The eighth round of talks between Iran and major powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal kicked off on December 27 in the Austrian capital of Vienna.
Tehran is holding direct talks with the P4+1 countries (Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany) and indirect talks with the United States through European mediators after former President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.
Various participating delegations were optimistic on the eve of the latest round, yet this did not hide the fact that the initial impressions on the course of the first session weren’t as hopeful.
Mutual skepticism and suspicion characterized their positions, similar to those expressed when the seventh round wrapped up. This reflects the divergence in views of the negotiating parties on the outcome of these negotiations. Each party clearly pursues a different goal, including the P4+1 countries.
Recent statements by Iranian officials affirm that Tehran seeks through these talks to:
1- Return to the 2015 nuclear deal without changing any of its articles, which would require the lifting of all US and European sanctions imposed on it, especially on the export of oil and gas, and providing guarantees that prevent any future sanctions once a new agreement is sealed.
2- Maintain its nuclear capabilities in exchange for its commitment to provide its so-called “maximum guarantees” of the peacefulness of its program and grant access to its nuclear sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors without restricting their movement.
It has recently allowed the global nuclear watchdog to install new surveillance cameras for the Karaj nuclear facility, which makes centrifuges, to show goodwill and as an initial step towards dispelling concerns about its nuclear program.
3- Refrain from discussing any topic that is not included in the first nuclear agreement, especially its ballistic missile capacities and regional roles. Tehran claims these subjects are raised by some parties but are not relevant to the nuclear issue, in a clear accusation to both Israel and some Arab countries that requested to participate in the talks, a request Tehran denied.
Russia and China said they understand Iran’s position, considering that the major problem facing the course of negotiations is the hesitant US approach. They also refuse to conduct the negotiations under any pressures or threats.
However, the European countries and the US refuse to keep the negotiations trapped in a vicious cycle of proposals and counter-proposals.
Despite the firm US and European stances, warnings of preparing alternatives in case the talks fail and occasionally hinting they would resort to other means, they are still keen to keep these means vague and undefined.
They are actually eager to pursue diplomacy because it remains the best option to resolve outstanding issues. Failing to specify a time limit for the ongoing talks indicates that the Western powers do not have effective alternative deterrents in case this round of talks also fails.
Tehran is certainly considering taking advantage of the Western powers’ faltering positions, just as North Korea did. It intends to carry on with its research while extending the course of negotiations to gain more time to complete all elements of its nuclear program. These include raising the uranium enrichment levels to 90% and then forcing the world to accept it as a nuclear power, even on a hypothetical level.
Unlike its conciliatory stances to Iran, Western capitals, especially Washington, do not hesitate to sometimes criticize statements and actions of some regional parties that have long been either affected or apprehensive about Iranian actions in the region. They are either directly or indirectly affected through the tensions fueled by armed groups and militias that pledged allegiance to the mullahs’ regime and have been working to implement its agenda in several Arab countries.
Iran insists on possessing a complete nuclear fuel cycle, with a high uranium enrichment rate, while international powers have so far failed to curb this target by taking measures that would subject all its nuclear facilities to international, periodic, thorough, and unrestricted inspections.
For these reasons, the region will witness an upsurge in a quantitative and qualitative arms race that these powers won’t be able to restrain. No country will accept changing the regional balance equation for the benefit of one party at the expense of the others.
Unlike the major powers, all regional countries are aware that the theocratic regime in Tehran is determined to acquire full nuclear capabilities. Tehran believes these abilities will provide it with more internal legitimacy, which has been fading because of the dire economic and social conditions, as well as external prestige that would allow it to continue exporting its wealth.
Therefore, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States’ recent warnings against the outbreak of a crisis and conflict over the Iranian nuclear program were not surprising. This program has proven to be definitely designed for military purposes and has nothing to do with meeting any civilian needs.
Such conflict is expected to destroy any remnants of the fragile stability in the entire Middle East region and thwart all strategies to combat terrorism.
Is this the actual goal?