A week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the US is "getting closer" to giving up completely on the Iran nuclear deal after Vienna talks have been on hold since June 20, Iran on Tuesday replaced its longtime veteran negotiator with a senior diplomat who's widely being described as a "hardliner".
The recently installed administration of Ebrahim Raisi has named Ali Bagheri Kani to replace Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. Araghchi had spearhead the original negotiations on the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and has been at the forefront of Iranian efforts in Vienna.
However, Ali Bagheri Kani - who happens to also be a relative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei - had been part of Iran's nuclear negotiating team under former President Ahmadinejad from 2007 to 2013. It was during that time that efforts to achieve mutual understanding over Iran's nuclear program with the West failed and sanctions were imposed.
As Reuters details, it appears part of shake-up at the foreign ministry to replace "moderates" previously serving under Rouhani with more hardened "anti-Western" diplomats:
Hossein Amirabdollahian, an anti-Western diplomat chosen as foreign minister last month, also named Mohammad Fathali as his deputy for administrative and financial affairs and Mehdi Safari as deputy for economic diplomacy, state media reported.
Already external observers have been concluding that Tehran is preparing to take a firmer stance should talks resume in Vienna, which include indirect talks with the US delegation based on European intermediaries.
Meanwhile, Washington and European signatories to the 2015 JCPOA have expressed increasing skepticism that nuclear talks will get off the ground again, blaming the Islamic Republic for stalling. Initially Iran had said it wanted to wait for the next round of Vienna talks till after new President Raisi took office on Aug.5, but we're now long past that.
Blinken said last week while alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas: "I’m not going to put a date on it but we are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the JCPOA does not reproduce the benefits that that agreement achieved."
Both sides have previously said they won't let things drag on forever. The Iranians putting a more hardline negotiator in place could suggest Tehran is now more willing to walk away, given especially the crucial demand of immediate sanctions relief hasn't been met.