Marandi discusses prospects of Iran nuclear talks in 2023: Exclusive
In an exclusive interview for Al Mayadeen English, the advisor to the Iranian delegation in Vienna Seyed Mohammad Marandi touches on a myriad of issues that led to the stalling of the talks, mainly the destructive US approach all along.
A video that surfaced on social media last week showed US President Joe Biden saying that the 2015 nuclear deal, formerly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with Iran is "dead".
On the same day, the US Special Representative for Iran, Robert Malley, contradicted Biden's remarks and said the nuclear deal with Iran is not dead. In an interview for Radio Farda, Malley claimed that the negotiations on reviving the nuclear deal reached a point in September where "we even thought for a day or two that Iran was on board" until Tehran raised new demands at the last minute that ruined the chances of moving forward."
A couple of days ago, German Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Christofer Burger said his country sees no reason to return to the JCPOA. "From our point of view, there are currently no indications or reasons for a resumption of the Iran nuclear negotiations," said Burger, adding that his country is focusing on supporting rioters in Iran.
Signed by Iran and the 5 + 1 group in 2015, the JCPOA placed significant restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing unlawful sanctions. However, former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018, claiming that it had failed to reduce the program and Iran's regional influence. As a result, Iran ignored the restrictions imposed on its nuclear program and defied the sanctions that the US administrations have continued to impose since then.
With his assumption of the US presidency, Biden announced his intention to negotiate with Iran to return to the agreement. On-off talks to revive the JCPOA started in April last year throughout nine rounds in Vienna, the last of which was in August 2022, in addition to a tenth round in Doha in June.
But the indirect talks between the US and Iran have stalled for several months with Iran facing Western-led riots.
Al Mayadeen Net conducted an interview with the advisor to the Iranian negotiating nuclear team, Seyed Mohammad Marandi, on the latest developments regarding the nuclear talks on restoring the 2015 deal. The text of the interview is as follows:
Can you describe the reality of the nuclear negotiations today?
The negotiations that took place in Vienna to revive the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear deal, were basically in the eyes of Iranians negotiations to make sure the Americans can no longer use loopholes to undermine the deal.
Under Obama, the US failed to implement the deal, and under Trump, they tore up the deal… and there were no ramifications for US behavior.
So, the negotiations in Vienna and the exchanges between the different sides were to make sure that the Americans couldn’t violate the deal without facing negative consequences because of these violations.
To a large degree, Iranians, as a result of their determination to remove these deficiencies and loopholes, were able to gain significant concessions by the end of talks in Vienna. A deal was closed then the EU gave a final draft for their different parties to take home, then the Iranians looked at the text carefully, made some changes, then sent it back to the EU. Then, Josep Borrell said Iranian demands are reasonable.
At that stage, Borrell was so close to the US that the Iranians assumed that the deal was very close. If that had been resolved, the technical negotiations between Iran and the IAEA were easily solvable, but it seems the Americans were getting cold feet – Biden and his team, because of the midterm elections. Since then, we’ve been waiting.
The text is almost ready, but Americans have to make a political decision.
What does the final draft between the negotiating parties in Vienna include?
The final draft provides Iran with inherent assurances- in other words, a peaceful nuclear program will be preserved in a manner that if the US violates its end of the deal, the Iranians would be able to swiftly go back to where it was before the implementation of the deal.
This is important because this creates an incentive for the Americans to stay in the deal. Those parts of the Iranian nuclear program that would be halted would also be able to be swiftly brought back online, making it costly for the Americans to violate the deal.
So, what is called inherent assurances are important. Also, regarding the issue of sequencing in the past in 2015, Iran implemented its side of the bargain. Then, the Americans dragged their feet this time around – there will be sequencing. The Americans will have to take a step then the Iranians, when they see the Americans have taken a step, they will take a step. And then the Americans will take another step, and then the Iranians after they have taken their step.
This time around, Iran will only carry out obligations after it's clear that the Americans have carried out their obligations, so they’re not cheated again. And as I said, various loopholes have been removed and ambiguities have been removed so that Americans would have a much more difficult time justifying violation.
What are the obstacles in reaching a nuclear agreement now? Are there solutions?
My opinion is that the main obstacle is the fact that the US is having difficulty making a political decision. Before the midterm elections, Biden and his team got cold feet because they were afraid that their opponents and Trump would say that he gave too many concessions to Iran. And Iran did bargain, and Iran was very tough at the negotiation table. So, Iran did get major concessions – that was one issue.
