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Iran Readies for a Return to the Negotiating Table

Monday’s talks are the first under new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, and expectations for a breakthrough are already low.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Rafael Grossi addresses the media.
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, addresses the media after his arrival at Vienna International Airport in Vienna on Sept. 12. Alex Halada/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran holds talks with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, the United States and other major oil consumers tap into petroleum reserves in a coordinated move, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed pledges to join “the battlefront.”

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Iran Hosts IAEA Chief Ahead of Nuclear Talks

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran holds talks with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, the United States and other major oil consumers tap into petroleum reserves in a coordinated move, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed pledges to join “the battlefront.”

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


Iran Hosts IAEA Chief Ahead of Nuclear Talks

The head of the international nuclear watchdog arrives in Tehran today for talks with senior Iranian officials ahead of fresh negotiations in Vienna next Monday aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is pushing for answers from Iranian officials on monitoring equipment as well as other irregularities IAEA inspectors have noted. One thing that’s already clear is Iran’s increased uranium enrichment activities, which go far beyond the 3.67 percent threshold for enrichment set by the 2015 deal.

Irans stockpiles of uranium enriched to the 60 percent level have increased from roughly 15 pounds during the summer to around 55 pounds today. (Nuclear weapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of 90 percent or higher.)

As talks in Vienna resume next Monday, U.S. officials appear downbeat over the prospects of a deal coming together quickly. A New York Times report published on Sunday suggested the White House is instead exploring an interim deal meant to pause Iran’s enrichment in exchange for some sanctions relief. The compromise is in part fueled by the realization that sabotage efforts conducted by Israel in recent months have not significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program.

With a new negotiating team in place following the election of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president in July, a harder line is expected. Although, as Sajjad Safaei pointed out in a recent Foreign Policy piece, confusing statements from Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani ahead of the talks suggest a consistent approach is unlikely.

There are still good reasons for Iran to return to the negotiating table, Henry Rome, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group, told Foreign Policy.

“The most important reason is they need to keep Russia and China on side here, and the Russians and Chinese want the deal back in place. They want Iran to engage,” Rome said. “I think Iran is very keen to ensure that however this shakes out, they can at least make a plausible claim that they werent the cause for a breakdown of the negotiations.”

As Monday approaches, Rome is still skeptical of an immediate breakthrough: “I very much doubt anythings going to happen productively in this first round. But if there is some flexibility around the table, you could see movement quite quickly.”

“The benefit of going back to the agreement as it was, with some modifications to account for time thats elapsed, is that basically the deals already written,” Rome added. “The way I see it, there is a deal on the table. There’s stuff that needs to be fixed up, but none of it is impossible.”


What We’re Following Today

Oil standoff. The United States will tap into its strategic fuel reserves in an effort to tame rising energy prices, with an official White House announcement expected today. The move is part of a joint initiative alongside China, India, Japan, and South Korea, which will also release oil reserves. The decision puts the United States on a collision course with OPEC+, which may decide against increasing production in its December meeting in a bid to maintain prices.

Putin hosts Abbas. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today in Sochi, Russia. The two are expected to discuss “bilateral cooperation and the situation in the Middle East region, taking into account the efforts made by Russia for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement,” according to a Kremlin statement. Abbas’s visit comes shortly after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted Palestinian politician Mohammed Dahlan, considered a fierce rival of Abbas.


Keep an Eye On

Abiy on “the battlefront.” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has promised to lead federal forces “from the battlefront” beginning today in an apparent escalation of the country’s internal conflict with Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces. In response, a TPLF spokesperson said the group would not “relent on their inexorable advance towards bringing [Abiy’s] chokehold on our people to an end.”

Brexit talks. British Trade Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan ruled out a unilateral suspension of the Northern Ireland Protocol “before Christmas” in an interview with the Telegraph, suggesting U.K. and EU negotiators have breathing room over the next few weeks to reach an agreement on the most contentious measure in the Brexit deal. British Brexit Minister David Frost suggested last week that a new deal could be struck with EU officials before the end of the year.


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Odds and Ends

Today, NASA will launch a mission to understand how best to save the world from suffering a catastrophic asteroid impact. The U.S. space agency will launch the spacecraft DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), with the aim of crashing it into the asteroid Dimorphos, 6.7 million miles from Earth, and knocking it slightly off course. 

NASA’s spacecraft is a far cry from the nuclear space weapons seen in disaster movies, but the agency hopes a nudge from its impact should be enough,” said Kelly Fast, a program scientist from NASAs planetary defense coordination office. “DART will only be changing the period of the orbit of Dimorphos by a tiny amount. And really thats all thats needed in the event that an asteroid is discovered well ahead of time.”

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

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