April 8, 2021

Diplomatic Progress Towards a JCPOA Return

Week of April 5th, 2021 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

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Diplomatic Progress Towards a JCPOA Return

The JCPOA’s Joint Commission met in Vienna for its 18th meeting since the nuclear accord’s implementation in 2016. The Joint Commission is composed of the participant states in the JCPOA, which includes Iran and the “P4+1” (the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China). Joint Commission meetings are chaired by the EU.

For the first time since the U.S.’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, a U.S. diplomatic delegation was present at the sidelines of the Joint Commission meeting in Vienna. Iran has said it will not engage in direct negotiations with the U.S. on both sides returning to compliance with the JCPOA.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has headed the Iranian delegation in Vienna.  Enrique Mora, the deputy secretary general of the EU, chaired the Joint Commission meeting.

Araghchi declared at the meeting onset: “Iran is ready to cease its remedial measures and return to fully implementing the JCPOA as soon as sanctions are lifted and after this is verified.”

The American delegation was at a hotel close to where the Joint Commission meeting was taking place. The U.S.’s diplomatic team is headed by Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, who has met with the P4+1 members separately.

After the Joint Commission meeting, the sides agreed to form two working groups on how all sides can return to JCPOA compliance. One working group is focused on Iran can return to compliance with the JCPOA’s nuclear constraint, and the other on how the JCPOA’s other parties, including the U.S., can return to compliance with their sanctions relief obligations under the deal.

EU Secretary General Mora said about the Joint Commission meeting on April 5th: “Constructive Joint Commission meeting. There’s unity and ambition for a joint diplomatic process with two expert groups on nuclear implementation and sanctions lifting. As Coordinator I will intensify separate contacts here in Vienna with all relevant parties, including US.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s Ambassador to international organizations in Vienna who was present at the Joint Commission stated: “The Joint Commission meeting of #JCPOA was successful. Two  expert-level groups (on sanctions lifting and nuclear issues) were tasked to identify concrete measures to be taken by Washington and Tehran to restore full implementation of JCPOA. The groups started to work immediately.”

Iran’s Araghchi said that the Joint Commission would reconvene on April 9th. Araghchi said the Joint Commission will review the progress of the two working groups and that the sides would then return to their capitals for several days. He expressed hope that they would reconvene in Vienna next week, but added that “we might have to do this several times until we get an ideal result.”

President Rouhani said in his weekly cabinet meeting that a “new chapter on bringing the JCPOA back to life” was beginning. He said this “new and fresh chapter began yesterday,” when the Joint Commission met in Vienna.

Rouhani said all countries that have been “committed to the JCPOA have gathered in Vienna.” He added that “everyone around the nuclear deal has reached the conclusion that there is no better solution than the JCPOA and there is no path other than fully implementing it.”

Rouhani said that all Iran wants from the U.S. is “sufficient seriousness and honesty.” He said in this case, Iran can negotiate on a return to JCPOA compliance with the P4+1 on a short timeframe.

Rouhani reiterated that there does not need to be direct U.S.-Iran negotiations for a JCPOA return. He said the U.S. should not make “excuses” in this regard.

Rouhani also said Iran was prepared to cease and reverse its recent nuclear expansions. He stated: “We do not seek non-peaceful activities [with Iran’s nuclear program]. When we said we won’t implement the additional protocol and will operationalize new and modern centrifuges, these were temporary. If they return to all their commitments [under the JCPOA], we will return to all of our commitments.”

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COVID-19 Deaths Rising Amid Vaccine Procurement Troubles

Health Ministry officials are warning that Iran is entering a “fourth peak” of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The number of daily deaths was under 100 for some time but this week reached 175 for the first time in months. In previous peaks, Iran recorded over 400 deaths a day. There have been just over 2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iran and nearly 64,000 confirmed deaths.

The Health Ministry says 257 cities in Iran are now back in a “red situation,” the worst in Iran’s designation system for COVID’s spread. This comes after the Iranian New Year holidays when many Iranians traveled throughout the country.

Authorities are warning that hospitals in Tehran are nearing capacity. Officials say Tehran’s hospitals can accommodate roughly 9,000 COVID-19 patients, and currently the number of those hospitalized with the disease is around 7,500.

President Rouhani has blamed the U.S. for insufficient COVID-19 vaccines in Iran. Rouhani says that Iran’s government ordered vaccines from the WHO’s Covax program at the “right time” and ordered a “large amount” of vaccines. However, he says U.S. sanctions caused a one-to-two-month delay in Iran paying for the vaccines, which resulted in Iran losing its place in the Covax program and receiving less vaccines.

However, Abbas Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Medical System Organization, said problems with vaccine procurement derive from “ourselves first” then the United States. Aghazadeh described the Health Ministry’s efforts to procure vaccines as “weak.” He said it did not act to “attain the vaccines that were necessary and effective.”

In January, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei banned “American and British vaccines,” spurring immense domestic controversy.

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Officials to Highlight New Nuclear “Achievements”

Behrooz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, made new announcements regarding expansions in Iran’s nuclear program. Kamalvandi said Iran now has a stockpile of 55 kg of uranium enriched at the 20-percent level. He said Iran is on track to increase this to 120 kg within eight months, as required by a parliamentary bill mandating nuclear expansion.

Kamalvandi said Iran can enrich uranium faster because of the more advanced centrifuges it has installed.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the AEOI, said 133 “achievements” would be highlighted for “nuclear achievement” day on April 9th. He said the most important thing Iran will reveal will have to do with nuclear radiotherapy treatment for sick patients.

Salehi said the AEOI currently has 15 types of centrifuges. He named the IR-6, IR-2m, and IR-4.

Salehi added that Iran has five tons of low-enriched uranium. He said that before the JCPOA, Iran’s peak enrichment capacity was around 13,000 SWU (a unit measuring enrichment capacity). He says currently Iran’s enrichment capacity is at 16,500 SWU.

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Iranian Ship Attacked in the Red Sea

Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that an Iranian ship in the Red Se was attacked close to Yemen. The Foreign Ministry said the ship, the Saviz, was not a military ship, but a “logistical” ship that was posted in the region to help combat piracy.

The Tasnim news outlet, close to the IRGC, said the ship was attacked using a limpet mine.

Iranian officials have not accused any country of the attack, but the New York Times cited a source attributing it to Israel. CENTCOM, which oversees U.S. military forces in this region, issued a statement denying any U.S. role in the attack.

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