August 30, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1599

Under President Raisi, Iran Is Hardening Its Positions In Nuclear Negotiations With The U.S. And West

August 30, 2021 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1599


As the West demands an immediate Iranian return to the nuclear talks in Vienna, with the aim of bringing Iran back into compliance with the restrictions on uranium enrichment set out in the JCPOA nuclear deal, it is increasingly thought that while Iran under President Ebrahim Raisi will resume negotiations, it will also be hardening its positions. These positions now include a demand for the implementation of the passed by the Iranian Majlis in December 2020 to lift all U.S. sanctions. 

According to August 2021 reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran is continuing to enrich uranium to 60% using advanced-generation centrifuges (IR-4 and IR-6). This constitutes a double violation of the JCPOA, which restricts Iranian enrichment to 3.67%, and to using early-generation centrifuges. In the reports, the IAEA noted that 60% enrichment brings Iran closer to the 90% enrichment needed for nuclear weapons, and that Iran has made advances in producing the uranium metal used in nuclear weapons manufacture; so far it has produced 200 grams of it. 

If indeed the Iranian regime returns to the negotiating table, it will likely demand the lifting of all U.S. sanctions on Iran, as stipulated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – not just those imposed by the Trump administration, but also those imposed by Congress for Iran's support for terrorism and human rights violations – effectively rendering the JCPOA null and void. Thus, the Iranian regime is presenting the West with a new reality, in which the JCPOA framework will be retained but without any implementation whatsoever of its restrictions.

Left, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei; right, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (Source:, June 24, 2021)

The West may have been under the impression that President Raisi, a senior figure of Iran's ideological camp, and his extremist-conservative government oppose the JCPOA and want it revoked. But it is now abundantly clear that the entire Iranian regime, particularly the ideological camp, wants to keep the agreement in place and also to have Iran's international status upgraded to that of a nuclear threshold state. It should be noted that the agreement is irrevocable because it is anchored in a UN Security Council resolution.[1]  

It should be emphasized that Iranian steps in the nuclear negotiations have already yielded substantial achievements for them over the U.S. and the West:

  • They are violating the JCPOA as leverage to pressure the U.S. to lift all the sanctions on them, so as to ease Iran's economic crisis and Western investment in Iran, which cannot happen as long as the U.S. Congressional sanctions for terrorism and human rights violations remain in place.

  • At the same time, they are accelerating their nuclear program on the ground, without technical restrictions or IAEA oversight, and violating all aspects of the agreement with impunity.

The Iranians have realized that the Biden administration sees diplomacy as its main, or only, means of influence in the nuclear issue with Iran. Thus, the Islamic regime of Iran is racking up significant accomplishments on the long path to its final goal of achieving international recognition of Iran as a nuclear threshold state. If it cannot get the sanctions lifted, it will at least conduct unrestricted, unsupervised nuclear activity.

This report examines President Raisi's strategy on the nuclear issue, the Majlis's "Strategic Action Plan To Lift Sanctions and Protect Iranian Nation's Interests" law[2] on which his strategy is based, and a video posted on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's website on August 1, 2021 reviewing his statements and criticisms regarding Iran-U.S. nuclear negotiations from April 2012 to the present.

Nour News: The "Strategic Action Plan To Lift Sanctions And Protect Iranian Nation's Interests" Will Be The Main Element In Setting New Agenda For Nuclear Talks

An August 10, 2021 op-ed on the Nour News website, which is affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), explained the policy that the Raisi government should adopt in the Vienna talks. The West, it said, is to blame for the failure of the talks because it refused to meet its JCPOA obligations and also refused to accept Iran's position throughout the six previous rounds of talks. It added that because of this failure there must be "an overall [re]examination [in order to] set a new agenda for the resumption of the talks."

As far as Iran is concerned, it stated, the Strategic Action Plan To Lift Sanctions and Protect Iranian Nation's Interests, passed by the Iranian Majlis in December 2020, will be "the main element in setting this new agenda for the Vienna talks."

It concluded that Iran's Supreme National Security Council will continue to formulate Iran's nuclear policy: "Although the changeover in government has a limited impact on how the goals of Iran's foreign policy will be implemented, and taking into account that the Supreme National Security Council, as a governing body, sets the country's foreign policy strategies, monitoring the nuclear issue and setting new strategies in the Vienna talks will no doubt be part of the clear policy that Iran announced and that will be overseen by the council."[3]

The Basis For The Talks Is The Majlis's "Strategic Action Plan To Lift Sanctions"

In recent months, Iran has been implementing the December 2020 Strategic Action Plan to Lift Sanctions, the law passed by the Majlis under which the Iranian regime is working to get the U.S. sanctions on Iran lifted. Also under this law, uranium enrichment, currently 60%, is being increased as quickly as possible, using advanced centrifuge systems. All this is in blatant violation of the JCPOA.

