Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA Image Credit: AP

On Monday, after a five-month hiatus, Iran and the Big Powers resumed negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. There have been many changes in these past five months, chief among which is the new administration in Tehran of President Ebrahim Raisi, who is known to take a harder stance on the issue.

While a European Union delegate at the talks described them as “extremely positive”, concerns are now emerging about the maximalist line Tehran is adopting in Vienna. Ali Bagheri, Iran’s new chief negotiator, has stressed that the removal of all sanctions imposed since former President Donald Trump annulled the accord is a non-negotiable demand.

After signing the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Washington had agreed to lift economic sanctions against Iran in return for robust monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear programme and its promises not to develop nuclear weapons. But after the withdrawal, hundreds of sanctions against Iran were reinstated.

Iran used this as a pretext to accelerate its nuclear programme. It is now estimated that it has the capacity to produce enough fissile material for one bomb in a month.

Compliance for compliance

The Biden administration’s position is that it wants to return to the 2015 deal but it is seeking “compliance for compliance”.

While the talks go on in Vienna, on the ground here in the region, Iran can do so much more to provide reassurances. Firstly, the government must realise the international community will never accept a nuclear-armed Iran. So, it truly needs to stop any and all efforts to build a bomb.

Secondly, Iran must give up its ballistic missiles programme, which poses a threat to regional security and could become a thorn in the sides of its neighbours. Unfortunately, this important aspect is not being discussed in the Vienna talks. Thirdly, Iran must initiate steps to show good neighbourliness. How can it do that? By being open with its neighbours, respecting their sovereignty, and stopping any interference in their internal affairs.

Iran, a 2,700-year-old civilisation steeped in culture and learning, is an intrinsic part of the Middle East. There is no denying that. It has immense soft-power potential. It’s language, food, arts, architecture add so much to the region’s vast cultural inheritance. It’s people are young and talented.

The country is blessed with fertile soil, and hydrocarbon wealth. If Tehran changes its policies, a whole new world of opportunities will open up for it in the region.