Jul 28, 2021 - World

U.S. warns Iran's new government it won't get a better nuclear deal

Ebrahim Raisi. Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

With the new Iranian government about to take office, U.S. officials are stressing that Iran won't win more concessions by attempting to renegotiate the understandings reached in Vienna.

State of play: The U.S. hoped an agreement on returning to the 2015 nuclear deal would be reached before hardliner Ebrahim Raisi took office. But after six rounds of talks, the negotiations were suspended by the Iranians until the new government can form its own negotiating team.

Driving the news: Raisi will be inaugurated next week and start to fill out his government.

  • Ali Bagheri-Kani, a conservative diplomat and leading critic of the 2015 deal, is reportedly the leading candidate to serve as foreign minister. If appointed, he will then form the new negotiating team.

There have recently been conflicting statements from Tehran about the nuclear talks.

  • Members of the outgoing government have claimed a draft deal that meets Iran's objectives was already on the table, while members of the incoming team have said no such deal exists and the understandings that have been reached are insufficient.
  • Recent press reports indicate Raisi intends to take a tougher line than his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani.

The other side: The Biden administration is monitoring the public debate in Iran but hasn't heard anything definitive about the incoming government's position, a senior U.S. official involved in the talks tells me.

  • The official stressed that the window for reaching a deal won't be open for much longer, and the Iranians should return to the table quickly.
  • “We also hope they don’t think they will get more than the previous government because they are tougher," the official said.
  • "It’s not about being tougher, it's about fully implementing the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S. position will not change, and the Iranians will not be able to reinvent the nuclear deal or be in a situation where they do less and we do more."

The official said there could be a point in the next few months at which it will no longer be worth returning to the 2015 deal because Iran's nuclear program will have advanced to the point where the limitations under the 2015 deal won't produce the intended one year “breakout time” to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“There is a deal on the table, and if the Iranians want to lift sanctions they have a way to do it."
— Senior U.S. official

The latest: In his last meeting with Rouhani's outgoing government on Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave an ominous signal about the future of nuclear talks.

  • He said Raisi's government should learn from Rouhani's and "utterly avoid tying their plans to negotiations with the West, for they’ll certainly fail."

What to watch: Ahead of Raisi's inauguration, several protests sparked by water shortages and power outages have erupted in Iran, mainly in Khuzestan province around water shortages. Protests also took place in Tehran and other cities, but the number of protesters was modest.

  • The protests reinforced that Iran's economy has deteriorated under the weight of sanctions and the pandemic that the government is having trouble providing basic services.
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