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US envoy is not confident a nuclear deal with Iran is imminent

Illustration shows the flags of Iran and the USA
The flags of Iran and the USA are seen printed on paper in this January 27, 2022 illustration. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

March 27, 2022

By Andrew Mills and Ghaida Ghantous

DOHA (Reuters) – US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley said on Sunday he was not confident a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran was imminent, dampening expectations after 11 months of talks in Vienna, which have stalled.

The failure of efforts to restore the pact, which would contain Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting tough sanctions, could pose the risk of a regional war or lead to tougher Western sanctions and a further rise in world oil prices, analysts say.

“I can’t be sure it’s imminent. A few months ago we thought we were pretty close too,” Malley said at the Doha Forum international conference.

“In negotiations, when there are issues that remain open for so long, it says something about how difficult it is to bridge the gap.”

His assessment of negotiations in Vienna to revive a 2015 nuclear deal came after Kamal Kharzi, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said a deal could materialize soon.

“Yes, it is imminent. It depends on the political will of the United States,” Kharzi told the conference.

Then-US President Donald Trump canceled the nuclear pact in 2018, prompting Tehran to start violating nuclear limits set under the deal about a year later, and months-long revival talks were paused earlier this month after Russia had presented a new obstacle.

Russia later said it had received written guarantees that it would be able to carry out its work as a party and suggested Moscow could allow a revival.

Kharzi said crucial to reviving the deal is for Washington to de-designate a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an elite force reporting to Khamenei.

Established by the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, during the 1979 revolution, the IRGC is more than just a military force.

It is also an industrial empire with enormous political clout. It was listed by Washington as a Special Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) and sanctioned under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in 2017.

The IRGC’s foreign operations arm, the Quds Force, was designated SDGT in 2007. The Trump administration put the IRGC organization on the FTO list in April 2019.

The Quds Force is helping Iran expand its influence in the Middle East through proxies.

“IRGC is a national army and it is certainly not acceptable for a national army to be listed as a terrorist group,” Kharzi said.

When asked about a possible renaming, Malley said: “Regardless of what happens to the IRGC issue you raised, we believe many other sanctions against the IRGC will remain in place. This is not a deal aimed at solving this problem.”

Tehran has also pushed for guarantees that no future US president would back down from the deal that would limit Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of harsh sanctions that have hit Iran’s economy.

The extent to which sanctions would be reversed is another thorny issue.

Gulf allies of the United States and Israel view the nuclear talks with concern and view Tehran as a security threat.

Israel and the United States will work together to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran despite disagreements over a nuclear deal, Israel’s foreign minister said Sunday.

“We have disagreements over a nuclear deal and its implications, but open and honest dialogue is part of the strength of our friendship,” Yair Lapid said in Jerusalem during a joint news conference with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Andrew Mills in Doha; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem: writing by Nadine Awadalla and Michael Georgy; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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Bobby Allyn

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