Iran to Continue on Negotiating Path

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AP22020442927364-Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

Iran will continue negotiating with European delegations until a nuclear deal is reached, a top Iranian official said Monday, even as Western leaders warn that the talks are at risk of failure unless they succeed very soon.

The eighth round of talks in Vienna has continued “between Iran, P4+1 and the representative of [the] EU, from the beginning and this path will continue unchanged until a result is reached,” Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran's national security council, said on Twitter.

However, he added that direct negotiations with Washington are not on Iran’s agenda as they “will not be the source of any progress.”

The comments are significant, coming from such a powerful figure in Iran, and given Shamkhani’s past efforts to undermine a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

There are growing indications that efforts to revive the original deal must be concluded in the coming days — whether they succeed or fail.

Western Warnings

Western officials have repeatedly warned that any deal will soon become obsolete, given the rapid advancements Iran’s nuclear program has witnessed since Washington withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018.

“Now is the moment of truth,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, adding: “If we don’t succeed very quickly in this, the negotiations threaten to fail.”

Speaking at the same event, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said he was “very optimistic” a good deal could be done. “We have never been this close to a deal,” he said.

But he also insisted it was incumbent on Western negotiators to show flexibility, including by offering guarantees on the future commitment of the US to the JCPOA, although he suggested a statement by the leaders of the US Congress might suffice, in what could amount to a significant compromise.

Remarkable Progress

Striking a similarly positive note on the status of the talks, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday that they had progressed “remarkably,” but he cautioned that “the most serious and toughest issues” have yet to be resolved.

Among those issues are Iran’s demands on the US to provide guarantees that it will not renege on a new nuclear pact as the Trump administration did four years ago.

That in itself represents a serious obstacle, with US officials having emphasized from the beginning that they will not be able to do so, and with Iran’s hard-liners showing themselves unlikely to accept anything less.

During a visit to Qatar for the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday said any revived agreement would require the removal of all anti-Iran sanctions, along with valid guarantees among other things.

"In order to reach an agreement, securing the interests of the Iranian nation, especially the removal of sanctions, credible guarantees and closure of the cases of political claims are necessary," Raisi said at a joint press conference with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Iranian Parliament

Calling for the need to secure credible guarantees from Washington, a large majority of Iran’s hard-line-dominated parliament on Feb. 20 issued a statement urging Raisi not to agree to any new nuclear deal without ensuring that Iran's demands are met.

The statement, signed by 250 out of 290 parliamentarians, stressed that guarantees were needed “to ensure the interests of the Iranian people are protected.”

Ultimately, the decision on whether or not Iran agrees with the US to return to mutual compliance under a revived JCPOA lies with the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

On Feb. 17, he expressed support for the Iranian negotiating team, saying in a televised speech that they were “working to have sanctions lifted and to persuade the other side [to do so].”

He also criticized the team that negotiated the 2015 deal for failing to heed his recommendations.

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