May 20, 2021

Fourth Round of Vienna Talks Ends on Optimistic Note

Week of May 17th, 2021 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

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Fourth Round of Vienna Talks Ends on Optimistic Note

The EU’s Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora says he has “confidence” that an agreement will be reached on restoring the JCPOA. Mora was talking at the closure of the fourth round of negotiations in Vienna on restoring the nuclear deal.

Mora said he is “totally sure” that an agreement will be reached on the JCPOA. He said in the past 10 days of talks, there was “major” progress, but differences remain and the negotiating parties will reconvene in Vienna next week. In response to a question about whether an agreement will be reached next week, Mora said he did not want to take the risk of making a prediction, but he is certain that an agreement will be reached eventually.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who headed the Iranian delegation at Vienna, also expressed satisfaction at progress in the talks. He said the sides have agreed on draft text on most issues except for some “complex differences” that remain.

Separately, President Rouhani said Iran was pursuing the Vienna negotiations based on instructions from Ayatollah Khamenei.

Rouhani also said the “main agreement” has been reached in Vienna on lifting “major” U.S. sanctions. He said what was left to be negotiated on was “details.” He stated: “We have taken the main and major step. The main agreement has been reached.”

Rouhani added:  “They [the U.S.] have accepted to lift oil, petrochemicals, shipping, insurance, banking, and the Central Bank sanctions and this is done.”

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Sources Believe JCPOA Agreement Unlikely Before Iranian Election

An analytical article in Euro News Persian examined prospects for a breakthrough in the Vienna talks by citing U.S., European, and Iranian sources. The article also analyzed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s trip to Europe, which has seen him visit Spain, Italy, and Ireland so far. He also met with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Zarif was scheduled to go to Austria, where talks on reviving the JCPOA are ongoing in Vienna. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi is heading the Iranian delegation in Vienna.

However, Zarif cancelled his scheduled trip to Austria, citing the presence of the Israeli flag on Austria’s foreign ministry building as the reason. Many have speculated this was not the real reason and the trip was cancelled for sensitivities regarding Zarif’s presence in the country during the Vienna talks.

Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at Crisis Group, told Euro News about Zarif’s cancelled trip to Austria: “Iran’s officials greatly believe in abiding by customary protocols and etiquette for negotiations. As such, given that no foreign minister is present in the Austria [Vienna JCPOA] negotiations, it is extremely unlikely that Zarif will want to join the negotiations at this stage.”

A source close to America’s negotiating team in Vienna who does not wish to reveal their identity has told Euro News that the pace of the Vienna talks has slowed. This American source states: “The reality is that the negotiations are proceeding particularly slowly. As much as the pace of progress was fast at the beginning of the negotiations, now the sides have reached the difficult part of negotiations. This issue, and the lack of direct [U.S.-Iran] negotiations, have resulted in the speed of progress greatly slowing.”

A source close to European negotiators told Euro News that one dispute in the talks rights now is Iran’s insistence that the IRGC’s terrorist designation by the U.S. be removed. This source stated: “Iran insists that the Revolutionary Guards be removed from America’s list of terrorist organizations, this is as America does not accept this.”

Euro News says it “appears” that Iran’s negotiators in Vienna have received “new rigid instructions” from Tehran on the IRGC’s terrorism designation being lifted as part of the talks.

Euro News cites a European diplomatic source as saying another current dispute in the talks is Iran’s use of advanced centrifuges. This source states: “Iran according to the JCPOA must use first generation centrifuges and currently they are using more advanced models. America wants these [new] models dismantled but the Iranian side says that given that its first-generation centrifuges can no longer work and [sabotage] attacks that have occurred, it cannot use these centrifuges again.”

Euro News also cites an Iranian source close to the Rouhani administration as saying that Iranian hardliners are seeking to prevent a JCPOA return before the Iranian election on June 18th. This source states: “The reality is that the [political] current that is hardline and close to the government is extremely worried that the Rouhani administration can change the path of the election with the revival of the JCPOA and the lifting of sanctions. Because of this, pressures on the administration and Iran’s negotiating team have increased in recent weeks.”

This Iranian source, who does not wish to reveal their identity, says the redlines for Iran’s diplomats have increased and it is unlikely an agreement will be reached before Iran’s election. The source states: “We have witnessed in recent weeks that [imposed] rigidity and redlines for Iran’s negotiating team have increased. Consequently, at the current moment, the chances that JCPOA will be revived before the Iranian election have greatly decreased.”

This same Iranian source says in their belief, an agreement will be reached after the election, stating: “My impression is that a roadmap will be finalized immediately after the election is held and the Rouhani administration will very quickly begin implementing it.” Notably, Rouhani will have roughly two months left in office after the election, with the next president inaugurated in August.

Two European and American sources also tell Euro News that in the most optimistic view, four to six more weeks are required for a roadmap agreement to be reached on reviving the JCPOA.

