September 21, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 6162

Expected September 28 NY Meeting Between P5+1 Foreign Ministers And Iran Could Signify Reopening Of Nuclear Negotiations To Address Khamenei's September 3 Threat That If Sanctions Are Not Lifted, But Merely Suspended, There Will Be No Agreement

September 21, 2015
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 6162

Recent reports indicate that the foreign ministers of the P5+1 are set to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in New York on September 28, 2015, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, to "examine the recent developments of the JCPOA."[1]

On September 20, 2015, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, at a joint press conference in Berlin with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that he would meet Zarif in New York to discuss "Iran and other matters."[2]

Additionally, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the head of Iran's Center for Strategic Research, said on September 19, 2015 that "the nuclear negotiations are not over yet."[3]

As will be recalled, Khamenei said, in a September 3, 2015 speech to the Assembly of Experts, that he did not accept the terms of the agreement and demanded that the sanctions be immediately lifted rather than merely suspended; otherwise, he said, there would either be no agreement, or Iran too would merely suspend its execution of its obligations under the JCPOA. He said: "We negotiated [with the Americans] in order to have the sanctions lifted, and the sanctions will be lifted. Now, if we are supposed to uphold this framework... this completely contradicts the reason for Iran's participation in the talks to begin with. Otherwise, what was the point of our participation in the talks? We would have continued to do what we were doing [prior to the talks]... The fact that we sat down and held talks and made concessions on certain issues was mainly in order to have the sanctions lifted. If the sanctions are not going to be lifted, there will be no agreement... [Our] officials [i.e. Rohani's government and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs] should make this clear...

"Freezing or suspension [of the sanctions] is unacceptable to me... If they suspend [the sanctions], we too will suspend [what is incumbent upon us]. If we are to implement what [is required of us], the sanctions must be [actually] cancelled. True, the other side says that some of the sanctions are not [up to them entirely] to be lifted. We say in response that [with regard to those sanctions] we will use our legal rights to freeze them. But regarding [the sanctions that are] in the hands of the American and European governments - those must be totally lifted."[4]

The apparent meaning of all the above is that the nuclear negotiations, which Iran considers unfinished, will be reopened, with the aim of achieving the complete lifting of sanctions - instead of a mere suspension of them as was agreed in the JCPOA and adopted in UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

It will also be recalled that following Khamenei's September 3 demands, on September 4 the White House responded; spokesman Josh Earnest said that Iran was charged with meeting its obligations under the JCPOA: "What we have indicated all along is that once an agreement was reached, as it was back in mid-July, that we would be focused on Iran's actions and not their words, and that we will be able to tell if Iran follows through on the commitments that they made in the context of these negotiations. And that is what will determine our path forward here.

"We've been crystal clear about the fact that Iran will have to take a variety of serious steps to significantly roll back their nuclear program before any sanctions relief is offered - and this is everything from reducing their nuclear uranium stockpile by 98 percent, disconnecting thousands of centrifuges, essentially gutting the core of their heavy-water reactor at Arak, giving the IAEA the information and access they need in order to complete their report about the potential military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program. And then we need to see Iran begin to comply with the inspections regime that the IAEA will put in place to verify their compliance with the agreement. 

"And only after those steps and several others have been effectively completed, will Iran begin to receive sanctions relief.  The good news is all of this is codified in the agreement that was reached between Iran and the rest of the international community. And that's what we will be focused on, is their compliance with the agreement."[5]

The expected meeting between the P5+1 foreign ministers and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif may be evidence of a shift in the White House position and also evidence that it intends to discuss the Iranian demand for further concessions from the superpowers.

It should be clarified that agreement on the part of the U.S. to lifting the sanctions would constitute a fundamental change to the JCPOA. This is because lifting the sanctions, rather than suspending them, will render impossible a snapback in case of Iranian violations, and the guarantee of a snapback is one of the central justifications for the JCPOA, according to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.


[1] Fars (Iran), September 21, 2015.

[2], September 20, 2015.

[3] Fars (Iran), September 19, 2015. It should be mentioned that Majlis member Hamid Rasaei said that the language of the agreement signed by Abbas Araghchi that was delivered to Majlis committees was "a partial document with many translating errors and omissions." He added that the government must present the agreement to the Majlis in the form of a draft law and that a Majlis committee is currently "examining a version that is neither a proposal nor a draft law." Tasnim (Iran), September 20, 2015.

[5], September 4, 2015.

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