Additionally, under the Strategic Action Plan to Lift Sanctions, uranium metal – whose main use, according to European officials, is in nuclear weapons – is being produced by Iran. Iran is further pressuring the West using another section of this law – rejecting IAEA inspection of Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran is thus presenting the West with the fait accompli of its ongoing nuclear activity.

The Strategic Action Plan to Lift Sanctions states:

  • "In order to comply with the nine conditions set out by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei regarding the nuclear agreement,[4] Iran's Atomic Energy Organization is required to do the following:

  • "Produce uranium enriched to 20% for peaceful purposes and stockpile at least 120 kg of it annually on Iranian soil...

  • "In order to meet the capacity of 190,000 centrifuge SWU [Separative Work Units, referring to first-generation centrifuges],[5]the organization is required to increase its uranium enrichment and production capacity to the enrichment level required by each of the peaceful purposes, [so as to increase production] by at least 500 kg per month, and to store enriched material inside the country. 

  • "The Atomic Energy Organization must commence installation, gas injection, enrichmentl and storage of material enriched to the required level using at least 1,000 advanced second-generation IR-2M centrifuges within no more than three months from the ratification of this law [in December 2020]. Within this period, the organization must begin enrichment, and research and development [using] at least one [cascade of] 164 sixth-generation centrifuges (IR-6), increasing their number to 1,000 within one year...

  • "The Atomic Energy Organization is required to begin operating the uranium metal manufacturing plant in Esfahan within five months...

  • "The Iranian government is obligated to suspend the [IAEA] inspection [of its nuclear facilities], including the suspension of its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol, within two months of the law coming into force, if: a) the 4+1 countries that signed the [nuclear] agreement (Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia) do not fulfill their obligations; b) banking relations [with Iran] are not reinstated; c) the [obstacles] preventing the export and sale of [Iranian] oil are not fully removed and [Iranian] oil [revenues] are not returned [to Iran]...[6] 

Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Member Zohreh Elahian: "Raisi Agrees To Return To The Agreement… Negotiations Will Follow A New Model"

On August 19, 2021, Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Zohreh Elahian discussed President Raisi's position on the nuclear talks. Raisi's position is also held by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, and Amirabdollahian presented this position to the committee.

Ms. Eliahan said: "The future of the nuclear agreement is an issue that must be decided by senior regime officials. The president, of course, thinks that negotiations should not drag on, and Amirabdollahian's view of negotiations is the same as the Leader's [Khamenei's] and the president's – and this is a positive and constructive perception. Naturally, Amirabdollahian stressed that there is a need to find a new model for negotiating – that is, negotiations must not drag on and must yield results.   

"Unfortunately, under the Rohani government negotiations continued with no results. We will certainly not see this under the new government. There will be a new model for negotiating."[7]

Zohreh Elahian (Source: Mehr, Iran)

Iranian Political Analyst Emad Abshenas: Raisi Will Negotiate With The Biden Administration, But Only To Get The Sanctions Lifted

Iranian political analyst Emad Abshenas, the editor-in-chief of, said that unlike the Rouhani negotiating team, Raisi's government will not seek to reach a fundamental resolution of all disagreements with the U.S., but only to have the sanctions lifted. He was speaking on Sky News Arabiya (UAE) in an interview that aired on July 24, 2021. He added that Iran's first priority will be resolving disagreements with the neighboring countries and rapprochement with "the countries of the East" such as Russia and China, not with Europe and the U.S.

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Video On Khamenei's Website Reviews His Misgivings Regarding The Nuclear Talks With The U.S. From 2012 To The Present

On August 1, 2021, Supreme Leader Khamenei posted a video compilation on his website reviewing his statements on various official occasions expressing misgivings regarding negotiations with the U.S., from April 2012 to his last meeting with President Rouhani's government on July 28, 2021.

In the video segments, Khamenei says that the Americans cannot be trusted because they are liars who break their promises, and that the Iranians should not be deceived by the Americans' smiles and should not trust them "because once they get what they want, they will make a mockery out of you." He said that they sweet-talk you but what they really want "is to conspire, sabotage, and prevent progress." In his July 28 statements, he said that President Rouhani's term had proven that there is no relying on the U.S

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

* A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Studies Project.


[1] On the Iranian nuclear program as a national enterprise and on the regime's bid to upgrade Iran's status and be recognized as a nuclear threshold state, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1556, Iran Uses 'Maximum Pressure' On Biden Administration To Have Sanctions Lifted And Be Recognized As Nuclear Threshold State – And Based On This, To Attain Nuclear Balance Of Terror, published February 5, 2021.

[2], February 2, 2021.

[3] Nour News (Iran), August 10, 2021.

[5] SWU is the standard measure of the effort required to separate isotopes of uranium (U235 and U238) during an enrichment process in nuclear facilities. See also MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1196, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei's Letter Of Guidelines To President Rohani On JCPOA Sets Nine Conditions Nullifying Original Agreement Announced July 14, 2015, October 22, 2015.

[6], August 12, 2021.

[7] Mehr (Iran), August 19, 2021.

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