China and Russia Optimistic over Iran Talks as Biden Envoy Sulks on Sidelines

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping meet in the G
Sergei Karpukhin/AFP/Getty Images

The governments of China and Russia, which appear to be taking the lead in talks between Iran and the remaining partners in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, expressed optimism after talks concluded on Friday for the week that progress had occurred.

The conversations over the agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) began this week in Vienna, Austria. Representatives from China, Russia, and Iran — as well as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — met to discuss, they claimed, a way to repair what remains of the agreement after years of violations by Tehran and President Donald Trump withdrawing the United States from it in 2018. Notably absent from the invitation list was the United States, which had no formal representation in this week’s talks.

The administration of President Joe Biden claimed it would engage in “indirect” talks with Iran and sent its special envoy on the matter, Robert Malley, to Vienna. Iranian officials clarified Tuesday, however, that “no negotiations will take place between the representatives of Iran and the United States” and no talks of any kind, direct or otherwise, would take place this week.

Malley is staying in a separate hotel in Vienna from where the Iran deal talks are occurring and appears to have met only with officials not privy to the negotiations, including representatives of the Austrian government and the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA).

With no input from Washington, Iran has used the talks to vocally and repeatedly insist that it will not begin to discuss returning to compliance on the JCPOA with the United States unless the Biden administration immediately lifts all sanctions on Iran, not just those regarding the nuclear weapons issue. This would presumably include the accurate branding of Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism due to its international support of Hezbollah, a Shiite jihadist organization, and its involvement in deadly attacks on civilians such as the 1994 bombing of Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires.

A Russian representative to the IAEA branded this “progress” on Friday.

“The #JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) participants took stock of the work done by experts over the last three days and noted with satisfaction the initial progress made,” Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter. “The Commission will reconvene next week in order to maintain the positive momentum.”

“All parties have narrowed down their differences and we do see the momentum for gradually evolving consensus,” Wang Qun, China’s ambassador to the IAEA, agreed, according to Reuters.

Both nations have loudly condemned unilateral sanctions on any country and, in particular, opposed American sanctions on their ally Iran.

“The justified request of the injured party, rather than the offending party, should be confirmed and satisfied first. This is a basic right-or-wrong question,” Qun said Tuesday. “The U.S. should lift all sanctions against Tehran and on this basis, Iran can resume full compliance to the nuclear deal.”

Reuters reported American officials claim they are “being briefed” on the talks they were not invited to, without elaborating.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, made clear he had no appetite for negotiation Thursday, the day before Moscow and Beijing declared the talks had yielded “progress.”

“Verification [of US sanctions removal] means [being capable of] selling oil in an official manner, with ease and under normal conditions, and its money be received by Iran,” Khamenei insisted, again making the case for the lifting of sanctions unrelated to the nuclear agreement. Khamenei also accused “the signatories of the nuclear agreement,” without discriminating among them, of having violated the deal and claimed “Tehran is in no hurry for Washington to come back to the nuclear agreement” in a video posted to Instagram.
“Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said other signatories to the deal have no right to set conditions for Tehran as long as they have not fulfilled their obligations, emphasizing that this is Iran’s definitive policy from which Tehran will not step back,” Iran’s PressTV reported.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry also took the opportunity Thursday to boast of its heightened uranium enrichment abilities.

“Our 20% enrichment is now moving even faster than the speed envisaged by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (the Iranian Parliament) in its law, and 20% enriched materials are being produced now,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi claimed, stating that the enrichment, which violates the nuclear deal, would continue until the United States lifted all existing sanctions on Iran.

“Araqchi also denied indirect talks with Washington through the European parties to the JCPOA, saying the talks involve China and Russia in addition to the Europeans,” PressTV added.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in a contentious exchange Thursday that the Biden administration would not repeal sanctions unrelated to the nuclear deal, such as those related to human rights abuses against the Iranian people.

“We believe that Iran’s ballistic missile program, that Iran’s violation of the — Iran’s human rights abuses, that Iran’s support for malign proxies, Iran’s support for terrorism — we believe all of those things pose a profound challenge to us as well as to our regional partners,” Price said. That is why we will continue, including through sanctions, to push back on those issues.”

When a reporter replied, “Well, why couldn’t you have said this like yesterday or the day before?” Price insisted he “absolutely did” and again repeated that sanctions “will continue to be important tools” for confronting Tehran.

Price also insisted Malley was in discussions “right now with our European allies and our Russian and Chinese partners in this endeavor,” a claim for which no evidence exists and one that the allies and partners in question have not confirmed on the record.

Malley has been documenting his activities in Vienna on Twitter, which appear to be meetings with Austrian government leaders — who are not a party to the JCPOA — and the IAEA.

Russian and Chinese officials said on Friday that they expect talks to resume next week. Price noted Thursday that he expects Malley back in Washington this weekend.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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