Iran’s Security Council rejects draft nuclear deal with U.S., spokesman says

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council has rejected a draft agreement negotiated indirectly with the U.S. over the past three months in Vienna, a government spokesman said Thursday. However, another spokesman later denied that there was any “agreement” to reject in the first place.

Why it matters: Either way, the statements seem to indicate that incoming president Ebrahim Raisi will seek to renegotiate the understandings reached in Vienna to seek a better deal for Iran. They also confirm that no deal on Iran’s nuclear program will be reached before Raisi, a hardliner, takes office next month.

Between the lines: The Supreme National Security Council makes Iran’s most sensitive foreign policy decisions, and the special committee overseeing the Vienna talks consists of hardliners and members of Raisi’s incoming government.

  • In order to both return to the 2015 deal, the U.S. must lift sanctions on Iran, which must in turn unwind its recent nuclear activities that violate the accord.

What they’re saying: Ali Rabiee, a spokesman for the outgoing government of President Hassan Rouhani said that the outgoing government finished negotiating a draft agreement for a mutual return to compliance, which he claimed included the lifting of most of the sanctions.

  • “However, the committee formed in the Supreme National Security Council decided the draft agreement is incompatible with the law passed by parliament in December about resuming Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
  • Rabiee added the final decision, made at the highest levels in Iran, was that the negotiations will be postponed until after Raisi’s government is formed and a new negotiating team is assembled.
  • But a spokesman for the Security Council, Keyvan Khosravi, said the council’s members had discussed “a number of important issues on which the Vienna talks have failed to reach an agreement due to the bullying of the U.S. and some European parties.”
  • “Saying that there was an agreement or disagreement about something which is not real isn’t relevant,” Khosravi added.

The other side: The Biden administration has been pushing for a deal before Raisi takes office. A U.S. official told Axios last month that if an agreement wasn’t reached before then, it would raise “serious questions” about whether one would be achievable at all.

  • The State Department has also denied that any final agreement was reached in Vienna and stressed that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

What’s next: If talks are indeed postponed until a new negotiating team is in place, it could take months before diplomacy is resumed.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Khosravi’s statement.

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