Skip to main content

The Takeaway: Differences persist as clock ticks on Vienna talks 

Islamic State and Turkey; HTS's role in Islamic State leader's killing; Iran's message for Iraq; Gaza's dangerous landfills; Egypt's climate action; and more.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, arrives at the venue of the JCPOA meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on Feb. 8, 2022.

Hot take: As the US and Iran make a final push for a nuclear deal in Vienna, serious differences stand in the way

Talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna are now in what many observers have deemed their final stretch. But it’s far from a done deal, and US officials are warning that mere weeks remain before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) original nonproliferation benefits are lost.   Naysan Rafati, the International Crisis Group's senior Iran analyst, says “the room for compromise is there but narrowing, partly because of the time crunch.” As negotiators meet for the eighth round of talks, here’s a look at some of their core areas of disagreement: Scope of sanctions relief: It remains to be seen how many of the designations imposed under former President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign would be lifted in a final deal. An Iran official told Reuters that Iran wants some 300 additional sanctions withdrawn. But the Biden administration has been clear that certain non-nuclear sanctions will remain in place, such as those related to human rights violations and terrorism. In addition to disagreements over sanctions relief, Iran has also called for a US commitment that it won’t reimpose sanctions down the line. Guarantee beyond 2025: In another nonstarter for Washington, Tehran has insisted that the potential pact contain a legal assurance that America won’t again abandon the deal. The Biden administration says it will uphold its end of the bargain but that it has no way of binding future administrations to a revived JCPOA. In an interview with the Financial Times this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian suggested that Congress at least make a “political statement” demonstrating its commitment to the battered deal.     Nuclear rollback: A challenge for negotiators will be maximizing the deal’s nonproliferation benefits relative to where Iran’s nuclear program is today, said Rafati. Some of those issues are easier to quantify, such as capping Tehran’s uranium enrichment level and stockpile. But accounting for the knowledge gained, especially given the R&D conducted with advanced centrifuges and uranium metal, is a different story. “The puzzle becomes how far you can roll back relative to where they are in 2022,” Rafati said. What to watch: The International Atomic Energy Agency will hold its next Board of Governors meeting beginning on March 7 in what Rafati says could mark an “inflection point” in the Vienna negotiations. Much depends on the watchdog’s quarterly report. If the report indicates a slowdown in Iran’s nuclear advances, that could “put a few seconds back on the clock,” Rafati says. 


From our regional correspondents:

   1. Islamic State used Turkey for money laundering: report 

The raid that killed Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi near Syria’s border with Turkey cast fresh doubts on Ankara’s ability to stamp out remnants of the terrorist group. Now, a leaked report by Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board has revealed new details on how IS used Turkey-based companies to move money and obtain supplies, including drone parts. Fehim Tastekin obtained a copy of the report, which also found examples of suspected IS-linked individuals acquiring Turkish citizenship.

2. Questions loom over HTS role in IS killing 

For more on Qurayshi’s death, check out Khaled al-Khateb's latest from Syria. He writes that the US special forces operation angered many jihadis who oppose Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the terrorist group that controls much of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. Some jihadis are questioning whether HTS helped the United States find Qurayshi in the Syrian town of Atmeh. Others are accusing HTS of treason for not interfering to stop the two-hour American raid.  

3. Iranian commander carries message to Iraq’s Sadr

As Iraq struggles to form a new government, Iranian Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani is seeking to maintain unity within the Iraqi Shiite political ranks. During his meeting last week with Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement in Iraq, Ghaani reportedly delivered a message from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that called for an end to “division within the Shiite house." Mustafa Saadoun explains how such divisions could undermine Iran’s influence in Iraq.  

4. Desperate teens scavenge Gaza’s landfills 

Garbage truck drivers in Gaza City were forced to suspend their work after a major landfill was overrun by scavengers and the body of a 14-year-old boy was discovered amid the trash. Entsar Abu Jahal writes that extreme poverty in the Palestinian enclave has led young scavengers to “search in the piles of waste for materials that can be recycled and sold.” Jahal spoke with Gazan teens about their dangerous work digging for pieces of plastic or scrap metal. 

5. Egypt gears up for climate summit 

Egypt is seeking to attract international support for the UN climate conference it will hold in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in November. Ahmed Gomaa reports on Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s plans for the summit, known as COP27. Human rights groups, meanwhile, are calling for participant countries to demand reforms from Egypt. 

  Multimedia this week: Sudan’s transition, Pegasus spyware and Maria Ressa 


Listen: Andrew Parasiliti interviews the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Sudan Volker Perthes about the October coup and the impact of Ethiopia's civil war on Sudan’s democratic transition.

Listen: Ben Caspit and communication expert Anat Ben David discuss how the Israel Police’s alleged use of the controversial Pegasus spyware threatens Israel’s democracy. Watch: Check back next week for Gilles Kepel’s interview with Maria Ressa. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist talks about risks to independent media, as well as her experience covering Abu Sayyaf, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Southeast Asia.