Russian, Iranian negotiators celebrate U.S. concessions in nuclear deal talks

Moscow, Tehran tout diplomatic triumph, U.S. "retreat" in Vienna negotiations following Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Updated: March 7, 2022 - 10:31pm

As the list of reported U.S. concessions in the Iran nuclear talks grows longer, Russian and Iranian negotiators are celebrating what they're describing as a major diplomatic coup for Iran.

Lead Russian negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov said in a recent interview that Iran, Russia, and China aligned in the ongoing talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, forcing the U.S. and its European allies to make major concessions.

"Iran got much more than it could expect," said Ulyanov. "Much more. ... Realistically speaking, Iran got more than frankly I expected, others expected. This is a matter of fact."

After praising the Iranians for fighting "like lions" in the Vienna talks, Ulyanov described China as a teammate in the negotiations.

"Our Chinese friends were also very efficient and useful as co-negotiators," he said. "We could rely on each other on many, many points. And on many, many points of joint differences we succeeded. I can recollect dozens of such cases, when on rather serious, significant questions, we managed together to get positive results close to what we wanted to achieve."

Meanwhile, Iranian analyst Mostafa Khoshcheshm, an adviser to Iran's negotiating team in Vienna, tweeted last week that Russia's war in Ukraine has forced the U.S. to "retreat" and "give into Iran's requested terms for a deal," alleging that some European countries are already vying to receive Iranian oil even before a deal is struck.

The original agreement, which placed temporary restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for removing sanctions on Iran, was struck in 2015 and implemented in 2016. Many experts and U.S. officials believe Iran seeks to build nuclear weapons — a charge Tehran denies.

Former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018. The Biden administration has made reviving the deal one if its chief policy goals.

Under the accord being negotiated, Iran will retain the ability to quickly resume the enrichment of uranium to 60% purity, Khoshcheshm told the Tehran Times, a major English-language Iranian newspaper with close ties to the regime.

Uranium enriched to 60% can be quickly turned into 90% weapons-grade purity, the level required to produce an atomic bomb. Western officials have said there is no reason to enrich uranium to 60% for civilian purposes; the only reason would be a desire to reach 90%.

"Iran will keep its advanced centrifuges and nuclear materials inside the country as a form of inherent guarantee to make sure that its nuclear program is fully reversible if the U.S. reneged on its commitments again," the Tehran Times added, alluding to former President Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the accord in 2018.

Such an agreement fits with what experts and former U.S. officials recently told Just the News: that the Biden administration's negotiating team has been working in Vienna to undermine a future U.S. president who, for whatever reason, may wish to leave the deal.

Iran had demanded a legal pledge that the U.S. wouldn't quit the nuclear deal again. U.S. officials have consistently said no president can legally tie the hands of a successor without a treaty, which would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate — a nonstarter given strong Republican opposition to the deal and the likely "no" votes of a few Democratic senators as well.

However, it appears President Biden's negotiators, led by Rob Malley, have found a workaround to appease Tehran's demand, with the help of the Russians.

One option discussed at Vienna was having Russia hold Iran's stockpiles of enriched uranium and give it back to Iran if the U.S. ever backs out of the deal and reimposes sanctions.

That plan is still possible, although it's unclear how much nuclear materials would be sent to Russia and how much would remain in Iran. What's clear is that, after Trump's withdrawal, Iran is pushing for an agreement that will allow the regime to ramp up its nuclear program without delay in the event a future White House quits the agreement.

Since the U.S. and Iran have been negotiating indirectly in Vienna over the nuclear deal, Russia has been able to play an influential role with both sides directly. Malley and his Russian counterparts have been quietly collaborating to revive the nuclear deal.

Under the new deal, Iran will have "weeks" to verify the removal of U.S. sanctions before having to implement its commitments, according to the Tehran Times, which is close to Iran's Foreign Ministry.

Less than a month after taking office, Biden promised the U.S. wouldn't lift sanctions on Iran until the regime halted uranium enrichment. Since then, he has granted sanctions relief to Iran on multiple occasions, including entities the U.S. has sanctioned for financing Iranian-backed terrorism. The regime continued to enrich uranium.

Gabriel Noronha, who served in the Trump administration as a special adviser for Iran at the State Department, tweeted Wednesday that his former career colleagues from the State Department, National Security Council, and European Union are so concerned about the deal taking shape in negotiations in Vienna that they shared with him details to publicize in hopes that Congress will intervene.

According to Noronha and other people familiar with the matter, the Biden administration will, under the new deal, agree to lift an array of U.S. terrorism sanctions on Iran and may remove Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the foreign terrorist organization list.

Biden's team is also reportedly preparing to lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on the office of Iran's supreme leader and those associated with it.

These ideas aren't new. A report written by the Iranian Foreign Ministry for Iran's parliament last summer said the Biden administration was prepared to lift not only sanctions waived by the nuclear deal but also the additional penalties imposed by the Trump administration — even those not related to Iran's nuclear program.

Three U.S. diplomats, including Malley's deputy, Richard Nephew, stepped down from the nuclear talks in late January in protest of concessions to Iran, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The officials had wanted the administration to adopt a tougher negotiating stance.

Officials have kept details of the negotiations closely guarded for over a year, with Republican leaders in Congress saying they've been kept out of the loop. However, more details have emerged in recent days, leading critics to slam the deal being negotiated.

"Biden's coming Iran deal will be even worse than Obama's," wrote Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who served on the National Security Council and worked as a staffer in Congress for years. "What the U.S. is agreeing to in Vienna is a shorter and weaker agreement that provides even more sanctions relief in exchange for fewer restrictions."

An announcement of the new deal is expected in the coming days. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, indicated Monday that an agreement is close if the Biden administration makes the concessions needed to "resolve the remaining issues that are considered as our red lines."

The "prospect of a deal in [the] Vienna talks remains unclear due to Washington's delay in making a political decision," he tweeted.

The State Department has not responded to a request for comment on this article.