He was worried that he would have a negative impact on the midterm elections, and then of course after the riots in Iran, the US was also going to take advantage of those riots to gain a strong position at the negotiating table, but that did not succeed.
At the moment, we are waiting to see if the Americans are prepared to make a political decision. It’s clear the Europeans desperately want a deal. That’s why many of the sanctions against Venezuela have been removed. But, in the case of Iran, while the Europeans are very keen on the deal, the Americans are dragging their feet.
What are the proposed scenarios in the event that the parties fail to agree on an Iranian nuclear agreement?
Because of the global economic crisis and energy crisis, there’s not much the Europeans and Americans can do against Iran. So, as long as there is no agreement, the Iranians will continue to expand their peaceful nuclear program and gain greater leverage.
Iran will continue to expand cooperation with Global South – Asian countries like China, India, and Russia, and neighbors - Central Asian countries – to decrease leverage against Iran.
Will the scenario of former US President Donald Trump be repeated and America withdraw from the agreement if it is reached?
The scenario of former US president trump continues to be the reality on the ground, nothing has changed since Trump. The US continues to violate the deal, continues to impose maximum pressure sanctions, targeting the Iranians, and the US is not a part of the deal. So, there’s no difference between Biden and Trump. Both use maximum pressure as a weapon, and Iran continues to expand its peaceful nuclear program and expand trade with non-western countries.
Do the protests affect the agreement?
The riots - the Western-backed riots – were used as a tool for the Americans to gain an upper hand at the negotiating table but it had no impact on Iran because the riots had no real underlying effect against the country.
The riots have ended weeks ago, but we continue to see the Americans unable to make a decision. We’ll have to see how things play out in the weeks ahead, especially with regard to the fact that the Europeans are really keen on having a deal.
So, yes, the Americans wanted the protests to impact the negotiation position, and it is quite probable that if the riots had not happened, we would’ve had a deal right now.
Do the accusations against Iran impede the supply of weapons to Russia used in the Ukrainian war?
No, accusations made against Iran have no impact on Iran’s relationship with Russia, Iran continues to trade with Russia, and it continues to import and export technology to and from Russia.
Iran’s military relationship with Russia expanded heavily under the fall of the Soviet Union and in Syria, the Russian military had extensive cooperation – so, that relationship is not something that would be affected by western regimes and governments.
To what extent can Russian-Iranian relations affect a nuclear deal?
The Russian-Iranian relationship has no effect on the nuclear deal. The nuclear deal is basically unrelated to anything else in the eyes of the Iranians. Iran says that the JCPOA has to be implemented in full – something that has never happened before under Obama, they never implemented it in full.
The Iranians are now saying that it must be implemented in full but it will not allow Western countries to create a link between the deal and anything else. Iran-Russia relations have nothing to do with the deal itself.
The Russian position and the Chinese position during the negotiations were similar to the Iranian position. At the negotiating table, the Russians and the Chinese, but especially the Russians, supported the Iranian position. Over the past few months, relations between Iran and Russia have become more important on all levels.
How will Netanyahu's new position affect reaching an agreement?
I don't think Netanyahu becoming Prime Minister has any real impact on the negotiations. The Israeli regime was unable to impact the negotiations while they were taking place in Vienna. As I said, we came very close to a deal as we speak – the difference is limited and if Americans accept what Josep Borrell, their ally, called reasonably, then we will have a deal. I don’t think Israelis had an impact on Vienna in Vienna and there is no reason that they would have any impact now.
What role does the European Union play in the negotiations and after the agreement is reached? Will the European decision be able to be independent of the United States?
I think the Europeans have shown us that they do not have independence from the US – they are obedient to the US – they are increasingly weak.
As we speak they desperately want a nuclear deal that is what Borrell wants, what Mora wants, that’s what the whole of the EU wants – but the EU is incapable of taking any independent stance, and it is the Americans that make decisions and we also see that in the war in Ukraine.
Has the current US administration’s approach regarding its need for an agreement changed a year and a half after President Biden became president?
I think that after the war in Ukraine, the Europeans – and the Americans to a lesser extent - felt they needed a deal more than before, and the Iranian position was strengthened – that’s what many European and American analysts have said.
But, the midterm elections in the US were very important for Biden because of his fear of Trump and Trump supporters. And, after that, as we pointed out earlier, Americans were hoping that riots would weaken Iran so they could get new concessions – but that failed as well.
So, now that the Americans have failed, the midterm elections are over, and the energy crisis is hammering Europe and hurting the United States as well, we’ll have to see if the Americans will be able to create the political will necessary for a deal.