Iran mounts diplomatic push at UNGA but return to nuclear deal still complex

Experts say Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's speech against the US lowers chances of a nuclear-deal breakthrough

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly from Tehran.  HO / Iranian Presidency / AFP
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Iran's new foreign minister is embarking on a whirlwind meet-and-greet with western officials at this week's UN General Assembly, but the likelihood of easy wins in attempts to bring Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal appear far off.

Lacking the charm and familiarity of his predecessor Javad Zarif, Iran's newly appointed Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has nonetheless scored 45 meetings with foreign diplomats at his first General Assembly.

On Monday, Mr Amir-Abdollahian met Britain's Foreign Minister Liz Truss, who then spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

With the exception of the US, Mr Amir-Abdollahian is expected to meet with the other signatories of the nuclear deal present in New York, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

The diplomatic manoeuvres are happening despite a speech by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi that was notably hostile towards the US.

Iranian president attacks 'US hegemony' in first UN General Assembly speech

Iranian president attacks 'US hegemony' in first UN General Assembly speech

In his address to the UNGA, Iran's new president lambasted the policies of both US President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump.

“From the Capitol to Kabul, one clear message was sent to the world: the US hegemonic system has no credibility, whether inside or outside the country,” Mr Raisi said in a pre-recorded address.

Mr Biden, in his own address, vowed not to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and called for Tehran's full compliance with the deal.

Experts saw Mr Raisi’s rhetoric as lowering the chances of a breakthrough in talks between the US and Iran.

Those talks in Vienna came to halt in August, but Iran has now said it is ready to resume them in October.

Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran programme at the International Crisis Group, said Mr Raisi’s rhetoric does not offer any flexibility in negotiations.

“Mr Raisi’s harsh denunciation of the United States doesn’t suggest that Iran is prepared to demonstrate the kind of flexibility that is needed to restore the JCPOA,” Mr Vaez told The National.

He explained Mr Amir-Abdollahian's side talks in New York as more of a “meet and greet” for Iran’s new foreign minister.

"This is Amir-Abdollahian’s debut on the international stage, allowing him and his western counterparts to get a sense of one another. Beyond that, there is not much substance to diplomatic efforts around the JCPOA in New York,” Mr Vaez said.

Despite a return to the negotiating table in October, the expert predicted that if Iran “drives an even harder bargain, the only outcome is going to be impasse.”

Ryan Bohl, a senior analyst at the Stratfor intelligence group, sounded a more optimistic tone, saying he saw the UNGA meetings as fostering a better political climate for the JCPOA talks.

“Unlike under Mr Trump, these meetings do have a chance to improve some sentiment between Iranian officials and western ones.”

But Mr Bohl contended that Mr Raisi's speech and his “relatively anti-American rhetoric” diminishes the chances of a better rapport between Tehran and Washington.

He put the chances of Iran returning to the basic parameters of nuclear deal at 55 per cent.

“The pessimism has grown because of the lack of meetings between the US and Iran, some of the Iranian harassment we've seen in the Gulf waters again, the violations to the deal and the rhetoric emerging from the Raisi administration,” he said.

Updated: September 23, 2021, 3:54 PM