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Will Doha talks save Iranian nuclear deal?

Xinhua
30 Jun 2022, 02:05 GMT+10

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Indirect talks between Iran and the United States in the Qatari capital of Doha demonstrate the two countries share a willingness to return to the Iranian nuclear deal, but political hurdles still exist, so it remains to be seen what results from the Doha talks will deliver, analysts said.

by Xinhua writer Gao Wencheng

TEHRAN, June 29 (Xinhua) -- Indirect talks between Iran and the United States in the Qatari capital of Doha demonstrate the two countries share a willingness to return to the Iranian nuclear deal, but political hurdles still exist, so it remains to be seen what results from the Doha talks will deliver, analysts said.

FROM VIENNA TO DOHA

The talks on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which started to fall apart after Washington's pullout from the deal in May 2018, began in April 2021 between Iran and other remaining parties in the Austrian capital of Vienna, with the indirect involvement of the United States, but have been suspended since March due to the differences between Tehran and Washington, notably over Iran's demand that its Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) be removed from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

The resumption of the talks was announced on Saturday at a joint televised press conference held in Tehran by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and visiting EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell.

The top EU diplomat told reporters that "talks between Iran, the United States and the EU will not take place in Vienna because they will not be in the P4+1 format," referring to Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany.

Later, different sources confirmed Doha to host the new round of talks. Mohammad Marandi, senior advisor to the Iranian negotiating team in the nuclear talks, told the Qatari-owned Al Araby Al Jadeed newspaper that Iran chose Qatar as a venue for negotiation because Qatar is a friendly country.

EU efforts led by Borrell "to convene the two sides in the same place, at the same time, can make exchanges quicker and clearer," Ali Vaez, an expert on Iran at the International Crisis Group think tank, tweeted.

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DRIVEN BY REALITY

Analysts pointed out that the United States hopes to reach a nuclear deal with Iran to speed up its withdrawal from the Middle East. Despite voicing pessimism over nuclear talks recently, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration still believes the diplomatic efforts remain the best way to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.

Also, "prolonged limbo has proven unsustainable," especially as Tehran responded to the U.S.-led resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors by increasing nuclear activity and decreasing nuclear visibility, said Vaez.

Meanwhile, Iran is counting on the lifting of sanctions to boost its battered economy. Observers believe that Iran's economic growth largely depends on its engagement with the global economy, which is significantly subject to the end of U.S. sanctions as a result of a possible deal in the talks.

"As the U.S. moves closer to November 2022, Tehran likely assesses that it is better to try to strike a deal with the Biden White House before the upcoming congressional elections as the Democrats are likely to lose seats and be less interested in the fate of the Iranian nuclear program afterward," Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran program at the Washington-based Middle East Institute think tank, wrote in an analysis.

"The high price of oil and lack of spare capacity means that now is an opportune moment for Tehran to push to have the sanctions on its oil lifted and capitalize on the country's significant oil export revenue potential, which could run in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year," Vatanka added.

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CAUTIOUS OUTLOOK

Regarding the prospects of the Doha talks, "we're not going to prejudge, but we are keeping our expectations very much in check," a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomacy, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.

Likewise, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Monday that Borrell told Tehran that the United States has pledged to abide by its obligations under the JCPOA and the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and guarantee Iran's economic interests.

However, the ministry added, "we have to wait and see" whether Washington would make good on its promises, given that it has once withdrawn from the deal.

The ongoing talks will keep focusing on whether Washington will lift sanctions, offer guarantees, and remove the IRGC from a U.S. terror list, among other outstanding issues, said Fan Hongda, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University in China, adding that taking into account the willingness of both sides to finalize an agreement, he is relatively optimistic about the prospects of communications between the United States and Iran.

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However, there is also a growing feeling in Tehran that the U.S. Democrats would be weaker than expected to keep the White House in the 2024 presidential election, which reinforces the prospect that any benefits that Iran gains under a new deal will be lost within two years, Iran's IRNA news agency said in an analysis, referring to one of the main obstacles in reaching a deal.

Some groups in Iran claim that "the short-term benefits of a deal with the Biden administration are not worth the economic shock that Iran will suffer from reinstated sanctions" following Washington's another possible withdrawal from the nuclear deal, it added.

"I wouldn't be surprised if this round is relatively brisk, with each side more inclined to hold their respective ground rather than make a substantive compromise just yet," said Vaez, adding that "but happy if my skepticism is proven wrong."

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