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Iranian Parliamentarians Take a Hard Line on the Vienna Talks

Over 200 members of the conservative-dominated parliament issued a statement on the Vienna talks to restore the JCPOA. The parliamentarians called for the removal of 100 percent of U.S. sanctions, stating: “If 100 percent of the sanctions are not lifted, no sanctions have been lifted. Accepting some sanctions confirms their legitimacy.”

The MPs said the U.S. and Europe have so far “not shown serious intent to lift all sanctions.” They said the U.S. is trying to “impose” a new agreement on Iran that “applies more nuclear restrictions” and creates a “platform for negotiations on regional and [Iranian] defense issues.”

The MPs also pushed back on Iran making any concessions on its progress in nuclear research and development and advanced centrifuges. They cite the nuclear expansions law passed last December and say they will strongly oppose any concessions on these fronts using the law.

The MPs also reiterated that the Rouhani administration must fully implement this law, including by taking “urgent action” to operationalize a uranium metal factory. The law required this facility to start this month, but recent reports say this is being stalled.

The MPs call on the Rouhani administration to not concede “to the maximalist demands of the enemy,” including giving the IAEA access beyond Iran’s safeguards agreement. By this they mean renewing an agreement reached with the IAEA in February over continuing heightened surveillance of Iran’s nuclear program under the Additional Protocol, which Iran agreed to implement with the JCPOA.

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Guardian Council Vetting Presidential Candidates

The Guardian Council is in the process of vetting the individuals who registered to run for president. According to the Iranian constitution, the Council has five days to vet registrants and can request a five-day extension, which it has already done for this cycle. Jamal Aref, the head of the Interior Ministry’s Election Headquarters, says the final list of approved candidates will be announced on May 27th.

Abbas Ali Kadkhodaie, the Guardian Council’s spokesperson, says the Interior Ministry sent the Council a list of 592 individuals who registered to run for president. However, Kahkhodaei says only 40 of these individuals submitted the correct paperwork required by the Guardian Council. He says the opportunity will be given to others to correct their paperwork.

Kadkhodaie says the Guardian Council has no “ceiling” for the number of registrants it will approve. He says the Guardian Council will approve candidates in “accordance with the law.” The Council recently stoked controversy by abrupt announcing new criteria for presidential aspirants.

Of the 592 registrants to run for president, 40 are women. The Guardian Council has never approved a woman to run for president. Last year, Kadkhodaei opened the possibility of a woman being approved by saying there are “no legal barriers” to women running for president.

A host of prominent conservative, moderate, and reformist political figures have registered to run. Among the most conservative candidates are Saeed Jalili, who served as the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council during the Ahmadinejad presidency, and Alireza Zakani, a parliamentarian who currently heads the parliament’s research center. Both of them are outspoken anti-JCPOA hardliners.

Several former IRGC commanders have also registered. This includes Saeed Mohammad, who ran the IRGC’s engineering arm, Hossein Deghan, a former defense minister, and Rostam Ghassemi, who was oil minister in the Ahmadinejad presidency. Mohammad may be disqualified by the Guardian Council because he does not fit the new criteria on holding a minister-level governmental post or the equivalent for four years.

Many reformist and more independent figures also registered. This includes reformists such as Rouhani’s first vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, head of Tehran’s City Council Mohsen Hashemi, MP and populist politician Masoud Pezeshkian, Zahra Shojaie, a Khatami-era official, among others. The more centrist figures include Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati and former MP Ali Motahari.

However, the two candidates who are eliciting the most discussion in Iranian media right now are Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi and former Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani. Larijani is positioning himself as the main challenger to Raisi, who conservatives are largely united around. A campaign-style video showing him registering highlights a speech of his that stresses pragmatism and criticizes politics promising major improvements in peoples lives with “symbolic, populist actions.”

Raisi’s track record is in Iran’s judicial system. He has served as head of Iran’s judiciary since March 2019. During the 1980s, he was prosecutor general of Karaj and Hamedan and also deputy prosecutor general for Tehran.

Many abuses took place under his watch, including mass executions in 1988. In the summer of 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq War, many opponents of the Islamic Republic were summarily executed after minutes-long “trials.” During this time, Raisi was deputy prosecutor general of Tehran.

At the time, Ayatollah Khomeini’s designated successor Ayatollah Montazeri strongly opposed the executions, which ultimately led to him losing his position in the Islamic Republic. According to Montazeri, upwards of 4,000 were executed that summer.

During the 2017 election campaign, an audio tape of Montazeri from August 15, 1988 was leaked. In it, Montazeri addressed Raisi and 3 other senior judiciary officials.

Montazeri stated in the tape: “The biggest crime that has occurred under the Islamic Republic and that history will condemn us for was committed by your hands. In the future, you’ll be remembered as the criminals of history.”

Iranian journalists are reporting that they are receiving warnings from security forces to not criticize Raisi. They say these warnings are being given out on the basis that Raisi is judiciary chief and should not be publicly rebuked by journalists. Several journalists say they have been summoned for questioning by security forces.

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