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Iran Could Join Talks If U.S. Signals Flexibility, Say Analysts

IRAN -- Iranian President Hassan Rohani attends an inauguration ceremony of Marjan, Damavand and Pardis petrochemical complexes in the city of Assalouyeh, September 4, 2018

Western news agencies have been expressing doubts over the effectiveness of the second round of U.S. sanctions against Iran three days before they go into effect on November 5.

"As U.S. President Donald Trump resumes sanctions on Iran, the success of his push to curb its nuclear, missile, and regional activities may hinge on how flexible he is willing to be on his extensive demands to coax Tehran into talks," Reuters wrote in a November 2 analysis.

French news agency AFP's analyst maintained that "Iran can take comfort in how much stronger its diplomatic position looks compared to the past."

This comes a day after an article published in the Financial Times by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on Europe, China, and Russia -- the remaining parties in the nuclear deal that the United States left in May -- to "present and implement their final proposed package of measures to compensate for and mitigate the effects of America’s newest unilateral and extraterritorial sanctions before they are imposed.”

“This historic agreement can only survive if the Iranian people can witness and enjoy the benefits it promised,” he added.

The AFP analysis elaborated on the changes in the international scene since the U.S. sanctions first hit Iran between 2010 and 2015, when the nuclear deal was made with Iran. At the time, AFP wrote, the world was pursuing Iran to come to terms with international players' demands, while "today, to many observers, it is Iran that looks like the responsible actor."

Referring to Europe's measures to save the nuclear deal and help Tehran to cope with the impact of U.S. sanctions, AFP quoted Clement Therme, Iran research fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, as saying, "Even if the Europeans are showing goodwill and inventing these bureaucratic mechanisms, the private sector is not interested in using them." Therme also said of the impact of sanctions that "Iran's sense of dignity makes it very difficult to stay in the deal if all the major buyers stop buying oil or reduce their purchases."

The agency further argued that the problem for Iran is whether this diplomatic goodwill can translate into tangible benefits. This is probably a reference to Rouhani's statement about the nuclear deal being the outcome of two years of intensive negotiations between Iran and six other countries, including three from Europe.

In his article, Rouhani sounded desperate, but he still wanted to hope in the effectiveness of Europe's measures to save the nuclear agreement, which is largely considered his only achievement as Iran's president since 2013.

Rouhani's words must be viewed against a backdrop of serious economic crisis and a population whose patience for hardships has been dwindling since December 2017, when anti-government demonstrations annoyed the government in one form or another, culminating in major unrests at least twice in January and June, when the markets were affected.

Iran Flash Points
Iran Flash Points

On the other hand, the Reuters analysis observed, by pulling out of the international Iran nuclear deal, "Trump and his top aides have touted the re-imposition of economic penalties on Iran as part of a 'maximum pressure' campaign to force a change in a wide range of Iranian behavior."

However, U.S. officials have indicated that a measure of flexibility is needed to ensure global markets are well supplied to keep prices from surging as the new round of sanctions hits Iran's oil exports.

The analysis summed up U.S. demands from Tehran by noting that on May 21, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed 12 demands that also covered Iran ending its development of nuclear-capable missiles, withdrawing forces under its command in Syria, and ceasing threatening acts toward its neighbors.

"What Trump wants from Tehran, though, is seen by former officials as a ‘maximalist’ position that includes ending uranium enrichment, giving UN inspectors access to all sites across Iran, and ceasing support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, and the Hamas Palestinian militant group," Reuters added.

Reuters quoted Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. official now at the Brookings Institution, as saying, "They are maximalist demands, and no Iranian government would be willing or able to accept them."

Trump wants Iran's government to capitulate or collapse, according to Einhorn. "They are not going to knuckle under," he said. "But if the administration began to signal some flexibility ... it's possible the Iranian regime would agree to enter into talks."

with reporting from AFP and Reuters