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Iran gaining the upper hand in nuclear deal talks

Head of the IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi and Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran, Iran, Mar. 5, 2022. (Getty Images)
Head of the IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi and Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran, Iran, Mar. 5, 2022. (Getty Images)
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13 May 2022 04:05:54 GMT9
Majid Rafizadeh
13 May 2022 04:05:54 GMT9

The leverage and political dynamics in the Iran nuclear deal talks appear to be shifting in favor of the Islamic Republic. This could have severe repercussions for peace and security in the region.

At the beginning of the nuclear talks, the US and the E3 (the UK, France and Germany) had substantial leverage over the Iranian regime. This was due to the fact that the theocratic establishment was more desperate than any other party to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is also known as the Iran nuclear deal. The regime was on its knees economically and needed to revive the nuclear deal. Its oil exports were down to about 200,000 barrels per day and it faced a huge budget deficit. It even demanded that the US unblock $10 billion in frozen assets to restart the nuclear talks. And it was facing extreme difficulty in funding and sponsoring its widespread network of militia and terror groups across the Middle East.

But China has been steadily ramping up its oil imports from Iran, reaching nearly 1 million bpd, and global oil prices have increased. The Iranian regime is now reportedly exporting more than 1.5 million bpd. This means it is exporting about 80 percent of the total it did before the US imposed sanctions in 2018. Iran heavily relies on the revenue from its oil exports, as the sale of oil accounts for more than 50 percent of the regime’s export revenues. Furthermore, the EU has yet to join the US in imposing sanctions on the Iranian regime. In fact, European countries are still trading with Tehran in spite of the American sanctions.

When it comes to the EU’s position and its leverage in the nuclear talks, it seems that the political calculations of its leaders have changed. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last week announced that EU countries do not plan to buy Russian oil after the end of 2022. The UK is also planning to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year. Now, the EU seems to be looking to Iran as a replacement supplier. The bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told The Financial Times last week: “We Europeans will be very much beneficiaries from this (nuclear) deal, the situation has changed now. For us it was something… ‘well, we don’t need it (Iranian crude).’ Now it would be very much interesting for us to have another supplier.”

By revealing its strategy, the EU is unfortunately empowering the ruling clerics of Iran and giving them the upper hand in the nuclear talks, which they will use to obtain more concessions. Europe’s desperation equals weakness to the Iranian regime. In addition, the EU is suggesting that it is viewing the nuclear deal mainly from an economic perspective. But this should not be the objective of the nuclear talks. Instead, the EU ought to be seeking a strong deal that will prevent the Iranian regime from ever acquiring nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, Borrell’s statement made the Iranian regime more determined to cling to its top demand, which is the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force from the US’ terrorist list. The designation of the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization had nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program, but was rather linked to its terror activities across the world.

The Biden administration and the EU must not give in to the demands of the Iranian leaders.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Now, the EU appears to have given in to the Iranian leaders’ demand, as it revealed last week that it was suggesting a compromise that would see the IRGC removed from the US’ terror list. Borell said: “At a certain moment, I will have to say, as coordinator (of the nuclear deal talks) I make this proposal on the table, formally… the only equilibrium point possible would be this one.”

On the other hand, the Biden administration seems to be looking for a foreign policy achievement and diplomatic win amid the crisis. The nuclear deal talks have been dragging on for a long time and the White House has been facing criticism over its handling of foreign affairs. According to a January Quinnipiac poll, a majority of the American people disapproved of the Biden administration’s foreign policy approach.

The latest developments seem to have given the Iranian regime the upper hand in the nuclear talks. But the Biden administration and the EU must not give in to the demands of the Iranian leaders and stand firm against Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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