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Monday Morning Meeting on Iran Nuclear Talks: Key Issues and Regional Implications

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  • July 18, 2022
    Monday Morning Meeting
    Only by Invitation
    1000 hrs

    Dr. Deepika Saraswat, Associate Fellow, West Asia Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), spoke on “Iran Nuclear Talks: Key Issues and Regional Implications” at the Monday Morning Meeting held on 18 July 2022. The session was chaired by Dr. Rajiv Nayan, Senior Research Associate. Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA, and scholars of the Institute were in attendance.


    Nearly for over a year, the Iran nuclear talks aimed at reviving the JCPOA have been going on between Iran and P5+1 countries. There have been many agreements and disagreements between them and other states. Iran made an attempt to enrich the nuclear material (Uranium) above the enrichment level limited by the JCPOA, leading to complications with the IAEA. If nuclear material has fissile isotope more than 20%, it is considered as Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) and below 20%, is considered as Low Enriched Uranium (LEU). There have been many key issues that acted as stumbling blocks in the Iran Nuclear Talks and Iran has also made many demands which are discussed below.


    Dr. Rajiv Nayan, the moderator, during his opening remarks, started by briefing the audience about the Iran Nuclear talks - key issues and implications. He also talked about enrichment of uranium and how it can be considered as a threat by other countries. He mentioned that Iran export controls and enrichment technology control violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the working paper submitted in different preparatory committees of NPT Review Conferences.

    Dr. Deepika Saraswat started with introducing the structure of the presentation. She gave a background on the beginning of the Iran Nuclear talks since April last year in Vienna. She continued her introduction by mentioning what were Iran’s redlines, early disagreements, key issues, and regional implications.

    She mentioned that, even before President Biden was inaugurated, Iran’s Supreme Leader declared that Iran was seeking verifiable lifting of all sanctions. But contrary to expectations, Biden administration did not swiftly return to the JCPOA by an executive order. Before the negotiations began in April, Biden administration preferred to have an internal consensus and also consulted US regional allies. But because of the initial dithering by the US, Iran ended up entrenching its position on issue of guarantees and verification of sanction relief.  Iran refused to have direct negotiations with the US and the commissioner of the Joint Commission of the JCPOA, which is the EU representative, playing intermediary between the US and Iran. Three expert level working groups were set up for technical nuclear issue, for addressing sanctions and sequencing of steps.

    Dr. Deepika Saraswat shed some light on the Iran parliament redlines. Iran's early redlines are that it was not looking for waivers, where the President was going to waive sanctions every 120 days, 90 days, but it wanted a complete removal of all sanctions, including the ones enacted by Congress. On the sequencing of steps, Iran maintained that it will fulfil its nuclear commitments only after verifying the effectiveness of sanctions relief. Also the guarantee that the US will not pull out of the JCPOA or undermine it by imposing new sanctions, including non-nuclear related sanctions. There were also disagreements on nuclear commitments, which were problematised by Iran’s reduction of its JCPOA commitments in response to ‘maximum pressure’.

    Pointing to the many nuclear facilities in Iran on the map, Dr. Saraswat noted the most important one is the Natanz nuclear facility, which is actually a complex with underground and above ground facilities, including pilot fuel enrichment plant and the commercial enrichment facilities, which are underground. Secondly, the Fordo facility, part of the JCPOA, had been converted into a technologies centre, which began enriching again.

    Dr. Deepika Saraswat listed the time-line of engagement between Iran and the IAEA on safeguard issues. In May 2019, Iran began rolling back its JCPOA-related nuclear commitments in line with the bill passed by Iran’s parliament in December 2020 mandating Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation to do so. However, in February-2021, to preserve IAEA’s continuity of knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program, Iran agreed to a temporary technical understanding with the agency. In April 2021, Natanz fuel enrichment plant sabotage took place. Then following Karaj centrifuge parts manufacturing workshop sabotage in June 2021, Iran allowed the IAEA to replace cameras only after it was threatened with censure. But the May 2022 IAEA  report finds Iran has breached NPT safeguards by not fully cooperating with the IAEA, and subsequently IAEA Board of Governors passed a US-EU3 drafted censure resolution against Iran for ‘insufficient cooperation’ with IAEA investigation into undeclared nuclear materials and activities from the pre-2003 period. In June 2022, Iran responded by turning off the JCPOA-related monitoring cameras.

    Dr. Saraswat elaborated on how the E3 and the US have been driven by a sense of urgency, given that the Iranian nuclear program has been advancing. But Iran has shown no such urgency because they think that as their nuclear programme accelerates, it will only the gain leverage. She also noted that a key contentious issue was that in order to extend the breakout time, Iran will have to dismantle and store under seal its advanced centrifuges, also destroy the corresponding electronic infrastructure and assembly lines.

    Iran also continued to demand ‘guarantees’ for seeking a sustainable deal at least during the Biden administration. However, in March 2022, Iran showed flexibility in its demand of verification for lifting of sanctions as the US had agreed to lift two-third of 1,500 Trump era sanctions designations. Iran also demanded IRGC’s FTO designation. Initially, the Biden administration had agreed that if Iran controls its regional activities, then it will consider lifting this designation. Another issue that the speaker referred to is the IAEA investigation in Iran's undercoated nuclear sites that they were trying to cover up past nuclear activities for ‘possible military dimension’.

    The final section of Dr. Saraswat’s presentation was about regional implications of Iran nuclear talks. Iran nuclear talks have been paralleled by ‘security-focussed talks’ between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Qatar, Oman have played intermediaries in nuclear talks in the past and have helped break deadlocks between Iran and the US. Recent US-Iran talks in Doha failed over disagreements on the scope and guarantees on sanctions relief. Biden’s recent visit to Israel, Saudi Arabia also was about pressuring Iran into coming back to the JCPOA.


    Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, the Director General, started his comments by stating that US does not seem very serious at this stage about the JCPOA. He gave his view about the topic. Firstly, he opined that world has changed a lot since JCPOA has come into effect in January 2016. It is unrecognisable in terms of threat perceptions, in terms of ups and downs of US politics with the Trump Presidency and Biden Administration. Secondly, is it virtually impossible for the US to formulate a new policy towards Iran or towards the JCPOA without having formulated its fundamental policy towards the Middle East. Furthermore, he also stated that, in addition to the IAEA monitoring Iran, Israel, which is the sworn enemy of Iran, is keeping an eye on Iran operations.

    Deputy Director General, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.) raised the query if US allies are opting for normalisation and US is going for maximum pressure then why not take direct action. He also asked do we see a new axis between Iran, Russia and China. How this is going to impact the Indo-Iran relationship.

    Mr. Pradeep Gautam raised a query regarding the internal complications of the Iranian regime and the changes seen in the behaviour of the same due to the internal pressure.

    Dr. Adil Rashid asked a question regarding the Russia-Ukraine war - that with the Ukraine issue, America could be trying to have influence with Central Asia through being closer to Muslim brotherhood and can this be seen like a possible counter of US to Russia and China.

    Dr. Jatin Kumar asked whether Iran is looking for a nuclear bomb or not. He also commented that, Israel is continuously mounting cyber-attacks on Iran and that unlike nuclear facilities of Iraq and Syria, Iran’s facilities are fortified.

    The Report has been prepared by Mr. Aasi Ansari, Intern, Centre for Nuclear and Arms Control