US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week refused to say that nuclear talks with Iran had begun – despite a popular uprising challenging the dictatorial regime and evidence that Tehran is supplying Russia with so-called “kamikaze” drones to attack civilian targets and infrastructure in Ukraine . .
“There is no forward movement,” Blinken said in an exclusive interview with the CBC News Network this week Power and politics. “The Iranians keep trying to inject irrelevant, unrelated issues into the conversation.”
“With respect, is it dead forever?” asked host Vassy Kapelos Blinken. “The regime that you would essentially personally legitimize by negotiating with is killing people who are opposing it. Is that a tenable position for your government?”
Blinken said that when the parties negotiated the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the agreement designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons – Tehran was “engaged in a variety of very reprehensible actions.”
“Support for terrorism, destabilizing activities in the Middle East, of course their own abuse of human rights,” Blinken said.
“What we said at the time when we were negotiating the deal was that Iran would take all these actions – a nuclear Iran is probably even worse because it will believe that it can act with even greater impunity when it comes to any activity that it is practiced in the region and elsewhere that we protest.”
Watch: The interview with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
The JCPOA, signed in 2015 by Iran, the United States and several other world players, was intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
In one of his signature foreign policy moves, US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, reinstating some of the sanctions that had been lifted at the time of the agreement.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden described Trump’s foreign policy in Iran as a “dangerous failure” and vowed to rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran returned to strict compliance with the deal’s terms.
Negotiations appeared to hit a snag in August when the US State Department said Iran was making “unacceptable demands”.
Time for Washington to say ‘these talks are dead’: activists
Lawyer and human rights activist Kaveh Shahrooz said the current position of the Biden administration is unacceptable, given the widespread protests in Iran and the fact that Tehran supplies weapons to Russia.
“The Iranian people have made it very clear that this administration does not represent them. It does not represent their interests. And I think it is very clear to any observer that the Iranian administration is not a party that can be trusted,” said Shahrooz. “It’s time for the Biden administration and Secretary Blinken to say these talks are dead.”
Shahrooz said the current context requires Iran to be “isolated more diplomatically” and engaging in further talks would signal that the regime in Tehran is a “legitimate and credible partner of the West”.
Blinken insisted this week that engaging in nuclear talks with Iran was not about legitimizing the regime, but rather about preventing a bad actor from getting nuclear weapons.
Shahrooz said this argument might have convinced some a month ago, but now “we are at a revolutionary moment”.
Instead, Shahrooz said, the Biden administration and the international community should make it costly for anyone to work with Tehran to “empower Iran’s revolutionaries themselves to overthrow this regime.”
A nuclear-armed Iran would be a disaster: former diplomat
Retired diplomat Dennis Horak served as Canada’s head of mission to Iran from 2009 until weeks before the Harper government cut diplomatic ties in 2012. He said it’s important to let the current political situation play out in Iran — but ultimately the nuclear talks. should continue.
“As imperfect as the deal was, it did put some controls on Iran’s nuclear program, and I think it’s important that those controls are restored at some point,” Horak said. “Iran is a difficult player in the region and a nuclear-armed Iran would be a disaster.”
But Horak warned against restarting negotiations as a popular uprising still grips Iran.
“I think the Iranian regime may see this as an opportunity to change course,” Horak said. “I think the West should not allow itself to be used in such public relations exercises.