Now after six rounds of talks in Vienna, hopes for a restored nuclear deal are looking dimmer given the crucial "wild card" issue of Iran's ongoing presidential election, also as the Ayatollah warned a full month ago that he wouldn't wouldn't let the talks "drag on" toward no definite rapid end goal.
Iranians took to the polls Friday in the nationwide vote; however, turnout was widely reported as much lower than expected as seven candidates on Thursday had been whittled down to four - with three out of the four being considered Islamic hardliners. The increasing likelihood of an Ebrahim Raisi victory has Washington very worried. The 60-year old head of Iran's judiciary is considered the most hardline candidate, and also a close political ally of Ayatollah Khamenei.
According to new reporting in Axios on Friday, the Biden White House is pushing to finalize a deal before a new president takes office. Current President Hassan Rouhani's term ends August 3rd, giving negotiators in Vienna just a matter of weeks.
Should a new - especially hardline - president take office if talks are sill to be dragging on later into summer, it becomes much more likely that a new leader in Tehran would abandon the talks. Citing a US administration official, Axios writes:
The official said it would be "concerning" if talks dragged on into early August, when Iran's transition is due to take place. "If we don't have a deal before a new government is formed, I think that would raise serious questions about how achievable it's going to be," the official said.
Of note is that "Analysts and some diplomats involved in the negotiations have long said it would be easier to reach a deal with the outgoing administration than with a newly inaugurated government, particularly one led by Raisi," according to Axios.
Here's more of what the unnamed US official had to say, per the report:
- "We don't have infinite time to get this done. So I think we'll know — I don't want to give a timeline — but we'll know it when time has run up and we've concluded that it can't reached within a reasonable time," the official said.
- "I'm not predicting that," the official added, noting that Iran was "engaged seriously" and a deal could be reached within a few weeks. But the U.S. does not intend to continue negotiations for months and months, "and I think the Iranians would say the same."
- "Our whole view of this, informed by what we're being told by the Iranians, is that the elections are not a factor, that the decision-making will continue before and after the elections and so things will not be interrupted as a result of the election," the official said.
Snr. EU official today : We are now almost finishing the 6th round... Today is presidential elections in #Iran. I think it is important to mention that we are negotiating today normally just like any other day. #IranElection2021 #JCPOA https://t.co/5oDfoD5Fe6— Hannahkaviani هانا کاویانی (@Hannahkaviani) June 18, 2021
Interestingly the IAEA is pushing for the opposite, with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi saying in an interview days ago with an Italian daily paper that "Everyone knows that, at this point, it will be necessary to wait for the new Iranian government."
A month ago, it was the Iranian side issuing overly-optimistic reports that a deal would be reached prior to the new Iranian president being sworn into office. Crucially Rouhani is considered a moderate, also given he was the original Iranian leader who helped broker the 2015 JCPOA. The hardline faction in Iranian politics long viewed any attempts to negotiate a deal with the West with deep suspicions, which were renewed after in May 2018 Trump dropped US participation in the deal and began slapping on sanctions.