Pushback against Iran needed irrespective of Vienna talks

Pushback against Iran needed irrespective of Vienna talks

Pushback against Iran needed irrespective of Vienna talks
Members of the IRGCN march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war, Tehran, Sept. 2011. (Reuters)
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Since mid-March, the Vienna talks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have stalled because Tehran introduced a new condition, unrelated to the nuclear deal, demanding the lifting of the US’ designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
Since then, Iran has taken additional steps to derail the talks. It has expanded its underground uranium enrichment and made it difficult for the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct oversight of its nuclear installations. Earlier this month, the organization’s 35-nation Board of Governors overwhelmingly (only China and Russia opposed) adopted a resolution submitted by the US, Germany, France and the UK saying that the board “expresses profound concern” that uranium traces found at three undeclared sites remain unexplained due to insufficient cooperation by Iran. It also called on Tehran to engage with the IAEA “without delay.” Iran’s response to this censure was to switch off the IAEA’s cameras in some nuclear sites and ignore its calls for cooperation.
Making the delisting of the IRGC a condition to continue the Vienna talks was a contradiction in Iran’s own logic, as previously it had insisted that no new issues could be introduced. Specifically, it opposed any discussion of its regional behavior or any other non-nuclear issues. Since the IRGC’s designation was not related to the nuclear program but was motivated by its regional activities, it would make sense to discuss the designation only in that context.
The increased uranium enrichment, the switching off of the IAEA’s cameras and the demand regarding the IRGC’s designation add to the suspicion that Iran is purposely dragging out the nuclear talks. The Iranians are sending signals that a decision regarding the JCPOA’s revival may not be forthcoming before the end of the year. Tehran may want to make rapid additional progress in its nuclear program and then negotiate from a new threshold; there may come a time when augmentations of the nuclear program become irreversible. Delay is also being used by Iran to escalate its regional activities, while the nonproliferation value of the JCPOA diminishes with every passing month.
The US and others have expressed frustration over Iran’s delays. Brian Nelson, undersecretary of the US Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said last week: “The United States is pursuing the path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.” However, he added: “Absent a deal, we will continue to use our sanctions authorities to limit exports of petroleum, petroleum products and petrochemical products from Iran.”
To make sure that Iran does not use the Vienna talks as cover for its regional destabilizing actions, the Biden administration has continued pushing back against those actions, introducing some 150 new sanctions since coming to office last year. There are now more sanctions imposed on Iran than at any other time.
The US has also encouraged its partners to do the same. For example, members of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center this month sanctioned individuals, entities and groups affiliated with a variety of regional terrorist organizations supported by Iran. All of these targets had previously been designated by the US. They included three individuals associated with the IRGC’s Quds Force and terrorist groups Saraya Al-Ashtar and Saraya Al-Mukhtar. This designation action marked the fifth year of coordinated sanctions action between the US and its GCC partners, which are all members of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center.
While JCPOA talks continue, there is a need to coordinate between the US and its GCC partners, and maybe others, regarding how to deal with all aspects of concern in Iran’s conduct, from its nuclear program, ballistic missiles and drones to its support for terrorist groups or proxies with the aim of destabilizing the region.
Coordinated actions to push back against Iran’s activities could include diplomacy outside of the JCPOA talks, more sanctions and stricter enforcement, but especially bolstering partners’ defenses against those threats.
Iran’s regional destabilization has continued in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. In Iraq, there have been missile attacks, by Iran directly or through its allied militias, targeting civilians and the forces of the US-led Global Coalition Against Daesh. Politically, Tehran’s allies have blocked the formation of a new government and the selection of a new president since last October, when parliamentary elections were held and they were defeated.
In Syria, as Russia is redeploying its forces, Iran-allied groups are taking over Russian positions in a number of areas. The redeployment of Hezbollah nearer to the Jordanian border should also raise the alarm about its intentions.
In Lebanon, the election of a new parliament in May has yet to translate into tangible reforms or progress in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

Concerns about its nuclear program, as well as its missile and drone programs, persist and the need to contain that proliferation also persists.

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

Lebanon has also continued to stonewall the Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which last week sentenced Habib Merhi and Hussein Oneissi to five life sentences each for carrying out the 2005 bomb attack that killed Rafik Hariri and 21 others and left 226 people injured. The two men are members of Hezbollah, which has refused to hand over the pair or a third man, Salim Ayyash, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2020. Tehran’s allies in Lebanon, though weakened, have blocked attempts to make serious changes.
Absent a significant change in Iran’s destabilizing policies, it is important to keep the pressure on, regardless of the pace or outcome of the Vienna talks. Concerns about its nuclear program, as well as its missile and drone programs, persist and the need to contain that proliferation also persists. Concerns about regional security and stability will also continue even if there is a successful conclusion to the JCPOA talks. Discussions between concerned partners, including the GCC, US, UK and EU, among others, should explore all options for an effective pushback.

  • Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1
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