Impasse Reached As Iran Rejects Talks On Nuclear Deal

Iran has ruled out joining informal talks with the U.S. and EU to revive the nuclear deal agreed in 2015. The U.S. withdrew from the deal in 2018 under President Trump, but newly elected President Joe Biden has expressed a desire to re-engage Iran to commit to limiting its nuclear activities and keeping them open to international scrutiny. Iran appears to want international sanctions to be lifted before it will reopen negotiations.

The situation is a setback for the U.S. and its allies as a return to the relative stability offered by the deal would be progress from the tensions unleashed since Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018. It may be driven by a power struggle within Iran between anti-deal conservatives, who have secured a majority in parliament, and the outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Moderates in the government have also accused some of those against the deal of having a vested interest in maintaining their hold over the black market caused by international sanctions.

Presidential elections will be held in June, and hardliners who see the deal as a humiliation seek to block its revival to boost their election chances. Rouhani needs the support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to secure a deal. Given Khamenei’s hardline views, this may only be possible if the U.S. is seen to make the first move.

Some observers consider the crippling economic effect of international sanctions to have played a part in reducing Iran’s ability to fund insurgents and project power in the Middle East. Furthermore, they think the economic pressure could ultimately result in a regime change. In recent years there have been an increasing number of anti-government protests fuelled by the worsening economic situation. The BBC reports that “many Iranians may feel that a revival of the nuclear deal will only prolong their hardship by extending to the regime greater international acceptance, and as a result will not bother voting in the June elections.”

The Guardian reports that “one possible route to talks would be the U.S. agreeing to lift restrictions on Iran accessing assets overseas including billions deposited in banks in South Korea and Iraq. Tehran claims that fear of U.S. sanctions has led banks in both countries to freeze more than $7bn (£5bn) of Iranian assets. Iran has been in touch with Iraq and South Korea about their release.”

Although regime change may seem desirable given the repressive nature of Iran’s theocratic government, there is no telling what damage this turmoil could cause the Iranian people. Furthermore, a power vacuum could lead to dangerous groups growing in strength, as happened with ISIS during the instability that followed the end of the U.S. Occupation of Iraq. As such, the revival of the nuclear deal is probably the best outcome to maintain peace and stability in the region.