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Will Iran return to the nuclear negotiating table?

IranThe new president took office this summer, signaling that his government would return to the nuclear negotiating table. In his inaugural address, Ebrahim Raisi said his government would support “a smart pledge” and “a diplomatic plan” that would see US sanctions against his country lifted.

In other words, he would work to revive the Joint Cooperative Action Plan (JCPOA) – the nuclear deal that the Trump administration withdrew in 2018.

But while Raisi has indicated he wants talks on the deal to resume, he has also signaled he is in no rush.

Tehran’s message may not be as ambiguous as it seems.

“He welcomes the resumption of talks, but he has also made it clear that Iran will not comply with any further requests from the United States or the West,” the longtime CBS News producer told Tehran. , Seyed Bathaei.

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The Iranian government faces urgent challenges: a severe COVID-19 outbreak that kills more than 500 people every day, and a long, hot summer that has seen protests over severe water shortages in the south, for n ‘name just two.

But with inflation exceeding 40% and many Iranians struggling to make ends meet, there is real pressure on the country’s leadership to reach a deal with the United States.

Ultimately, it comes down to Iran’s acceptance of limiting its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of severe economic sanctions.

“A large part of the population wants the sanctions to be lifted,” Bathaei said. “To have better opportunities, for example, young people want to travel, want to get scholarships, want to transfer money, that sort of thing. And, of course, businessmen want to be able to import, export – just do what normal life is. So yes, everyone wants the sanctions lifted, but not at any cost. “

This cost, for the Iranian leadership, would make you lose face. Optically conscious, and defensive afterwards less than 50% of Iranians voted in this summer’s election, the government is determined not to appear hopeless or weak.

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Yet many analysts believe Iran has more to lose by not return to the negotiating table.

“What matters at the end of the day is the political will. What is in Iran is not clear. Of course, some personalities are questioning the return to the JCPOA, especially since there is a real chance that the Democrats will lose their legislative majority next year, and the White House in 2024, “Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project for the International Crisis Group, told CBS News.” The Iranians fear that any sanctions relief under a renewed JCPOA would only be temporary, because a Republican government would simply reverse the deal like Trump did. “

But for Iranian leaders, Vaez said, “the alternative is just as unattractive. That is, going back to the tendency of both sides to raise the stakes – nuclear activity on Iran’s side, sanctions on the part of Iran. United States – which is mutually expensive “.

It is not clear whether the new administration, under Raisi, would send the same experienced negotiators appointed by the old government back to Vienna for a new round of talks, or appoint a whole new team.

But Raisi has transferred responsibility for Iran’s nuclear dossier from the Foreign Ministry to the country’s National Security Council, which is aligned with the die-hard Revolutionary Guards.

If talks resume, Vaez said, progress would likely be slow.

“If the Iranian National Security Council takes primary responsibility for the nuclear issue, talks will become more complex and progress will be slower as every tactical issue will have to go through a consensus mechanism in Tehran.”

The nuclear deal is in tatters. President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018, leaving behind Iran, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China as signatories.

Iran accused the United States of breaking its commitment, then broke the rules itself by enriching significantly more uranium than the JCPOA allows.

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Iran has now enriched uranium to nearly 60% purity, the closest to military-grade fissile material it has ever had.

Tehran’s growing stockpile of enriched uranium and other blatant violations of the nuclear deal could give it more leverage in further negotiations. But these actions could also be an indication that Iran is feeling more confident that, if the moment comes, a deal with the West can be dispensed with, thanks to its powerful new ally, China.

Bathaei says the Iranian government “sees China as a donor, as a partner, as a market it can rely on.”

China is believed to be the biggest buyer of Iranian oil, which technically remains under US sanction. Oil sales bring in much needed cash to pay government salaries and keep the country running.