USA

Biden could ease pressure on Iran to rescue defunct nuclear deal

Leaked details of negotiations with Iran suggest that the Biden administration is prepared to make significant concessions to revive the defunct nuclear deal — even as shocking Iranian-inspired murder plots including an attack on Salman Rushdie unfold on US soil.

This week, following days of indirect talks between the US and Iran in Vienna, EU officials put forward a ‘final’ proposal to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump pulled out of unilaterally four years ago.

Excerpts of a leaked draft of the text suggest that it would blunt American sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and clear a path for Tehran to avoid further scrutiny of its suspected atomic sites, Politico reported on Friday evening.

Though it is technically an EU proposal, European officials have worked closely with the US delegation in the negotiations, and are believed to have sign-off from Washington on the proposed terms.

The proposal seemed to signal President Joe Biden’s willingness to make significant concessions — in particular in regard to the Revolutionary Guard, which the US designates as a foreign terrorist organization.  

Leaked details of negotiations with Iran suggest that the Biden administration could be prepared to make significant concessions to revive the defunct nuclear deal

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is seen above. Iran has already signaled a positive response to the EU proposal put forward this week, which would ease sanctions related to the Revolutionary Guard

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is seen above. Iran has already signaled a positive response to the EU proposal put forward this week, which would ease sanctions related to the Revolutionary Guard

Biden's Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley tweeted furious denials that the US would change its standards for enforcing sanctions

Biden’s Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley tweeted furious denials that the US would change its standards for enforcing sanctions

Iran has already responded to favorably to the deal, but it comes amid disturbing disturbing murder plots that appear to be inspired by Tehran.

On Friday author Salman Rushdie was stabbed in New York by an apparent Iranian sympathizer, and a Revolutionary Guard member was charged this week with plotting to assassinate former US officials.

Biden took office two years ago vowing to revive the defunct nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which put restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for easing sanctions.

Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and promised to negotiate a stronger agreement, but left office without meeting that goal.

Following Politico’s report on the terms of the new EU proposal, Biden’s Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley tweeted furious denials that the US would change its standards for enforcing sanctions. 

‘To be clear: We have not engaged in any negotiation about changing due diligence, know-your-customer, or other U.S. sanctions compliance standards for sanctions that would remain under a mutual return to full JCPOA implementation,’ he wrote.

‘Any report to the contrary is flat out wrong,’ Malley added.

Author Salman Rushdie is taken on a stretcher to a helicopter for transport to a hospital after he was attacked during a lecture in upstate New York

Author Salman Rushdie is taken on a stretcher to a helicopter for transport to a hospital after he was attacked during a lecture in upstate New York

Iranian deputy foreign minister Reza Najafi, left, and Iranian AEOI spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi, right, leave JCPOA negotiations on August 5

Iranian deputy foreign minister Reza Najafi, left, and Iranian AEOI spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi, right, leave JCPOA negotiations on August 5

The sun sets behind the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria where closed-door negotiations have been underway for months to revive the JCPOA

The sun sets behind the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria where closed-door negotiations have been underway for months to revive the JCPOA

However, Politico reported that the EU proposal would allow Europeans and other non-Americans to conduct business with Iranian entities engaged in ‘transactions’ with the Revolutionary Guard without fear of triggering US sanctions.

Currently, deals of that nature would trigger US sanctions, a measure intended to punish and isolate the Revolutionary Guard. 

The EU proposal reads: ‘Non-U.S. persons doing business with Iranian persons that are not on the [U.S. sanctions list] will not be exposed to sanctions merely as a result of those Iranian persons engaging in separate transactions involving Iranian persons on the [U.S. sanctions list] (including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its officials, or its subsidiaries or affiliates).’

A senior Iranian diplomat has already said that the EU deal ‘can be acceptable if it provides assurances’ on Tehran’s key demands, the state news agency IRNA said on Friday.

Iranian official Shahram Poursafi is accused of masterminding plots to assassinate John Bolton and Mike Pompeo

Iranian official Shahram Poursafi is accused of masterminding plots to assassinate John Bolton and Mike Pompeo

IRNA quoted the unidentified Iranian diplomat as saying Tehran was reviewing the proposal. ‘Proposals by the EU can be acceptable if they provide Iran with assurance on the issues of safeguards, sanctions and guarantees,’ the diplomat said.

The Islamic Republic has sought to obtain guarantees that no future US president would renege on the deal if it were revived, as Trump did in 2018.

However, Biden cannot provide such ironclad assurances because the deal is a political understanding rather than a legally binding treaty.

A top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, in a sermon at Friday prayers that typically echo the state line, said Tehran insisted on obtaining verifiable guarantees that US sanctions would be lifted under a revived deal, according to Iranian state TV.

‘We insist on getting the necessary guarantees, the lifting of sanctions and verification, and if this is achieved, then our negotiating team will tell the people that sanctions have been lifted thanks to your resistance and power,’ Kazem Seddiqi said at Friday prayers in the capital Tehran, according to state TV.

Washington has said it is ready to quickly reach an agreement to restore the deal on the basis of the EU proposals.

Iranian officials said they would convey their ‘additional views and considerations’ to the EU, which coordinates the talks, after consultations in Tehran.

Prosecutors say that Shahram Poursafi offering unidentified 'criminal elements' inside the United States $300,000 to carry out the contract murder of Bolton

Prosecutors say that Shahram Poursafi offering unidentified ‘criminal elements’ inside the United States $300,000 to carry out the contract murder of Bolton

Shahram Poursafi allegedly sent the purported hitman these images of money

Shahram Poursafi allegedly sent the purported hitman these images of money

A senior EU official said no more changes could be made to the text, which has been under negotiation for 15 months. He said he expected a final decision from the parties within a ‘very, very few weeks.’ 

The pact, originally forged in 2015, seemed near revival in March. Under the 2015 agreement, Iran curbed its disputed uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear weapons, in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.

But 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and the Biden administration in Vienna were thrown into disarray chiefly over Iran’s insistence that Washington remove its elite Revolutionary Guards Corps from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

On Wednesday the United States charged a Revolutionary Guards member with plotting to murder John Bolton, a national security adviser to Trump, though Washington said it did not believe the charges should affect the nuclear talks with Tehran.

Prosecutors say that Shahram Poursafi offering unidentified ‘criminal elements’ inside the United States $300,000 to carry out the contract murder.

The alleged plan was likely set in retaliation for the US killing of top Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020, the department said.

The DOJ said that Poursafi was also prepared to pay $1 million for a second ‘job,’ but did not identify the other target in the plot.

Trump-era Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the second target, according to Morgan Ortagus, who served as State Department spokesperson during his tenure. 

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