The fact that the new hardline Iranian government has appointed a negotiating team led by opponents of the deal has only added to the sense of pessimism.
Sources in Washington tell CNN that there is an ongoing debate within the Biden administration about how to proceed and how much to increase the pressure on Iran.
However, they say the United States and its allies are now more willing to impose a higher cost on Iran for failing to reach an agreement if Tehran continues to take actions that are inconsistent with the 2015 nuclear deal and brings it closer to developing a weapon. nuclear. .
Sources did not detail what those costs could be, but a person familiar with the discussions tells CNN that Biden will discuss potential options during his G20 meetings with allies and that those costs could be imposed even when talks with Iran are ongoing.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan, briefing reporters en route to Rome, said the meeting on the sidelines of the G20 is an opportunity to “coordinate closely” with “E3” counterparts in a joint negotiating position as we work towards the resumption of negotiations “as well as” the level set in our understanding of Iran’s progress on the nuclear program since they left the JCPOA, “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The G20 meeting was announced shortly after Tehran said it would formally return to nuclear talks in Vienna before the end of November, a return that would end a hiatus of more than four months during which the newly elected hardline president , Ebrahim Raisi, formed a government and later a new nuclear negotiating team.
Sullivan said Thursday that it was “not yet entirely clear to (him) whether the Iranians are willing to return to the talks,” noting that “we have heard positive signs that they are, but I think we have to wait and see when and if they do it”. appear at the negotiating table. “
It’s not ‘a lot of optimism’
Iran’s public pronouncements “do not give us a great deal of optimism,” said a US official familiar with the talks, adding that so far, there is little indication that the Iranian team intends to be pragmatic and resolve outstanding issues. . While the United States will enter the talks in a constructive spirit and see what they hear, this official said, adding that there is no reason to be optimistic at this time.
The Biden administration’s skepticism of the Iran announcement, in contrast to the more positive comments while talks were taking place under the last Iranian administration, underscores how cautious it is about renewed Vienna negotiations leading to a sustainable outcome.
A European diplomat said Tehran’s willingness to restart talks “is not a solution, but it is a reasonably significant step forward.” This diplomat and others had viewed Iran’s delay in returning to the Vienna talks as a delaying tactic as the country continued to develop its nuclear program. Now, there is a wide discussion about “increasing the pressure” on Iran, said this diplomat.
“At the moment, there is no time pressure for the Iranians, there is no time pressure for anyone,” the diplomat said. “We need to make it feel like this is a bit urgent, I think it’s the first step we need to take.”
Although critics say the Biden administration has been lax in applying sanctions to Iran, US officials insist they have kept up the pressure from President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure regime” and argue that if they made the unilateral decision to ease sanctions, that could be split. their united front with the allies and serve Iran’s interests to divide other parties in the talks.
In recent weeks, US officials have met with partner countries to prepare for “a world in which Iran has no restrictions on its nuclear program,” US special envoy for Iran Rob Malley said earlier this month. before meetings with European and Gulf partners. .
Talks on the JCPOA, which the United States abandoned under the Trump administration, were suspended in late June after six rounds between Iran, China, Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and indirectly, the United States.
The role of China
Analysts say pressure from Russia may have contributed to Iran’s willingness to return to the Vienna talks, but doubts remain about China’s willingness to put pressure on Iran alongside the other parties to the nuclear deal.
A US official told CNN that the United States and China disagree on controlling Iran’s behavior, adding that the strained relationship between the United States and China is also making things difficult.
China has continued to import Iranian oil, which is a major source of income for the country, and there is no clear strategy to pressure China to change course. Congress views China as a critical piece of the puzzle and is increasingly frustrated that there does not appear to be a more concerted effort to get them to join, congressional attendees explained.
A State Department spokesman responded to Iran’s announcement on Wednesday, saying they had seen reports of Iran’s willingness to return to the talks and stressed that patience is running out.
Analysts are deeply skeptical.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the goal of Iran’s announcement is to “delay, divide, ease pressure and advance down the paths of nuclear weapons, straight from the regime’s playbook. “.
“I think it’s a big question if Iran still wants to revive the JCPOA,” said Eric Brewer, deputy director and senior fellow of the Project on Nuclear Affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Brewer told CNN that he believes Iran is prepared to risk collapsing the deal.
Henry Rome, director of Global Macro Research at Eurasia Group, said Iran’s announcement “should not be misinterpreted as a sign of real progress.”
Rome and Brewer indicated that Iran’s return to the talks “is a question of when, not if,” in Rome’s words, and said Tehran is likely acting to avoid censorship at an International Energy Agency meeting. Atomic next month, because he wants to avoid being blamed for the failure of the talks, to retain Russia’s support.