Iran nuclear talks end after just two days, as doubts grow about effort

Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian meets Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in, Tehran, Iran, on June 25, 2022 (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/File)
Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian meets Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in, Tehran, Iran, on June 25, 2022 (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/File)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US State Department announced late on Wednesday that after just two days, the effort to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had ended in failure.

The quick end of the latest round of talks raised the question of why they had even resumed in the first place. The European Union (EU) was a key element pushing for a renewal of the talks, raising a second question: has the Biden White House subcontracted too much of an important national security issue to unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels?

Quick Failure of Latest Round

“Indirect discussions in Doha” on reviving the JCPOA “have concluded,” the State Department said late on Wednesday. “While we are very grateful to the EU for its efforts, we are disappointed that Iran has, yet again, failed to respond positively to the EU’s initiative and therefore that no progress was made.”

The State Department identified a key problem that has bedeviled the JCPOA talks since March, when they were suspended. Iran, as its statement noted, has “raised issues wholly unrelated to the JCPOA and apparently is not ready to make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to revive the deal or bury it.”

The EU intermediaries should have made sure that the basic preconditions for successful negotiations existed before diplomatic delegations—from the US, EU, France, Germany, and the UK—all traveled to Qatar to meet with the Iranians.

But that was not done. US officials were skeptical the talks would produce results but, nonetheless, agreed to hold them. Yet the futile effort was not necessarily cost-free. 

Among the dangers is that Tehran is confirmed in a belief that the EU and the US are weak because of their eagerness to reach a nuclear deal. Iran could easily conclude that it can get away with aggression throughout the region because the US and EU are constrained by the siren song of the JCPOA’s renewal. 

And that strains relations with allies: are you reliable or not? Indeed, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid slammed EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell for his role in the hasty resumption of talks, warning Borrell, “This is a strategic mistake that sends the wrong message to Iran.”

Immediate Background to Talks’ Resumption

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran and met with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. After their meeting, both ministers made the surprise announcement that they favored the resumption of JCPOA negotiations.

Read More: Iran nuclear talks resume on Tuesday; moved to Qatar from Vienna

Borrell rushed to Tehran, arriving within 48 hours and announcing, within those 48 hours, that the talks would resume shortly.

That marked an enormous blunder for a senior diplomat. Instead of rushing to Iran on Lavrov’s heels, Borrell should have taken the time to clarify Iran’s position and ensure there was some basic compatibility with the US position.

Moreover, given the vastly transformed nature of relations between the EU and Russia and the hostility that has ensued as a result of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, perhaps some skepticism would have been appropriate, as Russia was involved in that announcement?

It is not impossible that Moscow and Tehran coordinated together to produce what ensued: exposing the EU leadership as naive and foolish amid a failed diplomatic initiative. 

Mistake for US to subcontract JCPOA diplomacy to EU?

Among the Biden administration’s top foreign policy initiatives as it assumed office last year was reviving the JCPOA. Since Iran will earn a lot of money once the accord is restored and it can sell oil freely, the incoming administration expected that Iran would be keen to revive that deal quickly.

That proved wrong, however. Once the JCPOA negotiations began in April 2021, Iran was a tough negotiator. When, a year later, a deal had been basically hammered out, Tehran introduced a new condition in March that resulted in the suspension of the negotiations.

In 2021, among Iran’s conditions for the renewal of negotiations was that its representatives not talk directly to America’s representatives. The Europeans should serve as intermediaries.

The Biden administration agreed—in the process suggesting, perhaps, that it was keener on reviving the accord than the Iranians. 

Moreover, that US concession gave the EU a key role in a matter of vital US interest. But it is unclear if EU officials really understand the interests of the US and other interested parties. 

EU officials may well be so narrowly fixated on reviving the JCPOA that they simply do not recognize that Iran is not so interested—as US officials now regularly complain. Meanwhile, they ignore other aspects of Iran’s malign behavior, subordinating everything to the effort to secure a nuclear deal that Iran has, at most, only a limited interest in securing.

Consequently, as Israel’s Foreign Minister complained to Borrell, the EU is sending Iran the wrong message!