The Iran Nuclear Deal is a foreign policy achievement of the Barack Obama administration. After more than two years of grueling negotiations, a deal was reached in 2015 in Vienna between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council namely China, France, Russia, Great Britain, the United States – plus Germany along with the European Union. . As a result, Iran’s nuclear ambitions were tightly restricted in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy before the deal.
Chaos ensued when Donald Trump announced his retirement from The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA in May 2018 promising to negotiate a new deal, one that could completely reduce Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Sanctions against Iran were withdrawn, more than 1500 in total. Trans-Atlantic clashes await the western powers of France, Germany and Britain as they face the prospect of American sanctions for doing business with Iran. The former US president’s strategy of maximum pressure with Iran failed as sadly as North Korea.
And like Donald Trump’s campaign promise in 2016, the Iran Nuclear Deal was featured again at Biden’s 2020 election campaign, only this time Biden promised to bring it back to life. Cut to April 2021, Iran and the West will return to the negotiating table in Vienna. While Tehran has ruled out face-to-face bilateral discussions, the White House also does not expect direct talks for now, but there is a strong likelihood of indirect talks between the parties. Officials from both sides will travel to Vienna next week. This is how a European diplomat said, “Iran and the US will be in the same city – but not the same room.”
The decision to resume talks in Vienna follows Friday’s virtual meeting attended by Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain. Future talks will focus on creating a list detailing sanctions America could lift and the nuclear obligations Iran must fulfill. It is understandable that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is optimistic about the outcome and is now voicing support for the lifting of sanctions and a gradual return to nuclear obligations. The Iranian foreign minister’s reaction stands in stark contrast to his statements in January when he accused Europe of not doing enough to protect the nuclear deal. Perhaps, those accusations can now be put aside with the EU confirming talks in the Austrian capital, hinting at playing a more active role.
The Vienna announcement comes just days after Iran and China agreed to a 25-year trade and security cooperation pact that could lead to increased oil flows from Tehran to Beijing along with cooperation in Banking, Finance and Insurance. It is important to note that China is Iran’s biggest trading partner. And if the US is to counter China’s influence on trade, it must start with partial lifting of sanctions and by turning a blind eye to western foreign investment in Iran in manufacturing, steel and aluminum companies, and even banks. There is no doubt that Biden is running tight in the divided US Congress when it comes to the Iran issue. Also, much of the trajectory of the negotiations rests on Iranian elections slated to be held in June, which could make anti-US hardliners prosper.
The two countries now need to work out a framework within which Iran can be complied with in order to take verifiable steps. Iran’s hardball tactics have been marked by increased uranium enrichment and limited access to nuclear facilities to the IAEA, the United Nations atomic watchdog. So, for Biden the revival of the Nuclear deal is imperative and must be accompanied by a sense of urgency.
For India too, America’s return to the JCPOA could come as a relief. There was a time when India’s trade with Iran was worth billions of dollars. In such a way, Iran would sell oil to India in exchange for rupees which the country uses to import Indian agricultural commodities. But as soon as the US sanctions waiver ended, India stopped buying Tehran oil in May 2019. According to Indian Ministry of Trade and Industry data provided to Reuters news agency, India’s overall exports to Tehran fell 42% in 2020 by $ 2.2 billion compared to 2019. This is the lowest figure in more than a decade. The decline is expected to continue until 2021. From strategic partnerships such as Chahbahar Port in southern Iran to Indian oil and gas exploration in Iran’s Farzad B gas field, from agricultural supplies such as rice to exports of Indian auto components and chemicals to Iran, India. potential trade with Iran could have enormous long-term benefits. But clearly, the US sanctions have hit India-Iran trade hard.
The credibility deficit created by Donald Trump must be addressed on the basis of priorities by the Biden administration. It is probably because of this deficit of confidence that Iran has resisted the gradual lifting of sanctions. With Iran’s elections in sight, timing is of the essence. There is no progress without America’s willingness to compromise.
(Disclaimer: The author’s views do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also do not support the views of the authors.)