA to snap back their sanctions against Iran if the IAEA board of governors decides to censure the Islamic regime for not complying with its oversight protocols. Another IAEA board of governors meeting on Iran is scheduled within 30 days, rather than the usual three months, and its decision may determine European action.
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