Deal or not on Iran’s nuclear program?

bottom line: After several days of interruption caused by Russia’s now withdrawn demand for an easing of recently imposed Western sanctions, the JCPOA talks appear poised to resume in Vienna. Wall Street Magazine reports that the negotiations are facing a remaining obstacle that could derail the discussion. We are talking about the lifting of anti-terrorist sanctions imposed by the United States on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Wall Street Magazine the report calls it perhaps the “most politically sensitive” issue, as some US allies, such as Israel, strongly oppose lifting sanctions. Some US officials say a lack of compromise on the issue could lead to a breakdown in negotiations.. What could this mean for a future deal and how will Russia play a role in the negotiations?


  • This was stated by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahyan. completion of negotiations with his Russian colleague: “If we reach an agreement with the United States on the remaining issues that relate to some of Iran’s main red lines, based on my talks with Mr. Lavrov today, Russia will remain close to the Islamic Republic of Iran until a good and sustainable agreement that continues to play the constructive role it has played from the start.”
  • For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said“We received written guarantees – they are included in the text of the agreement on the revival of the JCPOA, and in these texts there is a reliable protection of all the projects and activities envisaged by the JCPOA – including linking our companies and specialists.”
  • Meanwhile, a senior US State Department official said“We continue to engage with Russia on the issue of returning to full implementation of the JCPOA,” adding, “we will certainly not authorize Russia’s participation in nuclear projects that are part of the resumption of full implementation of the JCPOA.”

The Cipher Brief spoke to Ambassador Gary Grappoformer US Ambassador to Oman and Heather Williamsformer Acting National Intelligence Officer of Iran at the National Intelligence Council to get their opinion on the progress of the negotiations.

Brief description of the cipher: What were Russia’s goals in easing sanctions against Ukraine in the context of the JCPOA negotiations?

Ambassador Gary Grappoformer US Ambassador to Iran

Through the smoke of the invasion of Ukraine, it is difficult to see what the Russian government might think of other pressing foreign policy issues, such as the JCPOA. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing about the war and what their boss might now be looking for after the setbacks. Nevertheless, their chief JCPOA negotiator has so far played a seemingly constructive role. So it was strange that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the statement he made after the Russians pulled off this eleven-hour stunt that put the Americans and the Iranians on the same side, in a shocking way. Obviously, the Russian gambit to somehow get rid of the recently imposed sanctions with the help of the JCPOA failed, and Lavrov had to come up with a pretext / justification. His interpretation is entirely his own. I suspect the US team may decline to comment until the updated JCPOA is signed and sealed, if that is indeed the case. The Russians will find no escape from either sanctions or concessions…and they know it. If the deal did not go through due to a Russian ploy, they would be blamed by all parties, including the Iranians. It was a “Hail Mary” maneuver that never included a prayer.

Heather WilliamsFormer Acting Chief of National Intelligence of Iran, National Intelligence Council

I would suggest that Russia abandoned their demands for clear, comprehensive guarantees and rethought the wording of the deal in a way that saves face, and not the US or the EU troika (France, Germany, UK), which made concessions to Russia on sanctions against it . persons because of their actions in Ukraine. Nothing in Lavrov’s statements implies to me that the proposed language being worked out has necessarily changed due to Russia’s recent actions. Since it did sound like an agreement on the wording was reached before Russia tried to play the spoiler, I don’t think Iran or we would be interested in revisiting that wording if we could avoid it. It’s a carefully balanced apple cart – no one wants to poke around in it.

Read also JCPOA: if we get an agreement, what will it mean? Exclusively from The Cipher Brief, words of former Iranian national intelligence manager Norman Rawle

Brief description of the cipher: How do you think the JCPOA will operate? Will the temporary stalemate created by Russia hang over the continuation of the talks, or will it just be another hurdle to overcome on the way to an agreement?

Ambassador Grappo: No one in the US administration says much about the state of the talks other than that they are close. American discipline is necessary and admirable given the sensitivity of this issue to many interests in the US and abroad. Without knowing the US red lines, it’s very hard to know where we might be. I believe that this administration does not want to suffer the same fate as the Obama administration, i.e. to negotiate an agreement that is strongly condemned by Republicans, as well as by many Democrats and many of our allies in the Middle East, especially Israel. , and then overthrown by the next Republican administration. So he will have to consider time horizons for the expiration of various sanctions, missiles, and Americans held by the Iranian government. I would be very surprised if these three questions did not appear in one form or another in the recently concluded JCPOA.

Williams: For now, it seems that a renewal of the deal is inevitable, despite Russia’s failed attempt to squeeze a self-serving advantage in these final hours of negotiations. I do not foresee that these diplomatic games will have a long-term impact on the deal itself, but they – and the attacks in Erbil – are a reminder that the nuclear deal will be superseded by all other contentious issues in the region. I take this as a reminder that the JCPOA’s ability to make significant strides in limiting Iran’s nuclear program and ability to develop nuclear weapons – even if it can’t also account for Iran’s missile capability and nefarious regional influence – is a strength, not a weakness, of the nuclear deal. Trying to resolve every issue with Iran through negotiations is an impossible task, but resolving this critical issue allows us to focus on using other instruments of national power over our other national security interests with Iran.

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Brief description of the cipher: Of course, apart from the agreement itself, other interests and plans related to the JCPOA are also at stake. What is the impact of domestic and regional politics, proxy and insurgent attacks, and concerns about Iran’s nuclear future on short and long term debate, stability and conflict?

Ambassador Grappo: My personal opinion is that this is the problem [the Biden] The administration seems to have pursued diligently and conscientiously. The return without an agreement, which is disappointing to some party loyalists, can be easily explained by the minor domestic political consequences in the short term. (However, we should expect tensions in the Middle East to escalate as the Israelis and Saudis take steps to counter the Iranian nuclear threat.) rather than buckle, as they did. Whereas the new deal would have to meet fairly high standards that the administration and the negotiating team should be well aware of.

With regard to Iran’s support for various malevolent groups in the region, this strategic problem for the Iranians. Making progress on this will require the direct involvement of many parties in the region, many of whom are not talking to each other. But putting some sort of process in place to finally solve this problem, or at least a visible solution, would be a significant achievement. But to date, we have heard nothing on this issue from any of the negotiators, which is to be expected, given its great delicacy. The US and our P5+1 allies (China, France, Russia, UK, US – plus Germany) may end up making some kind of joint statement, and the Iranians something else, with no clear solution other than continuing to best case. I have less hope for this question than for anything else.

The article includes research, analysis and reports from Cipher Brief analyst Ken Hughes.

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