Iran – US: Dialogue of the Deaf

Written by – Elijah J. Magnier:

Despite the suspension of nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran for a few months, Washington has not stopped secretly sending messages to Tehran, fearing that the “Islamic Republic” would take further aggressive escalatory nuclear steps. Such an Iranian move would turn the tables on the West, shifting its priorities amidst the US’s concerns about the outcome of its war against Russia, challenging its unilateralism and global dominance on Ukraine soil.  However, given that Iran has repeated throughout the years that it is not interested in building a nuclear bomb, why would the US bother to return to the JCPOA? 

During a conference at the INSS, the head of Israel’s military intelligence division (Aman), Major General Aharon Halifa, said that “what is preventing Iran from advancing toward making a nuclear bomb is the decision of Sayyed Ali Khamenei(Guardian of the Revolution). The Iranian regime is not facing (despite the latest riotsaiming to change the Iranian regime) any danger at the moment,” he concluded.

Israel and the US seem to realise that Iran is not interested in building a nuclear bomb and that the Fatwa (religious binding verdict) decided by the highest religious authority in Iran, Sayyed Khamenei, is still holding despite the enormous pressure Khamenei is exposed to. Many religious leaders in Iran are calling upon Sayyed Khamenei to change his legal Fatwa, which prohibits the manufacture of nuclear weapons, to no avail. Consequently, US President Joe Biden’s administration is in an optimal position to rescind his commitment to return to the nuclear agreement, which theoretically will expire in July 2025.

The US has no reason to lift the sanctions imposed on Iran, especially since such a move would give the “Islamic Republic” the substantial economic boost it needs to recover financially and economically and recover its trade with the west and the rest of the world. Similarly, lifting the sanctions would enable the return of the tens of billions of dollars held by several banks worldwide to Iran. It would also put Iranian oil back on the market at a higher price, not the current lower price Tehran is selling to Asia and the other countries that continue to ignore the US unilateral and illegal sanctions.

Moreover, the US and Israel know that Iran has not changed its support for its “Axis of the Resistance” allies in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen and is still financing and supplying these with modern weapons and technology. Therefore, ending the US sanctions would raise the level of concern of Israel and other Middle Eastern countries who fear the expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East, especially after the failure of the last attempt to overthrow the “Islamic Republic”.And last but not least, the US administration cannot give Iran the necessary guarantees that it is asking for. Tehran fears that new sanctions will be added or existing ones reactivated after the signing of the nuclear agreement. In the recent exchange of messages between the US and Iran through the European mediator, the Foreign Affairs Coordinator Josep Borrell, Iran made proposals to keep but freeze their advanced nuclear capabilities and centrifuges. This means Iran would be adhering to the 2015 signed agreement. Still, the possibility 

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remains of restoring the nuclear program to its full current capabilities in case new sanctions are imposed or the US breaks the deal- as President Donald Trump did in 2018. 

Europe, according to Borrell, considers that “the Iranian demands are reasonable” and hoped the US would respond positively. However, the response came from the real decision makers – the Americans, not the Europeans – rejecting the Iranian proposals.

The US administration lacked enthusiasm due to the US mid-term elections and froze the negotiations for several months. By the end of the elections, the return of the Republicans to the leadership of Congress created cold feet for President Biden, who waited to send his messages back to Tehran, and did so only in recent days.

The first US message came through the State of Qatar when President Biden said he wanted to “set Iran free.” The US response came from the US National Security Advisor, who justified Biden’s statement as “just a slip of the tongue.” The second US message came immediately after Iran announced that it had restored the underground Fordow nuclear plant, which was reopened three years ago after the collapse of the nuclear deal, to increase its enrichment uranium from 20 per cent to 60 per cent. Iran now has the Natanz and Fordow plants, producing 60 per cent enriched uranium: the 2015 agreement stipulated only 3.6 per cent.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was honest when he said that he saw little scope to restore a nuclear deal with Iran. Even if Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium reached 386.4 kilograms of 20 per cent and 62.3 kilograms of 60 per cent, it is still outside what the west considers the dangerous zone. Iran needs to geta 90 per cent level of enriched uranium to make nuclear bombs, which is regarded as easy to increase after acquiring nuclear technological knowledge. Nothing is stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear state with military atomic capabilities after the failure of the regime change, including the assassination of its scientists or sabotaging the atomic plants. Therefore, what separates Iran from making nuclear bombs is the decision of Wali al-Faqih Sayyed Khamenei alone and not the capabilities of the Iranian nuclear scientists nor the nuclear plants, which have enough advanced centrifuges to reach any desired level. 

One of the apparent problems between the US and Iran seems to be the IAEA and its demand that Iran explains the discovery of uranium traces in three unannounced locations. Iran itself considered this issue closed in 2015 when President Barack Obama signed the deal. According to Iranian officials, the revival of the IAEA demand is nothing more than a US excuse to refrain from returning to the nuclear deal. They note that the information was provided to the IAEA by Israeli intelligence and lacks credibility. It is unreliable, which is not new for that organisation. 

Therefore, for the US or the IAEA to reproduce these excuses pushes the level of negotiations to a « dialogue between the deaf ». Thus, several factors prevented the return of the nuclear deal in the last half-term remaining for President Biden, mainly the return to power of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is opposed to any agreement with Iran and disagrees with President Biden. In addition, the Democratic loss of leadership in Congress increases pressure on Biden, especially since the Republicans do not want a deal with Iran and consistently oppose the agreement. There is also the US-Russian war in Ukraine. Iran demonstrated its military defiance of the US and NATO by providing Russia with drones that quickly adjusted the military balance and helped Moscow reduce its losses. 

Finally, the lack of US willingness and interest in lifting sanctions, as long as Iran remains far from building a nuclear bomb, does not motivate officials in Washington to rush for a deal. Therefore, the US policy of time-wasting remains prevalent, and the dialogue between Iran and the US remains a dialogue of the deaf.

Copyright Elijah J. Magnier ­- not to be reprinted, reproduced, or re-circulated without prior permission. Please contact EJM with any queries. 

Proofread by: Maurice Brasher