President Biden and Iran’s leaders say they share a common goal: They both want to re-enter the nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump scrapped three years ago, restoring the bargain that Iran would keep sharp limits on its production of nuclear fuel in return for a lifting of sanctions that have choked its economy.
According to Newyork times, but after five weeks of shadow boxing in Vienna hotel rooms — where the two sides pass notes through European intermediaries — it has become clear that the old deal, strictly defined, does not work for either of them anymore, at least in the long run.
The Iranians are demanding that they be allowed to keep the advanced nuclear-fuel production equipment they installed after Mr. Trump abandoned the pact, and integration with the world financial system beyond what they achieved under the 2015 agreement.
The Biden administration, for its part, says that restoring the old deal is just a steppingstone. It must be followed immediately by an agreement on limiting missiles and support of terrorism — and making it impossible for Iran to produce enough fuel for a bomb for decades. The Iranians say no way.
Now, as negotiators engage again in Vienna, where a new round of talks began on Friday, the Biden administration finds itself at a crucial decision point. Restoring the 2015 accord, with all its flaws, seems doable, interviews with European, Iranian and American officials suggest. But getting what Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has called a “longer and stronger” accord — one that stops Iran from amassing nuclear material for generations, halts its missile tests and ends support of terrorist groups — looks as far away as ever.
That is potentially a major political vulnerability for Mr. Biden, who knows he cannot simply replicate what the Obama administration negotiated six years ago, after marathon sessions in Vienna and elsewhere, while offering vague promises that something far bigger and better might follow.
Iran and the United States “are really negotiating different deals,” said Vali R. Nasr, a former American official who is now at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “It’s why the talks are so slow.”
The Americans see the restoration of the old deal as a first step to something far bigger. And they are encouraged by Iran’s desire to relax a series of financial restrictions that go beyond that deal — mostly involving conducting transactions with Western banks — because it would create what one senior administration official called a “ripe circumstance for a negotiation on a follow-on agreement.”
The Iranians refuse to even discuss a larger agreement. And American officials say it is not yet clear that Iran really wants to restore the old deal, which is derided by powerful hard-liners at home.
With Iran’s presidential elections six weeks away, the relatively moderate, lame-duck team of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are spinning that an agreement is just around the corner. “Almost all the main sanctions have been removed,” Mr. Rouhani told Iranians on Saturday, apparently referring to the American outline of what is possible if Tehran restores the sharp limits on nuclear production. “Negotiations are underway for some details.”
Not so fast, Mr. Blinken has responded. He and European diplomats underscore that Iran has yet to make an equally detailed description of what nuclear limits would be restored.
But even if it does, how Mr. Biden persuades what will almost surely be a new hard-line Iranian government to commit to further talks to lengthen and strengthen the deal is a question American officials have a hard time answering. But Mr. Biden’s aides say their strategy is premised on the thought that restoring the old deal will create greater international unity, especially with Europeans who objected strenuously to Mr. Trump’s decision to exit a deal that was working. And even the old deal, one senior official said, “put a serious lid on Iran’s nuclear program.”
Hovering outside the talks are the Israelis, who continue a campaign of sabotage and assassination to cripple the Iranian program — and perhaps the negotiations themselves. So it was notable that the director of the Mossad, who has led those operations, was recently ushered into the White House for a meeting with the president. After an explosion at the Natanz nuclear plant last month, Mr. Biden told aides that the timing — just as the United States was beginning to make progress on restoring the accord — was suspicious.