Iran nuclear talks freeze amid terror label spitting – even if deal is on the table – POLITICO

VIENNA – Negotiations to restore the nuclear deal with Iran have come to a complete standstill.

Though a roughly 27-page deal is virtually complete, diplomats have remained stuck on one final sticking point between the US and Iran: the status of a powerful branch of Iran’s military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The United States put the group on its Foreign Terrorist Organization list in 2019. Part of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign after withdrawing from the nuclear deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions lifting.

Now the issue has been dragged into the final stages of longstanding talks under President Joe Biden to revive the nuclear deal. The issue is of such immense political sensitivity in both Washington and Tehran that compromise has proved impossible and now seems increasingly unrealistic.

The sticking point revolves around the terror label, which is technically outside the scope of the nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The US, which maintains numerous other sanctions against Iran, is reluctant to reach deals that go beyond the contours of the original deal, but Tehran insists the issues should be intertwined.

“The US position has been that unless Iran agrees to take specific steps to allay security concerns beyond the JCPOA, Washington will not remove the terror designation, which extends even beyond the JCPOA,” said one with the Matter of trusted US officials to POLITICO.

And that attitude is not changing, the official added, “particularly in light of the IRGC’s ongoing threats against it.” [Americans].” The Biden administration faces bipartisan political opposition at home in order not to shed the terror label. Based on all of these factors, the official said, “It is highly unlikely at this point that the Biden administration will drop the designation related to the JCPOA talks.”

The standoff has put a resumption of the nuclear deal with Iran, which just a few months ago was considered imminent, is a long way off. Talks also briefly stalled recently over a demand by Russia – an original signatory to the deal – that it be granted sanctions protection for any future deals with Iran.

Now the terror label seems to be the biggest hurdle.

Washington initially offered to delist the IRGC in exchange for Iran’s commitment not to attack Americans in the region and to avoid retaliation against former US officials responsible for decisions such as the assassination of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani to be held responsible in January 2020.

But Iran refused to make such mutual concessions.

Enrique Mora, the European Union official coordinating indirect talks between the US and Iran, has been relaying proposals between the two sides for the past seven weeks to no avail, even participating in a shuttle diplomacy between Tehran and Washington last month to achieve a goal resolution.

Still, talks have effectively come to a standstill.

While the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell recently discussed the possibility of another face-to-face meeting in a telephone call, no meeting took place.

The Iranian Foreign Minister has Borrell said that the “US administration must have the courage to correct the wrong policies of the White House in the past. There is no doubt in the Iranian government’s will to reach a good, strong and lasting agreement.”

Meanwhile, the tide in Washington is turning against removing the Iranian military group from the terrorist list, narrowing the window for the US to solve the problem.

A growing number of Republican senators, as well as some key senators from Biden’s Democratic Party, are pressuring the White House not to back down.

“Let me be clear. The IRGC is a terrorist organization,” noted Democratic Senator Joe Manchin in a last letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “We must not be short-sighted in using sanctions relief to mitigate our current energy challenges,” he added, citing Western allies’ desire to forego Russian energy amid the war in Ukraine. The revival of the nuclear deal could ease Iranian energy flows to Western countries.

Trump placed the terror label on the IRGC, among numerous other terrorism and human rights sanctions his administration has imposed on Iranian institutions and individuals unrelated to the country’s nuclear program.

Numerous foreign policy analysts have argued that the pile of non-nuclear sanctions was aimed at stymiing future attempts to return to the nuclear deal – a prediction that now seems prescient as the odds mount that the talks could collapse. A possible option could be an agreement to discuss the delisting in a separate follow-up negotiation after the nuclear deal is successfully revived.

Advocates of non-proliferation fear a permanent failure of the negotiations.

“If the prospects of restoring the JCPOA crumble, the nuclear crisis will escalate and the risk of conflict will increase dramatically,” said Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association. “Restoring the nuclear deal is the only good option to avert a nuclear crisis.”

Analysts and government officials have warned that time is running out to restore the Iran nuclear deal. In a recently published open letterMore than 40 international experts and former government officials warned that Iran is only a week or two away from amassing enough bomb-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful and that it has no intention of making a nuclear bomb.

But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear regulatory agency, has suffered from reduced oversight of Iran’s nuclear program for more than a year as Iran withheld footage from IAEA cameras installed at its nuclear facilities.

“While talks have stalled, Iran’s nuclear program continues to grow unchecked,” Davenport said. “Tehran is steadily approaching the point where a push to produce nuclear material for a bomb could go undetected by international inspectors.”

The draft deal, forged in EU-brokered negotiations in the Austrian capital last year, contains all the elements needed to bring the US and Iran back into full alignment with the original 2015 deal. It lifts sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe restrictions on its nuclear program.

All the highly technical details were agreed upon in careful talks between diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, China and the US

“I can tell you that people who have invested heavily in these negotiations are frustrated because a very good deal that benefits all parties and the non-proliferation architecture is being held hostage on bilateral issues that have nothing to do with it have JCPOA or nuclear issues,” a senior Western official who attended the talks told POLITICO. Iran nuclear talks freeze amid terror label spitting - even if deal is on the table - POLITICO

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