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Western Powers Wary of Iran’s Nuclear Commitment

Iran’s president said he’s open to “goal-oriented negotiations,” but the West fears stalling tactics.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken address a joint press conference following talks at the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin on June 23. John MacDougall/Pool/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls for Iran to return to the negotiating table, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko in Moscow, and liberal parties dominate Morocco’s election results. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls for Iran to return to the negotiating table, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko in Moscow, and liberal parties dominate Morocco’s election results. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Blinken Says Time for Iran Deal Is Running Out

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Iran to resume negotiations with world powers over a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, warning the new government in Tehran that U.S. patience was already wearing thin.

Last week, Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, said another round of talks in Vienna would not come quickly and “the other party understands that it takes two to three months for the new administration to establish and do planning for any sort of decision.”

That time frame was scoffed at by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who described it as “much too long.”

Speaking alongside Maas during a visit to Germany on Wednesday, Blinken said the United States has been “very clear that the ability to rejoin the [deal], return to mutual compliance, is not indefinite.”

In fact, the two-to-three-month gap suggested by Amirabdollahian fits the timeline established by the Biden administration, which officially began indirect talks with Iran in April—roughly three months after taking office. However, comments from Maas and Blinken reflect growing anxieties that Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, is not interested in following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, and accepting restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief and greater economic freedoms.

On Saturday, Raisi said his government was indeed open to “goal-oriented negotiations” but not in the face of Western “pressure.”

Watchdog worries. Western concerns have been heightened recently after two International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports criticized Iran for a lack of transparency and obstructing the work of its inspectors. The nuclear watchdog also pointed to Iran’s latest enrichment activity, in which it had enriched 10 kilograms of uranium to the 60 percent level—well below the threshold necessary for a nuclear bomb but far in excess of the 3.67 percent level allowed under the 2015 deal.

The two reports have prompted calls for Iran to receive an official censure from the IAEA Board of Governors, the second time this year such a move has been considered. Raisi has warned against any rebuke, telling European Council President Charles Michel that any “unconstructive” moves by the IAEA would also disrupt the Vienna negotiating process.

Keeping Iran happy may be in everyone’s interest for the time being, as a Sept. 21 IAEA conference in Vienna could serve as an unofficial seventh round of talks.

Israel accelerates. While Iran and the United States spar diplomatically, Israel is considering a more aggressive posture. On Monday, Israeli Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi said its military plans to move against Iran’s nuclear program had “greatly accelerated.”


What We’re Following Today

Putin hosts Lukashenko. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko in Moscow today on the eve of military exercises between the two countries. Lukashenko is likely to arrive into the Russian capital hat in hand as economic sanctions imposed by Western nations over repeated human rights violations leave Belarus seeking more aid.

Earlier this month, Lukashenko claimed Russia was on the verge of delivering a large assortment of military equipment, suggesting the S-400 air defense system could be part of the deal. Lukashenko’s visit adds to a busy day of diplomacy in Moscow, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosts his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid.

Biden on COVID-19 strategy. U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to deliver a major public address today, providing an update on the White House’s pandemic response strategy. The speech comes amid stagnant vaccination rates and a national death rate now averaging roughly 1,400 deaths per day—twice as high as the same point last year, a time when vaccines were not yet available. Biden faces a tough challenge persuading the remaining 30 percent of U.S. adults to get vaccinated as barriers of political ideology, age, and class all factor into vaccine hesitancy.

Morocco’s election. Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (PJD), the majority power in the country’s coalition government, appears to have lost badly in Wednesday’s parliamentary elections, according to preliminary results that show gains for liberal parties. Early results show the Islamist PJD won only 12 seats in parliament this time around, a 113-seat reduction from its performance in 2016 elections. The liberal National Rally of Independents party more than doubled its 2016 results and won roughly a quarter of the seats available in Morocco’s 395-seat parliament while another liberal party took 82 seats.


Keep an Eye On

China’s Afghan aid. China committed $31 million in aid to Afghanistan on Wednesday as it makes its first moves in a budding relationship with the new Taliban government. The commitment of food supplies and aid come before an international donor conference next week, when the United Nations hopes to raise $600 million for immediate relief efforts. Beijing’s move highlights the challenge Washington faces in trying to coordinate an international response to the Taliban takeover, a subject Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer reported on in-depth on Sept. 2.

Guinea suspended from ECOWAS. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Guinea from the organization on Wednesday following a military coup that deposed President Alpha Condé. ECOWAS has urged “a rapid return to normal constitutional order,” as it sends a mediation team to the capital, Conakry, today. Coup leader Lt. Col. Mamady Doumbouya has pledged to form a transitional government, although he has not said when it would happen.


Odds and Ends

Residents of a Sydney apartment block placed under lockdown as part of state-level coronavirus measures in the Australian state of New South Wales have complained of overzealous restrictions after it emerged that health authorities were rationing the amount of alcohol residents were allowed receive on a daily basis.

Under state rules, residents are limited to a choice between six beers, one bottle of wine, or a small bottle of liquor as part of their daily consumption, with one resident complaining authorities were searching through care packages sent to the building and confiscating bottles to ensure compliance. The legality of the move has been called into question as current public health orders do not include limits on alcohol consumption.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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