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In Vienna, An Emboldened Iranian Regime Makes More Demands

Since last year’s resumption of negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Iranian regime has become increasingly more combative, assertive and demanding. The forceful attitude is not a byproduct of Tehran’s growing hard power; if anything, the regime is extremely weaker and much more vulnerable, especially at home, than it was in 2015.

It is, rather, a sad function of the stamped invitation sent to Tehran by Western interlocutors, which says: More assertiveness will get you more concessions. Instead of this disastrous approach, the West should itself become more assertive by adopting a firm policy that is appropriately molded for a regime on the brink of collapse.

Weakened by eight rounds of nationwide protests over the past four years alone, the regime’s authorities know perfectly well that they are in serious trouble. The economy is in ruins, the coffers are empty, and millions of impoverished people are knocking on the door. The number of local daily protests in Iran by teachers, students, merchants, workers, and others is truly staggering.

Like a good con artist, the regime is trying to create a smokescreen to hide its domestic Achilles Heel. It portrays an image of strength and resolve. Tehran continues to insist that all U.S. sanctions must be lifted before it resumes compliance with the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Additionally, it wants the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed to target other malign activities, including domestic human rights abuses and support for regional terrorism.

And since the West doesn’t react seriously to such blackmail, Tehran simply adds to the list. During the seventh and eighth rounds of the Vienna talks, Tehran’s negotiators sought a guarantee from the U.S. to never abandon a prospective agreement.

In 2018, the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, citing the agreement’s fundamental flaws as well as the regime’s violations. U.S. sanctions were re-imposed, though European Union sanctions remained suspended, as Britain, France, and Germany expressed continued commitment to the 2015 pact.

Although Tehran has not said so explicitly, the demand for a guaranteed long-term commitment presumably entails that any potential agreement should attain the status of a treaty. However, this would require the approval of at least two-thirds of the U.S. Senate – a threshold unattainable in 2015 and even more inaccessible now.

Although the Iranian theocracy has been repeatedly reminded of the hopelessness and impracticality of its core demands, it has insisted that the US government must find a way to overcome any and all obstacles and provide Tehran with guarantees for a permanent agreement and removal of all sanctions despite Tehran’s persistent nuclear violations and disastrous track record of cheating and lies.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tehran, Saeed Khatibzadeh, reinforced the regime’s brazen attitude on Monday when he asserted that much of the text of the potential agreement has already been drafted.

“What remains, of course, are key issues, which require a political decision, and the United States needs to state its decision on the remaining issues and the removal of sanctions,” he said.

The regime has seemingly backtracked from points of agreement that had reportedly been reached during the first six rounds of the Vienna talks. Its latest claim of “progress” toward a draft agreement seems to imply that Tehran is confident of having secured fresh concessions from the West, which supersede content of earlier drafts.

The regime’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, openly discussed the potential mechanisms by which Tehran could verify sanctions relief, suggesting that Iran should be given a period of at least several weeks or months during which it can sell oil internationally and pocket the profits. So, it wants to obtain sanctions relief while actively benefiting from oil sales even before taking a single step to restore compliance with the JCPOA.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the window of opportunity for Tehran was closing, with only “a few weeks” remaining before the U.S. would be compelled to walk away from the talks. Mr. Blinken and other American officials have hinted at other potential measures the US might undertake if diplomacy fails. But it has yet to be determined if the Biden administration is truly prepared to follow through on those steps.

And that is why the Iranian regime is willing to bet that it can get away with more violations and more demands. In order to responsibly and effectively address the Iranian nuclear threat, it is  imperative for the international community to be appropriately assertive and demand any-time anywhere inspections, dismantling of all the regime’s nuclear facilities, and re-imposing the six UN Security Council resolutions that are currently suspended. The regime knows its days are numbered. The West should catch up to that realization.

Safavi (@amsafavi) is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

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