There have recently been “secret” talks between Western officials and representatives of the establishment ruling Iran. Iranian sources close to the negotiations are saying President Ebrahim Raisi’s government wasn’t informed of the dialogue. There has been a recent trend of seeing a figure close to Supreme Leader Sayyed Ali Khamenei take the lead with foreign policy.
According to Middle East Eye sources, there have recently been talks between “representatives of the Iranian ruling establishment” and “Western officials” discussing the reviving of the 2015 nuclear deal and U.S. prisoners being released within the previous few weeks.
The sources added that the former deputy foreign minister under Hassan Rouhani, Abbas Araghchi, headed up the talks while in Europe. Araghchi is currently the secretary of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations.
Since it was formed in 2006, the Council has been responsible for “preparing strategies, policies and solutions that will bring the Islamic Republic to its desired results in foreign policy” and “bringing about greater coordination in all activities in the field of foreign relations.”
According to the sources, the talks centered on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. An agreement still has to be finalized on American prisoners being freed in exchange for Iranian assets. The assets would be unfrozen in multiple countries, including South Korea.
The sources explained that under Rouhani’s government, Araghchi’s negotiation team reached an agreement on freeing prisoners, which still needs to be implemented. Raisi’s team continued negotiating, modifying the transfer of assets. The transfers were initially supposed to be made throughout Europe, but later changed to Qatar.
Just like the former foreign minister, Mohammad Javed Zarif, Araghchi is viewed poorly by Iranian principlists because of his significant part in reaching the nuclear deal in 2015. The principlists believe Araghchi and Zarif gave away Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for nothing valuable.
According to one of the sources, Araghchi wanted supporters to think as highly as possible of the first round of discussions in Europe. He wanted supporters to see a deal could still be made, even with Western officials being “difficult.” Since Tehran cracked down on Mahsa Amini and anti-establishment protests in 2022, the West’s tolerance of Iran is growing thinner and thinner.
According to a second source, the principlists and government have stopped the progress of Araghchi’s negotiations since the protests began.
Reviving the JCPOA has been a constant issue since President Biden took office. The original 2015 deal was between Iran and the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany and Russia. In exchange for Iran’s nuclear program limitations, international sanctions were lifted against the country.
After former President Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018, hope has been renewed for the JCPOA to be revived since the Biden administration took office. But talks have stalled since last October, with both sides growing frustrated with meeting new demands.
The secret talks between the West and Iran for reviving the deal without the Raisi government knowing makes already intense negotiations even more complicated. It is yet to be seen if the higher stakes will affect what were already complicated negotiations to revive the deal in the future.
It needs to be noted that the agreement made restoring diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran was managed and handled by Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, without Raisi’s government being involved.