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Iran Nuclear Deal Appears Within Reach as Negotiators Send “Final Text” to Tehran & Washington

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After months of failure to revive the Iran nuclear deal, European Union negotiators have drafted a “final” text for the U.S. and Iran to sign. An agreement seems more likely, due to Iran backing down on original demands for the U.S. to take the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps off its terrorist blacklist and for future U.S. presidents to not have the authority to pull out of the deal as the Trump administration did. This comes as tension grows between the two countries after an Iranian man was charged for an alleged assassination plot on multiple U.S. officials. “That doesn’t mean there needs to be a stop to diplomacy,” says Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

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StoryApr 08, 2022Trita Parsi: War Could Be on Horizon If Iran Nuclear Deal Is Not Restored Soon
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Over the past week, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has repeatedly warned of the growing risk of nuclear war. He spoke of the issue during a trip to Hiroshima, Japan, to mark the 77th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: We must keep the horrors of Hiroshima in view at all times, recognizing there is only one solution to the nuclear threat: not to have nuclear weapons at all.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. secretary-general’s comments came as tensions keep rising between three nuclear states: the United States, Russia and China.

But there has been some possible hopeful news on the nuclear front. It appears progress has been made to revive the Iran nuclear deal, which appeared all but dead a few months ago. On Monday, the foreign affairs chief of the European Union, Josep Borrell, announced a final text has been reached after 16 months of negotiations. Borrell tweeted, quote, “What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text. However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals.” He went on to write, “If these answers are positive, then we can sign this deal,” unquote. The future of the deal now rests with political leaders in Tehran and Washington.

The Iran nuclear deal was first signed in 2015, but President Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States in 2018. When President Biden took office, he ignored calls to rejoin the deal via executive order. Instead, he kept sanctions on Iran in place while the deal was renegotiated.

This all comes as tensions remain high between the United States and Iran. On Wednesday, the Justice Department charged a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with plotting to assassinate Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton as retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the top commander of the Revolutionary Guards.

We go right now to Trita Parsi, the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, who’s been following the Iran nuclear negotiations closely. He recently wrote an article for MSNBC headlined “Biden Already Has Two Foreign Crises on His Hands. It’s Not Too Late for Him to Avoid a Third.” Trita Parsi is also author of several books, including Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.

Trita, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can start off by explaining what this text is that has been sent out to Tehran and Washington?

TRITA PARSI: So, as you mentioned, negotiations have been taking place for 16 months. And now, finally, there seems to be an agreement on all of the key issues pertaining to the nuclear issue itself. We saw in the last couple of months that there were several Iranian demands that the U.S. refused to agree to, such as taking the IRGC, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, off of the U.S.'s terrorist list. This is a decision that Trump had made just a few years ago. It put the IRGC on the terrorist list specifically to make it as difficult as possible for a future administration to return to the JCPOA. The Iranians appear to have backed down from that demand. Moreover, the Iranians wanted to have assurances that the United States would stick to the deal this time around, that there wouldn't be another American exit from the deal once the Biden administration had left office. That, too, appears to have been something that the Iranians at least have softened their position on. This is going to open up for this potential breakthrough.

There is, however, one remaining issue that is not directly addressed in the text, cannot be directly addressed in the text, but is nevertheless very relevant, which is that the IAEA has now reopened an investigation into Iran’s nuclear past. That investigation was taking place before, as well, when the original JCPOA was negotiated, but then there was a parallel agreement with the IAEA [inaudible] answer the questions of the agency, and, in return, the IAEA decided that it was satisfactory to them, and as a result, the matter was closed. This was very critical to the Iranians, because they didn’t want to have a JCPOA and then, at the same time, having an investigation in their past that once again could bring onto Iran sanctions and a referral to the U.N. Security Council. This time around, however, the Iranians want the deal to be — the matter to be completely closed so that it cannot be reopened again. And that appears to be an impossibility. And it will be particularly difficult for the IAEA to give any type of assessment on this issue, unless the Iranians cooperate with the IAEA and answer their questions. This is, however, in my view, resolvable. It was resolved once before. It should be able to be resolved again. But it may take a few more weeks before a final agreement is made.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the JCPOA, which stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, involves how many countries?

TRITA PARSI: It originally involved the United States, China, Russia, France, the U.K., Germany and Iran, seven different countries. It was then adopted by the U.N. Security Council at a vote of 15 to zero. There were only three countries worldwide that actually expressed opposition to the agreement, and that was Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel. And at this point, it appears even the Saudis and the Emiratis have come around to the idea that it’s actually better to have the deal than not to have it.

And inside of the Israeli security establishment, even though the official line of the Israeli government still is to oppose the deal, we have had numerous Israeli — senior Israeli officials coming out and declaring that the Trump exit from the JCPOA, which came after massive pressure from the Netanyahu government, was a major mistake, and it actually jeopardized Israel’s security, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about how this happened right now. I mean, in the midst of Russia’s war on Ukraine, and NATO versus Russia, with the heightening tensions, as we pointed out, between the United States and China over Taiwan, how did this happen now?

TRITA PARSI: It’s quite fascinating, because if we take a look at it back in 2015, the relations between the United States and China, the United States and Russia were quite different as they are today. There was a Ukraine crisis in 2014, as well, but it actually did not impact the negotiations. They were kept very professional and compartmentalized.

