Negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme in Vienna to avert a 'disastrous' crisis
by Dario Salvi

New talks to reinstate the JCPOA, cancelled by Trump, open today in the Austrian capital. A pact to restore stability in a crescendo of tensions. The outcome of the negotiations will have an impact on oil prices on international markets. In the background, Israel is watching carefully, ready to strike at the atomic sites in the Islamic Republic.

Vienna (AsiaNews) - The negotiations seem to have entered "the final phase" and therefore require "determination and an outpouring of energy" from all participants "to reach the final goal", with the "complete restoration of the JCPOA, including the cancellation of sanctions".

Russian permanent representative Mikhail Ulyanov's words reflect caution, but also moderate optimism and determination for a breakthrough in the eighth round of talks on the Iranian nuclear issue, which are starting up again today in Vienna. This long-awaited meeting could finally prove decisive in reintroducing an agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) that can satisfy all parties and ease tensions in the Middle East region.

There is a climate of expectation for the arrival of the Iranian delegation in the Austrian capital, which will sit at the same table with the representatives of China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and Germany in an attempt to relaunch the 2015 agreement.

The meeting was also closely followed by the Israeli side, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attacking the Islamic Republic at the opening of the weekly government meeting: "Iran," the Israeli Prime Minister stressed, "represents the greatest threat to Israel and the Jewish State will remain free to act on Tehran with or without a nuclear agreement".

This is the context in which the information filtered in recent days of a military exercise simulating an air raid on Iranian nuclear facilities, in which a senior US official in the control room would have participated - but there is no confirmation to this effect.

Obama's agreement, cancelled by Trump

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed during the second term of US President Barack Obama, who was one of the main sponsors of an agreement with the ayatollahs with a view to peace and security in the Middle East.

 In addition to the United States and Iran, the JCCP includes China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union in the 5+1 format. Originally, the pact provided for the suspension of all nuclear sanctions previously imposed against Iran by the EU, the UN and Washington in exchange for limiting the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities; this was coupled with the ayatollahs' concession of constant monitoring and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at Iranian facilities.

However, on 8 May 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump Washington unilaterally withdrew from the agreement, before reviving the axis with Israel and then-Premier Benjamin Netanyahu after the cooling of relations under Obama.

In addition, the White House imposed new sanctions against Tehran (described as the harshest in history) that have, on the one hand, worsened the country's economic conditions, and, on the other, heightened tensions between Iran and the United States. Another consequence of the withdrawal was the resumption of nuclear experiments by Iran which, over the last three years, has progressively violated the terms of the nuclear pact.


The temporary agreement expired on 24 June and international diplomats are working on a new pact, even though Joe Biden has maintained most of the sanctions imposed by Trump and which are one of the main, if not the main obstacle to negotiations.

For months US, EU and Iranian emissaries have been holding talks in Vienna, which were interrupted by the presidential elections in the Islamic Republic last June with the victory of the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi who succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, architect of the JCPOA on the Iranian side with the then Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

On the eve of the new round of talks, the US has granted new sanctions waivers to Iran to allow for international nuclear cooperation projects that, as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken explained in a letter to Congress, serve to create the conditions for a return to the nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Iran.

The waivers had allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to do non-proliferation work to effectively make it more difficult for Iranian nuclear sites to develop military nuclear power. At the same time, they had allowed the Iranian economy to emerge from a situation of marginalisation and isolation.

Trump's cancellation of the agreement had aroused perplexity and criticism among large sections of US civil society and concern among the world's chancelleries, worried about an escalation of tension after years of (relative) stability.

This is the context in which the open letter from over a hundred former US ambassadors and high-ranking State Department officials addressed the White House and the US administration, stating that the JCPOA "represents a fundamental agreement to discourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons".

In November, a new appeal to the current President Biden was launched by representatives of 47 NGOs led by the National Iranian American Council (Niac). In their letter, experts and activists once again pointed out that the policy of 'maximum pressure' through 'sanctions' does not work, all the more so now that efforts are being made to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their impact, combined with the consequences of the measures to counter the virus, has a devastating impact on Iranian families and to continue to prolong them would be "unforgivable"; on the contrary, it is necessary today to reach an agreement that is deemed satisfactory by all parties. Because, in the event of failure, the hypothesis of a real 'nuclear crisis' on a global scale with 'disastrous' effects seems more than plausible.


JCPOA and the impact on oil

Finally, an agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue could also have a positive impact on oil prices, which have spiked upwards in recent months and exacerbated the crisis in the energy and transport sectors, which had already been hit by the Covid-19.

Today markets are seeing a slight decline in black gold after the highs of the last seven years, with Brent crude futures down 0.35% to .37 and WTI futures also down 0.24% to .10. Markets were looking favourably on the possibility of an agreement, which would result in the removal of sanctions on Iranian oil sales, thereby increasing global supplies.

According to some experts, in fact, the price run of the past few days would represent a further invitation to the parties involved to reach an agreement that would favour the introduction of crude oil on the markets thanks to the opening of the Iranian pipelines.