Iran and the United States harden their positions in nuclear talks

Welcome back to the Farda Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that tracks key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I’m Frud Bezhan, editor-in-chief of RFE/RL’s Iran desk, replacing senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari this week. Here’s what I’ve been tracking and what I’m watching for in the days ahead.

The big problem

For a year, Iran and the United States have been locked in indirect talks to reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal. That deal curbed Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

A draft deal to restore the deal is already on the table.

But an issue unrelated to Tehran’s demand that Washington delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s elite military force, as a foreign terrorist organization, has stalled the restoration of peace. nuclear deal.

As each side waits to see who blinks first, both have hardened their stances.

The Biden administration seems increasingly reluctant to remove the IRGC from the list. Iran, meanwhile, has threatened to “attack the heart of Israel,” which adamantly opposes the original deal and any effort to restore it.

Why is this important. If Iran and the United States fail to agree on delisting the IRGC, negotiations on restoring the nuclear deal could collapse. In this scenario, Tehran could face more sanctions.

The parties could agree on an interim deal, under which Tehran agrees to suspend its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. Or, in the worst case, the United States or its allies in the region, including Israel, could take military action. Most parties are keen to avoid the latter.

Nonetheless, a compromise on the IRGC’s terrorist designation looks increasingly unlikely, driven primarily by politics.

When the Trump administration blacklisted the IRGC, it was largely symbolic. But if US President Joe Biden removes the designation, he risks facing a backlash from Republicans as well as officials from his own Democratic camp. Biden, analysts say, will be reluctant to be called a terrorism-soft president.

What is said: “If Iran wants a sanctions relief that goes beyond the JCPOA (an acronym for the official name of the nuclear deal), it will have to address our concerns that go beyond the JCPOA,” the spokesperson said. from the State Department, Ned Price.

“Posts [from Washington] sent by [European Union coordinator Enrique] Mora in recent weeks (…) are far from providing solutions that could lead to an agreement,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

“Republicans are bound to accuse [Biden] to allow Iran to become a virtual nuclear weapon state under its watch now. And that’s the political cost that I think the president is reluctant to pay,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran expert with the International Crisis Group.

And after: This is the decision that Tehran and Washington will face in the days and weeks to come. If the nuclear deal talks fail, both sides will incur high political costs. If a compromise is found, the parties will seal a win-win. Given the high stakes, many expected some sort of deal. But it is far from certain.

The stories you might have missed

  • Converted Christians have faced decades of persecution in Iran, where authorities have cracked down on many of the country’s religious minorities. In the latest case to shine a light on the plight of Iran’s Christian community, two Christian converts began their prison terms on April 16. Fariba Dalir and Sakineh Behjati had both been convicted of “undermining national security”. Evangelical Christians in Iran can face the death penalty if they have converted to Islam. Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said in February that at least 53 Christian converts had been arrested in Iran in 2021.
  • Narges Mohammadi, one of Iran’s most prominent imprisoned human rights activists, has returned to prison after being briefly released on medical leave. But more than a week later, his attorney says prison officials are withhold medication of his client, even though she suffers from heart disease. Lawyer Mustafa Nili said that “despite the supply and delivery of drugs to the prison, the authorities refused to hand them over to Narges Mohammadi”. Mohammadi was arrested in November 2021 after attending a memorial for a man killed by Iranian security forces during nationwide protests in 2019. In January, a court sentenced her to an additional eight years and two months in prison.

what we watch

Many Iranians are struggling to make ends meet in a decimated economy that has been crushed by crippling US sanctions and years of mismanagement.

Teachers and other public sector workers trying to cope with soaring inflation have staged rallies for better pay and bigger pensions.

The rallies began as rare and isolated acts of protest. But in recent months they have spread considerably. In February, rallies spread to more than 100 cities and towns across Iran. A new round of protests is scheduled for April 21.

Why is this important: The protests reflect rising anti-government sentiment in Iran. In protests against the high cost of living in 2017, gasoline prices in 2019 and water shortages in 2021, Iranians have increasingly focused their anger on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the system dominated by clerics.

Authorities have regularly met previous outbursts of public anger with violence, including shootings and mass arrests.

Teacher protests were no different, with many teachers being detained. In what the Norway-based Iranian Human Rights Organization (IHR) called an “intensified crackdown on civil society in Iran”, authorities said last week sentenced a teacher trade unionist to five years in prison.

That’s all about me for now. Feel free to send us your questions, comments or tips by replying to this email or separately to [email protected]

And we invite you to discover the improved Farda website in English and its dedicated Twitter accountwhich feature all of our fascinating journalism from Iran.

Until next time,

Frud Bezhan

If you enjoyed this briefing and don’t want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

Previous The Price of Civil War: A Survey of Arms Markets in Somalia
Next Iran arrests 3 accused of links to Israeli Mossad