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February 2, 2022

Vienna Talks in “Final Stage”

Week of January 31st, 2022 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Vienna Talks in “Final Stage”

The heads of the diplomatic delegations in Vienna have returned to their capitals for consultations amid continued progress in the negotiations to restore the JCPOA. Enrique Mora, the EU coordinator for the talks said, “Political decisions are needed now.” A State Department spokesperson also said, “Everyone knows we are reaching the final stage, which requires political decisions.”

Iran’s top negotiator in Vienna, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, briefed the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission after returning to Iran.  After his briefing, Mahmoud Abbaszadeh, the spokesperson for the commission, stated: “The collection of evidence and signs show that conditions are ready for a good, win-win agreement, provided Westerners are serious and have good intentions.”

Abbaszadeh said Bagheri gave a “positive evaluation” of the Vienna negotiations. Meanwhile, Ali Akbar Salehi, the former head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, also said this week: “It appears that the [Vienna nuclear] negotiations will reach the desired result.”

Amid the progress in the negotiations, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator during the Ahmadinejad presidency, reportedly wrote a 200-page letter to Ayatollah Khamenei opposing the nuclear negotiations. According to the reformist newspaper Shargh, Jalili first tried to convince Iran’s Foreign Minister Abdollahian and lead Vienna negotiator Ali Bagheri of his views but failed.

According to Shargh, Jalili said in the letter that Iran should increase uranium enrichment to the 90-percent level. He claimed Russia and China will then veto any UN Security Council resolution against Iran and Iran should at that point pursue direct negotiations with the U.S. with the “upper hand.”

At the same time, Iranian officials have signaled they may shift to directly negotiating with the United States in Vienna. Up until now, Iranian diplomats have not met with their U.S. counterparts in Vienna and have instead negotiated with the EU and the other JCPOA parties (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China).

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said Iran could enter direct negotiations with the United States. Foreign Minister Abdollahian also said Iran may engage in direct negotiations with the U.S. if reaching a “good” deal in Vienna requires it.

Iranian Oil Tanker Delivers Gas to Venezuela

An Iranian tanker delivered 2 million barrels of gas condensate to Venezuela. The Iran-flagged “Starla” left Iran on December 11th and turned off its transponder for one-and-a-half months to avoid seizure by the United States.

The state-run Iranian and Venezuelan companies involved in the transaction are both sanctioned by the United States. In recent years, the U.S. has seized Iranian tankers, sold their contents, and kept the proceeds.

This is the fourth time an Iranian tanker has delivered gas to Venezuela since 2020. Venezuela is in an economic crisis partly triggered by U.S. sanctions and faces severe gasoline shortage.

Omicron Hits Iran

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is driving an increase in infections and death in Iran. Currently, 42 have been designated as “red,” indicating the most rapid spread of the disease in Iran’s COVID designation system.

The governor of Tehran province says there has been a 61 percent increase in the number of those hospitalized with COVID-19 since last week. He said COVID restrictions will be reimposed by the government if COVID protocols aren’t taken more seriously by the population.

Iranian medical professionals are warning that Omicron may be worse than the Delta wave from last summer. At the peak of the Delta wave, over 700 Iranians were dying every day. Current official death figures from COVID are between 20-30 people a day.

Masoud Younesian, a member of the Scientific Committee on Corona, said the death rate could hit the triple figures soon. According to the Healthy Ministry, 90% of Iranians have received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 81 percent two doses, and 25 three doses.

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