April 23, 2021

Vienna JCPOA Talks Make Progress

Week of April 19th, 2021 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

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Vienna Talks on the JCPOA Make Progress

The third round of negotiations in Vienna over reviving the JCPOA concluded this week. Representatives from Iran, the US, and the P4+1 (Germany, Russia, China, France, and the UK) hailed the talks as constructive but said reaching a final agreement will be difficult.

The delegations have returned to their capitals and will return to Vienna on April 27 to continue negotiations. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said about the latest round of talks: “Important progress made in Vienna over the last two weeks to bring the #JCPOA back on track. Not an easy task, but all delegations worked hard and are determined to finding solutions.”

Borrell added: “Diplomacy is the best way forward to ensure US return to the JCPOA and full and effective implementation of the deal. Flexibility will be needed on all sides. Joint Commission to reconvene next week. As coordinator, I stand ready to double down our work with all the JCPOA participants, as well as separately with the US.”

The negotiators in Vienna agreed to form a third working group on reviving the JCPOA. So far in Vienna, technical experts have been working in two working groups: one focused on how Iran can return to compliance with the JCPOA’s restrictions on its nuclear activities, and the other on how the U.S. can return to compliance with its sanctions relief obligations under the JCPOA.

The new third working group will focus on the sequencing of all sides returning to JCPOA compliance. EU Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora, who led the Vienna talks, said about this new working group: “Joint Commission today. Progress made over the last two weeks. But much more hard work needed. Third expert group was created to address sequencing issues. I continue to think that diplomacy is only way forward for the #JCPOA to address ongoing challenges.”

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who headed the Iranian delegation at Vienna, said the negotiations are “difficult” but focused on the “final step.” Araghchi said that various draft texts on how to restore JCPOA compliance have been exchanged by all sides. He says the goal is to reach a “single” text that outlines “America’s duties and Iran’s actions.”

Araghchi said the atmosphere in Vienna was “serious and professional.” He added: “Work is progressing carefully, but it’s not an easy path. There are many problems and identifying the specific actions (each side must take) requires legal and technical work.”

After this round of Vienna talks, differences between Iran’s nuclear negotiators and state television came to the fore. Namely, Araghchi criticized Press TV, Iran’s English-language international news outlet, for its reporting on the talks, stating: “I don’t know who the ‘informed source’ of Press TV in Vienna is, but s/he is certainly not ‘informed’.”

Press TV in recent weeks has cited Iranian sources that appear to have the aim of obstructing diplomatic progress on a JCPOA return. Araghchi did not specify exactly what Press TV report he was talking about but the outlet recently ran a report citing a source as claiming that the U.S. will only “suspend” sanctions and not lift them.

State television in Iran is largely controlled by hardline political forces. During the Nowruz holiday this year, it aired a TV show that sought to portray Rouhani’s administration and the foreign ministry as incompetent and infiltrated by foreign spies.

At a primetime slot this week, state television also aired a documentary deriding the JCPOA as a project designed by U.S.-based groups and imposed on Iran’s negotiating team. The documentary, “Payan bazi,” focused on Special Envoy to Iran Rob Malley and the International Crisis Group (ICG). It claims the JCPOA was hatched by ICG before the nuclear negotiations and “imposed” on Zarif’s negotiating team. It says now ICG and Malley seek to impose a pre-written plan on Iran again and only remove sanctions “on paper.”

Shortly before airing the TV documentary, state television also refused to cover a live address by Rouhani. Rouhani was speaking about the Vienna talks in this speech. Alireza Moezi, Rouhani’s deputy head for communications, said state television’s news channel refused to air the speech.

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Rouhani Optimistic on JCPOA Talks

President Rouhani talked about the Vienna negotiations during his weekly cabinet meeting. He stated: “The Americans seemingly are serious at this stage and say we will lift sanctions.”

Rouhani said three steps are required to revive the JCPOA. He stated: “The first is the full removal of sanctions which is dependent on the Americans. The second is verifying this which we have planned for and we can do this in a short amount of time. Third is returning to the nuclear agreement which we will implement precisely and abide by.”

