November 29, 2021

First Day of Vienna Nuclear Talks

Negotiations aimed at restoring the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), resumed in Vienna, Austria today amid low expectations. After nearly half a year without negotiations, the election of a hardline government in Iran and continued Iranian nuclear expansion, many observers wrote off the talks as doomed before they even began and started pushing Biden to pivot to a “Plan B” involving more sanctions or even war.

However, we should be much more optimistic today for two reasons:

  1. Iran’s new negotiating team reportedly agreed to build on the work from the prior six rounds of talks earlier this year. Signals from the Raisi administration indicated that Iran would instead start from scratch and all the progress from earlier this year would be lost. According to some reports, the parties had completed 90% of the work to restore the deal, so tossing out progress would have been a major setback. Now, if the parties approach the negotiations with flexibility, it appears that they can reach the finish line.
  2. The format of the talks appears to have accommodated the interests of all parties. Iran’s demand to focus on lifting sanctions will be addressed with a working group that convenes this Tuesday, November 30th. The U.S. interest in reversing Iran’s nuclear steps will be addressed on Wednesday, December 1st. Some had feared that Iran would not permit nuclear steps to be permitted at all at the negotiating table.

All of this indicates a productive environment for negotiations, and that a return to the deal is achievable.

There are still significant obstacles to reaching the finish line. As soon as diplomats announced initial progress, Axios released a report indicating that Israel had briefed U.S. officials on alleged Iranian plans to begin enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels in the near future. After the first round of nuclear negotiations in April, an Israeli sabotage attack of the nuclear facility at Natanz prompted Iran to expand sensitive nuclear work, and dulled momentum at the talks. Now, diplomatic progress is met with a new leak that could be aimed at undermining the negotiations.

At NIAC, we are tracking these developments closely, regularly consulting with U.S. officials, and offering creative approaches to ensure success. Our team is urging lawmakers to prevent the sabotage of negotiations, engaging the media, and actively countering false narratives. 

A diplomatic solution is necessary to lift crushing sanctions, avert war, and prevent further proliferation. Whether the talks succeed or fail will have profound implications for both the United States and Iran. We will keep pushing for peace and diplomacy over sanctions and war.

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