U.S. and Iranian officials have been holding closed-door talks, including indirect talks in Oman, to ease tensions in the region to curb Tehran’s nuclear program and release U.S. prisoners, the officials said.
Neither side has spoken publicly about the nature of the talks, which were held after several failed attempts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that limited Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for the lifting of sanctions Iran signed with several world powers.
Five years ago, former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the landmark deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and imposed unilateral sanctions as part of what he called a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. a part of.
Why keep silent?
Experts say the two sides are seeking a short-term agreement with key objectives rather than waiting for a restart of the 2015 pact, which has repeatedly stalled.
The talks marked a return to some sort of diplomacy between the two traditional foes.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser al-Khanani appeared to confirm the talks at a news conference last week, saying “the Muscat talks are not a secret,” but added that there was no intention to negotiate a deal separate from the JCPOA, according to the Tasnim news agency. agreement.
But the U.S. government has so far denied it is negotiating any deal with Iran.
Mahjoob Zweiri, director of the Center for Gulf Studies at Qatar University, said President Joe Biden’s administration did not want to appear to be “conceding to Iran,” especially before next year’s presidential election.
Zweiri told Al Jazeera that they also do not want US ally Israel to attack Iranian proxies as this could “complicate the situation in the region”.
Is there a “temporary agreement”?
According to Cornelius Adebahr, an Iran expert and non-resident fellow at Carnegie Europe, there is currently “no new ‘deal’ to speak of, not even an informal agreement”.
Adebar told Al Jazeera that the recent arrangement between Iran and the U.S. that allowed Iran to take outstanding debt from Iraq was a positive step for Iran, while for the U.S. it just “reversed the dangerous trend of not addressing Tehran’s nuclear advances.” “.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and its ballistic missile program should not be included in the revived JCPOA.
In addition to imposing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear weapons and weapons program, the United States may also want to secure the release of Americans held in Iran, limit Iran’s alleged role in the Russia-Ukraine war and try to stabilize energy markets and oil prices.
Zweiri said the short-term agreement is “good for both parties” because it doesn’t look like a big concession and at the same time will de-escalate the situation.
The interim arrangement also does not require U.S. Congressional approval, given Iran’s alleged military aid to Russia, a benefit many oppose.
Zweri said the West was “disturbed” that Iran had provided drones to Russia, adding that it was a “major complication” in the deal between Iran and the West.
Tehran insists it supplied the drones to Russia months before the fight and wants to negotiate an end to the fighting.
What good is it for Iran?
A potential deal could prevent tensions over the nuclear deal from boiling over in the near future and prevent Western parties from seeking to activate the deal’s “snapback” mechanism, which aims to restore U.N. sanctions.
It could also see Washington and its European allies refrain from pushing for any further punitive resolutions against Iran on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board. A second condemnation resolution of this kind last November prompted Iran to increase its uranium enrichment at a key nuclear power plant.
Iran can also expect the U.S. to use sanctions waivers to unfreeze billions of dollars worth of Iranian assets locked abroad, with a clause that they be used only for humanitarian purposes. The governor of the Central Bank of Iran was in Doha earlier this week, suggesting Qatar could be involved in facilitating the process.
The Korea Economic Daily reported in May that South Korea was discussing with the United States a possible way to pay Iran for its oil purchases worth $7 billion.
Iraq recently paid Iran $2.76 billion for gas and electricity after receiving a U.S. sanctions waiver.
How does this benefit the US and its allies?
Since the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, Iran has ramped up its nuclear activities, saying it does not violate the agreement.
The U.S. appears content to keep Iran’s uranium enrichment at current levels, demanding that Iran not enrich uranium to more than 60 percent of its current level, according to the New York Times. Weapons-grade uranium must be 90 percent pure.
The switch to weapons-grade uranium was a brief technical step, but Western intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency said they saw no evidence Tehran was moving toward it, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said claims Iran wanted the bombs A Western false “excuse”.
The New York Times suggested that Iran might also agree not to seize foreign tankers if the U.S. did so. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has seized tankers in the past for a variety of reasons, including accident reports and judicial orders, and Western media reports said it was in response to the U.S. seizure of a tanker carrying Iranian oil.
Three U.S.-Iranian prisoners could also be released if the U.S. releases some of Iran’s economic assets.
Two detained British-Iranians were released last year amid media reports that the British government paid Tehran 400 million pounds ($513 million) in debts dating back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.