Analysis: Quest for greater leverage motivates Iran’s nuclear blockade tactics, analysts say

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  • Iran drags its feet to get better deal, analysts say
  • Nuclear work progresses well beyond agreement limits
  • Frustrated West urges Tehran to resume talks
  • Iran wants guards removed from terrorist list
  • Search for investments, verified lifting of sanctions

DUBAI, October 5 (Reuters) – Western powers have been trying for weeks to get Tehran’s answer to a question – when will the Islamic Republic return to nuclear talks suspended since June. Iran’s response was vague and simple: “soon”.

Behind Tehran’s blockade lies an attempt to get more concessions when negotiations eventually resume, officials and analysts have said, including advancing its uranium enrichment program, a possible route to a nuclear bomb. .

Iran has long denied having sought to militarize nuclear energy.

The talks, which aim to bring Washington and Tehran back into line with a 2015 nuclear pact aimed at curbing Iran’s enrichment program, were postponed in June after the election of hardline clergyman Ebrahim Raisi as president.

“Iran will eventually resume talks in Vienna. But we are in no rush to do so because time is on our side. Our nuclear is advancing every day,” a senior Iranian official said on condition of anonymity.

Ali Vaez, senior Iranian analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that “more time equals more leverage, given the exponential growth of Iran’s nuclear program.”

While China and Russia, Iran’s closer trading partners, are more restrained, the western parties to the pact can barely hide their frustration. The United States and European powers have urged Iran to resume talks, saying the diplomatic window will not remain open forever as Tehran’s nuclear program advances well beyond the limits set by the 2015 pact.

The nuclear deal limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

But former US President Donald Trump scrapped the deal in 2018, saying he had not done enough to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, ballistic missile program and regional influence, and reimposed sanctions. that crippled the Iranian economy.

In response, Tehran broke the deal by replenishing stocks of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity, and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.

“They (Iran) keep saying that they are going to come back to the table. But when they say soon … that means absolutely nothing,” said a senior European diplomat.

“It doesn’t mean that we think they don’t want to come back, but we think they want their cake and eat it. They want to create a fait accompli on the ground – technical and nuclear – and preserve the possibility of a negotiation. “

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Emboldened by the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iranian leaders are confident their blockade strategy will not have serious repercussions, analysts have said, especially when US President Joe Biden is embroiled in growing rivalry. with China and fight a COVID-19 crisis at home.

In contrast, the Biden administration signals that Iran should not take anything for granted.

Senior US officials will tell their visiting Israeli counterparts on Tuesday that they are engaged in diplomacy but would be prepared to pursue “other avenues” to ensure Tehran does not acquire nuclear weapons, said a senior American official.

Israel says it will not allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear bomb.

The man with the ultimate authority in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed the United States for the pause in talks.

“Ayatollah Khamenei seems to believe that in the meantime he can get a better deal from Washington. This time is on his side,” said Meir Javedanfar, professor on Iran at Israel’s Reichman University.

Tehran and Washington still disagree on what action to take and when, the key issues being what nuclear limits Tehran will accept and what sanctions Washington will remove.

The fact that indirect talks between Tehran and Washington came to a halt after Raisi’s election was a sign of Tehran’s plan “to push for major concessions” from the United States, a former Iranian official said.

“The establishment is also evaluating different tactics to get more and give less back. It takes time to determine their strategy,” he said.

Appointing Ali Bagheri Kani, a staunch critic of the 2015 pact, to replace former pragmatic chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi, indicates that Tehran will take a hard-line approach when talks resume, said Henry Rome, Eurasia Group analyst.

ECONOMIC RISK

In addition to calling for the lifting of Trump-era sanctions as part of a verifiable process, Tehran also wants Washington to remove Iranian Revolutionary Guards from a terrorism blacklist. He also wants Europe to guarantee the return of foreign investors and the assurance that Washington will not go back on the agreement.

For his part, Biden wants to restore the nuclear limits of the pact and, if possible, expand them while pushing back what he called Iran’s other destabilizing activities.

Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, said Iran would “win” if it got more concessions from Washington, but if the deal collapses, Iranian leaders believe that they could survive thanks to “maximum resistance”, a reference to economic autonomy.

However, the strategy of dragging Iran’s feet could weaken the country’s religious leaders by further damaging an economy already struggling with squeezed oil revenues.

Authorities fear a resurgence of unrest among its main supporters – low-income Iranians – whose periodic protests in recent years have reminded them of just how vulnerable they could be to popular anger over economic hardship.

“Failure to relaunch the nuclear deal poses a real economic risk for Iran … but politics is now trumping the economy,” Rome said.

Written by Parisa Hafezi, edited by William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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