I do not think that any of the observers or those interested in the Iranian nuclear file crisis was surprised by the (indirect) Iranian-American dialogue that took place in Vienna recently, as sitting at the negotiating table was a priority goal for both the Iranian mullahs and the Biden administration since the 20th of last January. And what happened since then in terms of tension, escalation, and de-escalation were only preludes to strengthening the negotiating position of each party before the negotiation.
There are several things that these negotiations confirm, including that US President Joe Biden is still imbued with the legacy of his previous experience as former Vice President of Barack Obama for eight years, and he still believes in the disastrous agreement concluded by that administration, and that it represents a basis for American relations with the mullahs' regime. That said, it is not expected that Biden would seek to build a new strategic approach to counter the Iranian nuclear threat.
The hard-to-deny fact is that the mullahs succeeded in “taming” the new American administration early, as well as isolating it from its traditional allies in the Middle East through a deliberate series of measures that violate Iran's obligations contained in the nuclear deal. They did not provide any opportunity for the American president to think and discuss the matter with these allies, and he was content with confining himself to the point of returning to the nuclear agreement, despite all the loopholes of the agreement, although this return will not cause any progress nor will it delay the cessation of Iranian threats.
Rather, this return has turned into a “goal” that Washington pursues, without thinking of subsequent stages because the mullahs ’strategy is based on gaining time in ensuring that the rest of the signatories to the agreement are certain of turning the page on violations and on the mullahs’ commitment to their obligations contained in the nuclear agreement. This, however, is an issue that may take a long time, perhaps approaching the first half of President Biden’s term!
There is another matter: the new US administration “rushing” to have the mullahs’ return to the nuclear agreement at any cost. Some US officials were even indicating the possibility of adopting steps that were not in complete agreement with President Biden’s announcement when he took office, of his intention to restore the prestige of the United States and its global influence.
“America is back” certainly did not mean that the only superpower in the world returned to make more concessions to the mullahs of Iran! This partially explains the tendency of the negotiating balance of power to the mullahs' advantage, and this was reflected in their initiative to say that their representatives in Vienna would not meet with the American delegation face to face unless the United States retreated from its withdrawal from the agreement first, and the mullahs considered that the United States had no role in the talks until it came back formally to the agreement.
In fact, I do not find a big difference between yesterday and today, and what is happening in Vienna is not very different from the beginnings of the negotiations that ended with the signing of the “Joint Action Plan” in 2015, as representatives of Britain, France and Germany are moving between the hotels of the Iranian and American delegations, to bring the destinations closer in those meetings that Russian and Chinese diplomats also attend!
The Russian ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, Mikael Ulyanov, described the preparatory talks as “successful,” and confirmed the formation of two committees of experts to discuss “moving forward” measures. The US State Department stated that the work of the expert committees continues to discuss “technical issues” in the areas of lifting US sanctions imposed on Iran and the nuclear steps that the latter may take to revive the agreement.
All the speakers agreed that the talks are “difficult” and that the return to the agreement will not happen in a short period, which is expected given the mullahs' keenness to extract the strategic gains they aspire to and exploit the American administration’s eagerness in trying to achieve a breakthrough in any of the complex foreign policy files.
The US special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, said before the start of the Vienna talks that the United States knows that it must “lift the sanctions that are not commensurate with the agreement concluded with Iran.” When the Iranian government spokesman, Ali Rabiei, was asked about these statements, he said, “the position is realistic and promising.” He added, “We are confident that we are on the right path,” and that seems to be true.
The Biden administration’s steps are proceeding as if they were drawn up by the mullahs, who found themselves facing the scenario of their dreams. There is no using the results of the severe sanctions imposed by the previous US administration on Iran, and there is no desire for using a strategy based on “the carrot and the stick” approach, but rather a return to the strategy of 2015, and building upon it again as if what happened during the past four years has not happened!
I will not jump to the expected results of these talks. Introductions - usually - provide a rough conception of the results, which are almost known, and it is certain that the current US administration’s use of the old negotiation strategy and its revival will not provide the United States with what the Obama administration failed to obtain in 2015. It is more likely that time will pass and matters end up reproducing the old, failed agreement in a new guise.
Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former UAE Federal National Council candidate.