Indirect US-Iran Talks to Restart in Doha

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AP22020442927364-Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

Iran and the US are set to imminently resume indirect talks in Doha aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement more than three months after they were suspended.

A weekend trip to Tehran by the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell appears to have broken the deadlock.

“The negotiations were stalled — no prospects of restarting — and thanks to these discussions, in the coming days they will start again, with close contacts between the United States and the Iranians,” Borrell told reporters on Saturday, after meeting his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The EU will again mediate the talks, which Iranian officials have said will take place in Qatar, a Mideast Gulf ally of both Iran and the US.

It remains to be seen whether the negotiating positions of either side have shifted enough to allow for a breakthrough.

There have been unverified reports that Tehran may agree to compromise on its insistence that the US remove the Revolutionary Guard from its list of foreign terrorist organizations — a major sticking point in the stalled negotiations.

Diplomatic Drivers

High oil and gas prices due in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are a key driver behind the Western push to at least get Iran back to the negotiating table.

Spiraling inflation in Iran, meanwhile, and the threat that discounted Russian crude poses to its market share in China — by far the largest buyer of sanctioned Iranian oil — must surely figure in Tehran's calculations.

“I think there's some optimism that a deal is closer,” Mohammad Marandi, a professor at Tehran University who has worked with Iran’s negotiating team, told Energy Intelligence.

“I think the Europeans want to be better equipped with Russia in mind. If Iran is back on the oil market formally, it would have an impact. Plus, they don't want a conflict in West Asia,” he said when asked why he thought the talks were being reactivated now.

Ukraine Changes 'Everything'

Borrell echoed those comments at Saturday’s press conference, saying the war in Ukraine was "changing everything."

“In order to fight against price increases, you have to increase the supply. So the deal would be good from the point of view of crisis stabilization on energy,” he said.

“It would [also] be good from the point of view of increasing security … [and] from the point of view of Iran becoming a member of the international community,” the EU’s top diplomat noted.

Negotiators aim to reach an agreement that curbs Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for US sanctions relief, including on Iranian oil exports.

European diplomats say a viable deal was on the table in March, following 11 months of on-and-off negotiations in Vienna coordinated by the EU.

But the negotiations broke off following Russia’s surprise demand that its trade with Iran be exempt from any Ukraine-related sanctions; they have been at an impasse since.

Prospects for Progress?

A possible deal was feared to be slipping out of reach earlier this month when Iran decided to remove 27 surveillance cameras in response to a Western-backed resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency criticizing its failure to cooperate over the monitoring of its nuclear program.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday that what Iran has done is “reversible,” in terms of its uranium enrichment, “provided that the other side fulfills its obligations in full.”

Some analysts remain doubtful about the prospects of the renewed talks, given the outstanding differences. Besides the future status of the Revolutionary Guard, they include: the renewed implementation of the previous deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; guarantees that Iran would receive economic benefits; and the fate of prisoners.

“There are no credible signs that Iran has shifted away from its relatively maximalist views on these issues, which supports the idea that a deal is, on balance, unlikely,” Iran expert Henry Rome, with the Eurasia Group think tank, said in a note Monday.

Sanctions, Nuclear Policy, Oil Supply, Oil Demand
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