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Can the Iran Nuclear Deal Be Saved?

Negotiators are scrambling to forge a new path forward—but many challenges stand in their way.

By , an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi appears during a press conference.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi appears during a press conference in Tehran on June 21. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Western officials struggle to revive the Iran nuclear deal, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet, and Myanmar’s military junta sentences Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Nuclear Talks Stall Under Iranian Demands 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Western officials struggle to revive the Iran nuclear deal, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet, and Myanmar’s military junta sentences Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi.

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

Nuclear Talks Stall Under Iranian Demands 

After a week of tense negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officials were forced to suspend talks on Friday, raising key questions about whether the agreement can still be salvaged.

Negotiators clashed over critical issues in Vienna, including U.S. sanctions and the Raisi administration’s new hard-line stance. Western officials accuse Tehran of reneging on earlier concessions and proposing unacceptable alterations to the deal while simultaneously advancing its nuclear program. “Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “We will see if Iran has any interest in engaging seriously.”

With talks expected to resume later this week, officials are now scrambling to forge a new path forward—but many challenges stand in their way. 

Sticking points. For an agreement to be made, Tehran insists Washington must first lift all sanctions, including ones unrelated to its nuclear program. It also wants keep the investments it has made in nuclear projects—and have a guarantee that the United States will not abandon the agreement again. 

But European negotiators say these requirements are irreconcilable with the terms of the original deal. “Iran is breaking with almost all of the difficult compromises crafted in months of tough negotiations and is demanding substantial changes to the text,” diplomats from Britain, France, and Germany said in a joint statement.

Next steps? For now, officials are preparing for the worst. Washington is now bracing “for a world in which there is no return” to the deal, according to a senior State Department official. If a final agreement is not struck, U.S. officials are preparing to add sanctions or resort to other diplomatic tools, including isolating the regime. 

There is also another option: a partial nuclear deal. Western officials have weighed offering Tehran slight sanctions relief in exchange for scaling back of its nuclear projects, similar to a pact that was made in 2013. But Iranian negotiators have rejected such an idea, and Israel has warned that such a deal would only reward Tehran for its behavior and “nuclear blackmail.” 

As negotiations stall, frustration is mounting. “What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks,” Blinken said. “That will not happen.”

The World This Week 

Monday, Dec. 6: Indian President Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in New Delhi. 

Tuesday, Dec. 7: U.S. President Joe Biden and Putin hold a virtual meeting. 

Wednesday, Dec. 8: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits Russia. 

Thursday, Dec. 9: Biden hosts a virtual two-day Summit for Democracy.

Friday, Dec. 10: British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss hosts a meeting of her G-7 counterparts. 

Saturday, Dec. 11: The International Olympic Committee gathers for a summit ahead of the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing.

Sunday, Dec. 12: The French overseas territory of New Caledonia holds its third independence referendum.

What We’re Following Today

Myanmar’s junta punishes elected leaders. Myanmars military sentenced former politician Aung San Suu Kyi to a four-year prison term for alleged incitement and violations of lockdown restrictions. It is the first verdict against the countrys deposed leader since a February coup brought the military to power.

The incitement hinged on an online statement published after the coup, which requested that international groups not cooperate with the junta. A second case alleged that shed failed to observe COVID-19 restrictions while on the campaign trail. Former Burmese President Win Myint was also sentenced to four years on identical charges.

A lawyer for Aung San Suu Kyi described the cases as “absurd.”

Deepening Russia-India ties. Modi and Putin are set to meet in New Delhi today for an annual summit that is expected to deepen the two countries military relationship. On the agenda are agreements that officially extend their defensive cooperation and enable the production of 500,000 Russian rifles in India, among other deals.

As Putin and Modi strengthen their ties, the United States is now in a tough spot. Although Washington often employs sanctions against Russia’s defense industry, it doesn’t want to risk upsetting its Indian ally, whose support it needs to counterbalance Beijing. 

Gambia’s historic vote. On Saturday, Gambians headed to the polls to partake in the country’s first election since deposing Yahya Jammeh, the country’s former authoritarian leader who held power for more than two decades. The vote was a “litmus test for Gambia’s democratic transition,” FP’s Nosmot Gbadamosi wrote last week.

Current Gambian President Adama Barrow was the clear winner, according to preliminary results, securing his reelection with 53 percent of the vote while his closest rival won just 27.7 percent. But the election wasn’t without controversy: Opposition candidates rejected the results while citing an “inordinate delay” in the release of information as well as other polling issues. 

Keep an Eye On

Macron’s new challenger. As France gears up for its presidential election in April, French President Emmanuel Macron’s latest challenger is Valérie Pécresse, who was recently selected to be the conservative Les Républicains party’s first female presidential candidate. A former budget and higher education minister, Pécresse has described herself as “two-thirds Angela Merkel and one-third Margaret Thatcher.”

Nagaland erupts. Nagaland, a northeastern Indian state, erupted in protests and violence after security forces mistook coal miners for insurgents and opened fire, killing six civilians. After locals protested and set the security forces’ vehicles on fire—and one Indian soldier died in the clashes—the army opened fire once again, killing seven more people. 

“The incident and its aftermath is deeply regretted,” the army said in a statement afterward. “The cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level, and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law.”

Ethiopia’s school closures. As Ethiopia remains mired in civil war, the country’s authorities are turning to a new demographic to boost the state’s war effort: students. According to state-affiliated media, all of the country’s secondary schools will remain closed for one week so students can harvest crops to support those on the front line. 

Odds and Ends

The global supply chain crisis, which has impacted industries from manufacturing to technology, has a new victim: bagel shops. As cream cheese suppliers face major shortages, bagel shops across New York City are struggling to cope with dwindling supplies of the creamy spread. “I’ve never been out of cream cheese for 30 years,” said Joseph Yemma, owner of F&H Dairies, which distributes dairy products. “There’s no end in sight.”

Christina Lu is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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