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After yet another round of talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal last week, the country’s negotiators are now consulting with the leadership in Tehran on how to proceed. European Union officials say they have presented a “final,” take-it-or-leave it text for the US and Iran to consider.
The draft has been met with guarded optimism in Iran. Mohammad Marandi, adviser to Iranian negotiators in Vienna, told CNN that the text to resuscitate the agreement that former US President Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018 has “evolved significantly” in recent months. But he also said that supplementary negotiations will be needed over a sticking point that emerged earlier this summer.
In June, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency censured Iran for traces of uranium that were found at three of its main nuclear sites.
Marandi said that in order for Iran to sign up to the updated deal, the IAEA’s censure “has to be closed once and for all.”
Iran dismissed the IAEA motion as “politicized,” and responded by removing surveillance cameras at key sites in response – a move that deprived negotiators of up-to-date information on the country’s uranium enrichment program and appeared to doom the prospects of striking a deal.
So, when negotiators returned to Vienna last week, observers were surprised. Tehran’s guarded endorsement of the latest draft agreement has raised the possibility of an imminent return to the deal, despite the remaining hurdles. Even the country’s hardliners – staunchly opposed to the agreement since it was signed by then-President Hassan Rouhani government and the Obama administration in 2015 – have praised the draft as an improvement from its previous versions.
Yet Iran continues to drag its feet, as it has done since the Biden administration restarted talks to restore the deal nearly a year and a half ago. One reason, Iranian analysts argue, is because of the outsized influence wielded by one man absent from the negotiations: Trump. Analysts argue that Iran has premised the talks on the possible victory of a Republican candidate aligned with Trump – or even Trump himself – in the 2024 US presidential elections. Biden’s successor, according to Iran’s calculus, would pull out of the deal once again, unleashing a new torrent of sanctions on the country.
“The shadow of Trump looms over these talks by virtue of them having been dragged out over the past year as Iran has focused a lot on securing economic guarantees,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, editor of Amwaj.media, a London-based outlet focused on Iran, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.
“If US secondary sanctions return, as we saw when Trump left the deal and all the major Western private sector companies ran away and never looked back, how do you prevent that?” Shabani said. “What kind of mechanisms can you set up to prevent that from happening again?”
Secondary sanctions are a US mechanism that penalizes any government or organization that has financial dealings with sanctioned entities.
In a development that risks adding another hurdle to the talks, the US Justice Department announced criminal charges Tuesday against a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for allegedly trying to orchestrate the assassination of John Bolton, who served in senior national security positions during the Trump and Bush administrations.
Still, the Iranians have a lot to gain by re-entering the deal, if even for a short period.
Sanctions relief could free up tens of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues over the next two years, buoying a floundering Iranian economy and bolstering the popularity of Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, Shabani said.
Conversely, there is a lot at stake for the international community if negotiations continue to falter. Since Trump withdrew from the negotiations and launched an aggressive sanctions regime in May 2018, Tehran has enriched uranium at higher levels and at an increasing speed. The UN nuclear watchdog said in June that Iran was weeks away from having a “significant quantity of enriched uranium,” but added that it “does not mean having a bomb.”
Moreover, time continues to be of the essence as the protraction of the negotiations complicate the talks. Earlier this year, an Iranian demand for the removal of its Revolutionary Guards from the US terror list was believed to be the final hurdle to reviving the deal. Now that issue appears to be off the table. But the progression of Iran’s uranium enrichment program has thrown another wrench in the wheels, leading to the IAEA’s censure of Tehran.
Iran accuses the West of trying to weaponize the IAEA censure, using it as legal pretext to pull out of a future deal. Marandi told CNN that rescinding the motion was a precondition for the agreement’s revival.
“Otherwise Iranians have no doubt that the Americans will take advantage of this, or use this as a tool to undermine the agreement within weeks or at most months. This is a precondition for the implementation of a deal,” Marandi told CNN.
Still, there is cause for some optimism, and even kicking the can down the road may have its benefits.
Even if the deal is reneged again in 2025, Shabani argued, an imminent return to the deal “gives breathing space to both sides.”
“The US gets to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle for three years and then it can deal with it in 2025 one more time,” said Shabani.
Russia puts Iranian satellite into orbit
Russia launched an Iranian satellite into orbit on Tuesday from southern Kazakhstan, just three weeks after President Vladimir Putin and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged to work together against the West, Reuters reported. The satellite entered orbit successfully, Russia’s space agency said.