Earlier in the week, Rouhani said “the Vienna negotiations have had 60 to 70 percent progress.” He added that “if the Americans act in a sincere framework, we will have results in a short amount of time.”

Rouhani said that the Islamic Republic is not in a “rush” for negotiations, but it will make “maximum use” of opportunities. 

Rouhani also said later in the week that some in Iran are “upset” about prospects of sanctions lifting. He stated: “I can’t understand that someone is Iranian and they are upset about sanctions getting lifted. How can they say they are among the people and work for the people?”

Rouhani said he “won’t wait for a minute” if he sees “we can get the rights of the people.” He said those who are upset about sanctions removal should remain upset. 

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Iran Facing “Catastrophic” COVID Surge

Iran is experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths. The number of daily COVID-19 deaths reached 388 this week, with nearly 30,000 confirmed new infections on the same day. The number of daily COVID-19 deaths was below 100 as recently as March.

Saeed Khal, the head of Tehran’s main cemetery, said a record had been broken for the most people brought to the cemetery for burial in a single day. Khal said over 350 deceased people were brought to the cemetery in a day, with 150 having died from COVID-19. He said this was the “hardest and most depressing day in Behesht Zahra cemetery’s 50-year history.”

Eshaq Jahangiri, President Rouhani’s first vice-president, visited the cemetery and praised the workers there.

Tehran’s hospitals are reportedly at full capacity for COVID-19 patients. Some hospitals have begun implementing plans for COVID-19 patients to be treated at home. Tehran’s Masih Daneshvari hospital, which specializes in respiratory illnesses, has said it is setting up new field branches.

Iranian officials have said they hope an indigenous Iranian COVID-19 vaccine will be available for use by the end of Spring. Officials have also said that 60 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine have been purchased, but that these will not be delivered until the Fall.

Minoo Mohraz, a prominent physician working for the main COVID-19 body in Iran, has described the current surge of cases as “catastrophic.”

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Iran-Saudi Talks Begin in Baghdad

Iraj Masjedi, Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq, has confirmed reports of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad. The Financial Times first reported that direct talks were taking place between the two countries “in a bid to repair relations.” Amwaj.media reported that the talks featured Esmail Qa’ani, the head of the IRGC’s Quds Force, and Khalid al-Humaidan, the head of Saudi intelligence. The outlet also reported that other talks have been occurring between Iran and Jordan, Egypt, and the UAE.

Masjedi stated in an interview: “Iran supports Iraq’s Baghdad’s mediation to bring Tehran closer to countries there have been challenges with or relations have become cold with.”

Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 2016 after its consulate in Tehran was attacked by a mob. This was after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent dissident Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al Nimr.

Masjedi said the talks with Saudi Arabia have not reached a “clear conclusion” or had “significant progress.” He said: “Allow us to wait for the work to progress a little and for us to see the practical result.”

Masjedi said the regional environment today is more conducive for resolving conflicts. He stated: “It appears that the international situation and environment and the regional environment is a more positive atmosphere to resolve some issues between Iran and other countries.

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IRGC Official Reacts to Explosions in Israel

Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the IRGC’s deputy for coordination, reacted to reports of explosions in Israel. This week, Haaretz reported on an explosion at a “sensitive” missile factory in Israel. There was also an explosion near the Dimona nuclear facility, which Israeli military officials said was the result of an errant anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria after Israeli strikes there.

Naqdi said Israeli was “covering up” what happened in these incidents. He said: “When someone commits evil, they shouldn’t expect that evil is not returned to them.”

Naqdi added: “They tried to cover up what happened but the strength of the explosion was so large that everyone knew it happened and hundreds of thousands witnessed it.”

Abdollah Ganji, the head of the conservative newspaper, also said the incidents happened on the anniversary of the IRGC’s founding. He said someone may have “lit a candle” for this occasion, referring to the explosions in Israel.

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