Trump’s shadow looms over weakening nuclear talks with Iran

WASHINGTON – Many factors are to blame for dying prospects to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. But perhaps nothing has stopped it The efforts of the Biden administration more than the legacy of President Donald J. Trump.

It was Mr. Trump, of course, who retired in 2018 from the Obama administration-sponsored Iran-sponsored nuclear pact, calling it “the worst deal ever.”

But Mr. Trump did more than pull the plug. U.S. officials and analysts say his actions have significantly complicated America’s ability to negotiate with Tehran, which has made demands outside the nuclear deal, which President Biden has refused to comply with without concessions.

The initial pact curtailed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions that have ruined the country’s economy. After Mr. Trump left the deal and imposed sanctions again, Iran has also begun violating its terms.

With no compromise visible with a new agreement and Iran making steady progress towards nuclear capacity, the Biden administration may soon be forced to decide whether to accept Iran’s capacity to make a bomb or take military action to prevent it. to do it. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as the production of medical isotopes to diagnose and treat disease.

Mr. Trump handed over to Biden an unnecessary nuclear crisis, Robert Mali, chief negotiator with the State Department, told the senators at the hearing late last month, adding that the chances of rescuing the deal had become “weak”.

Negotiations in Vienna to recover the deal have been suspended since mid-March. On MondaySecretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said “Iranian leaders must decide and decide very quickly if they want to continue with what has been agreed and which can be completed quickly if Iran chooses to do so.”

This month, after The United States and European allies have criticized Iran for lack of cooperation with international inspectors, Tehran’s staff has doubled by deactivating and removing some surveillance cameras in their nuclear facilities.

Mr. Blinken said Iran’s move was “not encouraging”.

On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdolahyan said Iran had proposed a new plan to the United States, but did not provide any details.

“Iran has never run away from the negotiating table and believes that negotiations and diplomacy are the best way to reach a good and lasting deal,” he said in Tehran.

A senior Washington administration official close to the talks said he was not aware of a new proposal from Tehran, but “of course we remain open” to ideas that could lead to an agreement.

Mr. Trump’s legacy is pursuing the talks in at least three remarkable ways, according to several people familiar with the negotiation process. Biden started early last year.

First, there was what the Iranians call a huge breach of trust: Mr. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, despite Iran’s adherence to its terms, confirmed Tehran’s fears about how quickly the United States could change direction after the election.

At the negotiating table in Vienna, the Iranians demanded assurances that every successor to Mr. Biden to be prevented from canceling the deal again.

At the end of February, 250 of 290 Iranian parliamentarians signed letter, letter to the President of Iran, who called on him to “learn a lesson from past experience” by “not committing to any agreement without first obtaining the necessary guarantees”.

Biden officials explained that this was not possible given the nature of America’s democratic system. (Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran began under President George W. Bush and were finalized in the 2015 deal in a presidential commitment by Mr. Obama. The agreement was not ratified as a treaty by the US Senate.)

Iranians have a related concern: foreign companies may be reluctant to invest in Iran if they believe the impact of US sanctions could fall again after the next presidential election.

Mr. Trump has created a second major hurdle to resuming the deal, amassing about 1,500 new sanctions against Iran. Iran has demanded that these sanctions be lifted – no more than Mr. Trump 2019 designation of the Iranian elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group. Previous administrations have condemned the Revolutionary Guard, which monitors Iranian military officials in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen and helps Iraqi insurgents kill Americans. But they feared identifying part of a foreign government as a terrorist group.

Iranian negotiators said that in order to reach a renewed nuclear agreement, Mr. Biden must abandon the terrorist label of the Revolutionary Guard. But Mr Biden refused, without Iran first giving other concessions – and Mr. Blinken identify the group as a terrorist organization back in April.

Some analysts call the issue largely symbolic, but strong. The United States had already severely sanctioned the Revolutionary Guards and the group’s commanders, and the impact of the sanctions was expected to have long-term consequences for the Iranian economy. However, the US Senate approved a non-binding resolution with 62 to 33 votes in May, banning Mr. Biden to remove the mark. Some key Democrats backed the measure, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the leader of the majority. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has written approval on Twitter after Mr Biden informed him that the appointment would remain.

A senior administration official said the United States was open to removing the designation of terrorism, but only if Iran was willing to offer new assurances about security concerns about the Revolutionary Guard. The official, who requested anonymity to describe the private talks, would not be more specific than saying that Iran had refused to give up any grounds.

Those familiar with the conversations point to a third, logistical way in which Mr. Trump’s legacy is emerging: Iranian officials have refused to speak directly to US officials after Mr Trump’s exit from the deal. (Mr Trump further infuriated Iran ordering the murder of Senior Iranian Military Commander Qasim Suleimani in 2020)

During the talks in Vienna, Mr. Mali communicates with Iranian negotiators, sending messages through European intermediaries from a hotel across the street. This slowed down the process and sometimes led to time-consuming misunderstandings.

Officials in the Trump administration and their associates expected similar complications to varying degrees, as they devised a policy that in part meant making any future negotiations difficult without dramatic changes in Iran’s behavior.

Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that holds a strong line against the Iranian government, was an outside architect. what he described in 2019 as a “wall” of Trump administration sanctions against Iran, including the terrorist designation of the Revolutionary Guards.

“I am glad that the wall of sanctions has essentially endured, because it has to endure,” he said. Dubovic, who strongly opposed the nuclear deal, said on Monday. “Iran should not receive easing of sanctions unless it stops the basic behavior that led to the sanctions in the first place.”

Biden officials say Mr Trump made maximalist demands on Iran that were unrealistic, even with intense economic pressure. Trump is running for Tehran.

The Trump administration “predicts that Iran will not restart its nuclear program and that Iran will come to negotiate our other concerns.” Mali said at the Senate hearing. “I wish they were right. Unfortunately, they have been proven wrong on all counts. “

Iran began to increase its nuclear program after Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal. But Mr Dubowitz said it had accelerated uranium enrichment to more dangerous levels and took other threatening steps after Mr Biden made it clear that he wished to return to the 2015 agreement.

Dennis Ross, a Middle East negotiator who has worked for several presidents, said both sides still have incentives to compromise.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei needs to ease sanctions on his economy. As for Mr Biden, Mr Ross said “there is no other way at this time to curb Iran’s nuclear program – and it is moving forward right now” with less scrutiny from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr. Ross acknowledged that the nuclear deal, which had limited support in Congress even in 2015, seemed less attractive today, now that Iran has acquired more nuclear know-how and the key “exclusion clauses” of the agreement should expire only after several years. But he said Mr. Biden may still want a return to the deal “not because he thinks it’s so great, but because the alternative is so bad.”

“Otherwise,” he said, “the Iranians can just move on.”

Farnaz Fasihi contributed to a report from New York.

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