The eighth round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna between Iran and the 4+1 group will reconvene soon after the negotiators returned to their country last week to inform their leaders of the progress achieved during the seventh round. The negotiations, sponsored by the European Union, aim to convince the United States to return to the agreement that former president Donald Trump withdrew from in May 2018, claiming that it was not strict enough, re-imposing tough sanctions on Iran.
All reports indicate that the next round will be decisive and will set perhaps the final points for signing a new agreement with regional and international guarantees that will give Iran the green light to resume its nuclear programme. But, it will be outside the military framework, at least for the first five years, to allay the fears of its Arab neighbours, as well as some regional powers that used to take decisive initiatives to curb any potential danger, as happened before in Iraq in the eighties of the last century and Syria in 2007. In any case, it seems that we will see soon white smoke coming from the Vienna meeting’s room.
The Vienna negotiations are taking place at a time when Iranian diplomatic delegations meet with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE separately, and the news from those meetings is mostly positive. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are aware that the United States and the Europeans, who gave Iran a severe blow in the previous agreement during the era of President Donald Trump, won’t care about her interest in the new deal. Therefore, since the previous year, they initiated negotiations with Iran that centered around some regulation of the dispute in the arenas that bring them together, especially the Yemeni arena. It seems that the path between the two countries is proceeding with positive results that may be translated into the return of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
As politics has taught us, there is no contradiction between holding these meetings and what is happening on the ground from Houthi attacks with marches or ballistic missiles on the Emirates and southern Saudi cities. In fact, in many cases, these attacks are used to push and resolve the crises and obstacles that may impede the ways to reach settlements to the issues in conflict, whether in Yemen, Syria, or even Iraq. Therefore, the repercussions of the positive atmosphere emanating from Vienna will also have positive repercussions on the battlefields in which the interests of the parties are intertwined on both sides of the Arab Gulf.
In terms of gain and loss, Tehran will seek in every way to speed up progress in the Vienna negotiations, especially as it realizes that the chances of winning the Democratic Party in the United States, the official sponsor of those negotiations, may become nil with the decline in Biden’s popularity. On the other hand, Russia, on which Iran relies on supporting its position and supplying it with nuclear technology, is also facing a difficult situation as it faces unprecedented sanctions from European countries and Washington because of the Ukraine crisis.
So, Iran may achieve gains in its nuclear file with limits in favor of supporting its position internally, as this will appear as a great achievement that has been achieved against the “Zionist arrogance” and a blow to the “Great Satan” who retreated promising Iran its rights, especially concerning the volume of frozen funds, which amount to approximately 150 One billion dollars, an amount that can revive the deteriorating Iranian economy. On the other hand, however, there will be a long road of harsh concessions that Tehran will have to go through, forcing it, first and foremost, to freeze its support for all its followers in the region, whether in Yemen or Syria, as well as Iraq.
The foregoing does not mean that we increase the dose of optimism in the occurrence of a quick calm to the areas of tension (Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq). This is because the parties supported by Tehran in those countries began a while ago, with the desire of Iran, in a process of disengagements, such as what is happening in Iraq specifically, as the attempt by the largest Shiite movement there, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, to play the Iraqi national card, and to stay away in many times from siding with political orientations to Iran, to confirm that he is an Iraqi first before he is a Shiite of creed and identity. The same thing is happening with the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, and the leaders of the Houthi militia in Yemen, but to a lesser degree, waiting for the new Vienna agreement to come to light.
Hatem Sadek: Professor at Helwan University