US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has alleged that negotiators don’t yet know if Tehran is serious about making a deal in Vienna. The US negotiators are talking with Iran’s negotiators on the sidelines of the meetings of the remaining JCPOA signatories. But perhaps the opposite is true. In spite of severe provocation, Iran did not abandon the talks and has kept its baseline proposition – if the US wants to re-join the JCPOA it must credibly lift sanctions and Iran will scale back its nuclear enrichment to agreed levels. Maybe, by focusing heavily on Iran’s compliance without offering a clear commitment to lifting the sanctions, it is the US that is not serious about the talks.
Of course, from the start, opponents of the JCPOA agreement tried to derail the talks in Vienna which involved the US on the sidelines. Israel, Saudi Arabia and US neocons have all objected to the nuclear deal in the past. They have been active during the talks to prevent progress. The US has not reacted to this interference.
On its arrival in Vienna at the start of April, Iran’s delegation was confronted with a small picket of MEK supporters who heckled and threatened violence against them. The MEK demand is to end all negotiations with Iran, scrap the JCPOA and declare war instead. Although the MEK leadership has been expelled from the EU to Albania, it still receives tacit support from within the US embassy there. While the MEK remains a minor irritant to Iran due to its history of treachery and terrorism, US tolerance of what it regards as a terrorist cult signals a lack of sincerity on America’s behalf.
On a more serious level, Israel embarked on a course of action which could have provoked Iran into retaliation and withdrawal from the talks. However, despite an attack on Iran’s nuclear plant and its naval presence in the Persian Gulf and beyond, Iran did not abandon the talks as anticipated. The aim of Israel, as with the MEK, has been to drive a wedge between Iran and the US and EU so as to end the talks. This has not worked. The US continues talking with Iran.
However, the US has not condemned the Israeli nuclear attack, nor taken steps to curtail the unwanted activities of the MEK. In this context, it is not clear whether the Americans have had to come up with a different tactic. Rather than relying on external sources of disruption and hindrance to control the terms of talks with Iran, the US is now playing the blame game: Iran is not serious.
The US accusation looks hollow. Allowing the MEK to continue with its false narratives disseminated from the click farm in Albania can only be read by Iran as acting in bad faith. The US cannot control the Israeli reaction. But it can act to stop the MEK activity. A return to the de-radicalisation program instigated by the Obama administration in 2016 would be a good place to start.