This time around, there’s been a significant amount of nervousness, nervousness that the Russians would seek to sabotage a deal. They did throw a massive problem into the negotiations a couple of months ago. And one measure that has been made is to essentially negotiate this first with the Iranians and then, once there is some form of an agreement, put this in front of the Russians, in order to minimize the risks of them sabotaging it, and also making clear that if there is a problem, that it’s coming from Moscow, not from the other parties.

Still, there seems to be enough common interest between these countries that there should be some form of agreement on this matter. The Iranians themselves have been pressing these other countries, as well, not to sabotage it. But we — despite this progress that has been made in the last couple of days — and it has been a surprising degree of progress — we have to remind ourselves we still actually do not have a deal. It’s not finished yet.

AMY GOODMAN: So, do you see that being tied to what just happened yesterday, the Justice Department charging an Iranian citizen with plotting to murder President Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, federal prosecutors saying Wednesday that Shahram Poursafi offered to pay a hitman $300,000 last November to assassinate Bolton in Washington, D.C., or Maryland? The man allegedly tried to hire, in fact, an FBI informant. They say he’s a member of the Iran Revolutionary Guard who sought revenge for the Trump administration’s assassination of the top Iranian commander, Soleimani, in Baghdad in January 2020.

TRITA PARSI: So, we have to remind ourselves that, obviously, this is in no way, shape or form going to be helpful for the negotiations. But the United States government has known about this throughout this year, and we have still seen these negotiations. So, the fact that this has now been made public in this degree and an indictment has taken place, at the end of the day, is of no surprise to the U.S. government itself, that has been negotiating this. And I think this is because the Biden administration recognizes that at the end of the day, the JCPOA squarely lies in the national interest of the United States. Being able to prevent an Iranian path to a bomb, as well as war with Iran, is of significant importance. And as a result, it has been pursued, despite this very disturbing information.

On the allegations itself, I do have to say, earlier on, there were allegations by the Trump administration that the Iranians were sneaking to assassinate an American ambassador to South Africa in revenge for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. That was a rather unlikely scenario, not very credible accusation. It was reported in Politico and several other places, but it just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. These allegations, however, cannot be easily dismissed, because Bolton, at the end of the day, has played a key role in the animosity between the United States and Iran for the last 20 years. He’s been one of the most ferocious and vocal proponents of war with Iran. So the idea that the Iranians would be targeting him in response to the assassination of Soleimani is somewhat plausible. And the indictment itself does show indications that this gentleman was a member of the IRGC. It does not, however, say anything or provide any evidence as to whether we know with greater degree of certainty whether this actually was ordered by the Iranian government or whether it was a rogue operation. That seems to be somewhat unclear when you read the indictment itself.

AMY GOODMAN: So I wanted to go to the response of John Bolton to this news. He was speaking on CBS News.

JOHN BOLTON: The government of Iran is trying to kill Americans on American soil should be the end of any further discussion with Iran on the nuclear program.

AMY GOODMAN: And I should say that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also apparently targeted in this. A source close to Pompeo told Yahoo News Pompeo was the unnamed second target. Trita Parsi, if you can respond?

TRITA PARSI: Well, whatever happens, Bolton always comes down to the line that we should not negotiate and we should essentially go to war with Iran. I think the Biden administration is doing the right thing in continuing to pursue these negotiations, because while obviously any attempt by the Iranians need to be — to assassinate any American on U.S. soil needs to be stopped and punished, it does not mean that the United States is not in need of a nuclear agreement that will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and that will prevent a broader war with Iran. So these two things cannot be seen as in competition with each other. The U.S. interest in having this nuclear deal is there regardless of what happened with these attempts to kill Bolton or others. Those have to be stopped, but that doesn’t mean that there needs to be a stop to the diplomacy and a stop to efforts to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, what is the schedule of how the signing needs to take place in Tehran and Washington?

TRITA PARSI: Well, the Iranians have taken the proposal back to their capital. There seem to be greater divisions there than there is in Washington on this matter right now. The Iranians are very nervous, because they feel that they were the ones who were duped last time around. The deal only lasted two years before the U.S. pulled out. And if you remember the debate back then, all of the considerations and efforts and mechanisms that were put in place were there to make sure that the Iranians wouldn’t cheat, that they wouldn’t be pulling out of the agreement. There was nothing that was made in the eventuality of an American pullout. So the Iranians are very nervous.

And politically, this is difficult for them, because the Raisi government has insisted that it will be able to negotiate a better nuclear deal than that of the Rouhani government. If they don’t get some form of a path towards closing this investigation by the IAEA, then clearly the deal will not be stronger than the one that the Rouhani government put together. And this is a critical reason as to why there is this demand from the Iranian side and why, at the end of the day, it will be a very politically costly decision for them to go along with it if there isn’t some sort of a pathway towards closing it — not to close it permanently, because if new information comes out, the IAEA should have the right to restart the investigation. But to do exactly the same thing that happened in 2015 should be doable and should be acceptable to the Iranians.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, I want to thank you for being with us, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, author of a number of books, including Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.

Coming up, the Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott is sending busloads of asylum seekers to so-called liberal cities, like New York and Washington. We’ll speak with the head of the New York Immigration Coalition. Stay with us.

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