- Background: Tehran has rejected claims the satellite could be used by Moscow to boost its intelligence capabilities in Ukraine, saying Iran will have full control and operation over it “from day one.” Iran says the satellite is designed for scientific research including radiation and environmental monitoring for agricultural purposes.
- Why it matters: The Washington Post reported last week that US officials are concerned by the fledgling space cooperation between Russia and Iran, fearing the satellite will not only help Russia in Ukraine but also provide Iran “unprecedented capabilities” to monitor potential military targets in Israel and the wider middle east. In July, Putin visited Iran in his first international trip outside the former Soviet Union since the start of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Former Twitter employee convicted in Saudi spy case
A former Twitter manager accused of spying for Saudi Arabia was convicted on Tuesday on six criminal counts, including acting as an agent for the country and trying to disguise a payment from an official tied to Saudi’s royal family, Reuters reported.
- Background: Ahmad Abouammo is a dual US-Lebanese citizen who at Twitter helped oversee relationships with journalists and celebrities in the Middle East and North Africa. Defense lawyers argued that the work he did at Twitter was simply part of his job. Federal public defenders representing Abouammo did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Twitter declined to comment. Jurors acquitted him on five of the 11 counts he faced.
- Why it matters: Prosecutors said he was recruited by Bader Al-Asaker, a close adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to use his insider knowledge to access Twitter accounts and dig up personal information about Saudi dissidents. Those accounts allegedly included @mujtahidd, a pseudonym for a political agitator who gained millions of Twitter followers in the Arab Spring uprisings by accusing the Saudi royal family of corruption and other misdeeds.
Iran makes first import order using cryptocurrency
Iran made its first official import order using cryptocurrency this week, Reuters cited the semi-official Tasnim agency as saying on Tuesday. “By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widely used in foreign trade with target countries,” an official from the Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade said on Twitter.
- Background: The order, worth $10 million, was a first step towards allowing the country to trade through digital assets that bypass the dollar-dominated global financial system and to trade with other countries similarly limited by US sanctions, such as Russia. The agency didn’t specify which cryptocurrency was used in the transaction.
- Why it matters: The move that could enable the Islamic Republic to circumvent US sanctions that have crippled the economy. Tehran is one of the largest economies yet to embrace cryptocurrency technology. Last year, a study found that 4.5% of all bitcoin mining was taking place in Iran, partly as a result of the country’s cheap electricity.
Around the region
Footage of a Gulf Arab student tossing wads of cash from a convertible sports car on a busy Jordanian street has gone viral on Arab social media, prompting condemnation of the ostentatiousness and debates about how people should behave abroad.
In an apparent celebration of his graduation, the man is seen standing in a red Ford Mustang wearing a graduation robe over a traditional Arab tunic as he tosses cash into the air while holding up traffic. Bystanders are seen scrambling to gather as much money as they can. The license plate on the car was Kuwaiti.
“And they say we’re not treated well [abroad],” tweeted Ahmed Al Sharqawi from Kuwait in an apparent reference to Gulf Arabs. “Respect others and you will be respected.”
Khaled Al Awadhi, an activist from Kuwait, said in a video posted on Twitter that the act “presents us [Kuwaitis] as people who act in a provocative way because we have money.”
“If an expatriate behaved like this in our country, we would have all turned on him,” he added, calling on parents to “raise children well.”
Oil-rich Kuwait is one of the richest Arab countries and has one of the world’s most valuable currencies.
An apology video surfaced on Twitter by a man who claimed to be the student in the initial clip, with his face blurred, saying that he is in fact Bahraini. The man said he had borrowed his Kuwaiti friend’s car and apologized for his “inappropriate behavior,” saying he was just “expressing joy.”
By Mohammed Abdelbary
This week marks 70 years since King Hussein bin Talal was declared king of Jordan.
Hussein was the third monarch to rule the Hashemite kingdom. He was proclaimed king after his father, Talal, was declared unfit to rule due to mental illness by the nation’s parliament.
Beginning his rule as a 17-year-old schoolboy on August 11, 1952, he evolved by the end of his life into a respected statesman, peace broker, and the Middle East’s longest-serving ruler.
For more than 40 years, Hussein ruled a kingdom not much older than he was – hailing from the Hashemite dynasty that is believed to be descended from the prophet Mohammad. His reign was marked by threats to his rule at home and the loss of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel in a war, but it also saw Jordan become the second Arab state to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state.
Hussein succumbed to a battle with cancer at the age of 63, passing away on February 7, 1999. He was succeeded by his eldest son King Abdullah, the current ruler of Jordan.