News Digest: Week of January 24

January 24

Diplomacy: Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, told Reuters that restoring the 2015 nuclear deal was “very hard” to imagine “while four innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran.” He, however, reiterated that the United States was pursuing each issue separately. “So even as we're conducting talks with Iran indirectly on the nuclear file we are conducting, again indirectly, discussions with them to ensure the release of our hostages.”

On the same day, Malley welcomed the end of Barry Rosen’s hunger strike to call for the release of Americans and other Westerners held in Iran. Rosen was one of 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days in Iran from November 1979 until January 1981. Rosen, who traveled to Vienna and met with Malley, ended his strike after five days. 

Nuclear: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran could consider direct talks with the United States on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal. “If we reach a stage in the negotiation process where the need for a good deal with a high guarantee is to have dialogue with the Americans at some level, we will not ignore it.”

Nuclear: Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh blamed the United States for the slow pace of diplomacy to restore the nuclear deal. “The main reason behind the slow pace of the Vienna nuclear talks is the United States' lack of readiness.”

Nuclear: A State Department official confirmed recent reports, first published in The Wall Street Journal, that Richard Nephew had left his role as Deputy Special Envoy for Iran. The source did not provide a specific explanation for the departure of Nephew, who “remains a highly valued State Department employee.” The Wall Street Journal reported that Nephew had advocated for a tougher line on negotiations. Two other officials reportedly left the negotiating team as well.


January 25

Human rights: Benjamin Briere, a French tourist detained since May 2020 on charges of “spying and acting against the Islamic Republic,” was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment after a closed hearing. The charges proceeded from Briere’s use of a remote-controlled miniature helicopter to acquire aerial images of the national park along the Turkmenistan-Iran border. “This verdict is the result of a purely political process and… devoid of any basis,” Briere’s lawyer said. 

Nuclear: British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Parliament that nuclear talks were “reaching a dangerous impasse” due to Iran’s failure to “seriously negotiate.” In the event that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action collapses, Truss said that “all options are on the table,” echoing similar statements by U.S. administration officials.

Nuclear: In his fourth televised interview since taking office, Ebrahim Raisi said that restoring the 2015 nuclear deal was possible if the United States lifts what he described as “unjust sanctions.” On foreign affairs, he said that his administration was working to expand trade relations with Iran's neighbors and Russia.
Corruption: Iran ranked 150 out of 180 countries and territories in terms of corruption perceptions, according to Transparency International's 2021 report. On a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), Iran received a score of 25, the same score it received in last year’s report. Three other countries also received a score of 25: Guinea, Guatemala and Tajikistan. The Corruption Perceptions Index, which only applies to public-sector corruption, is a composite index that combines data from surveys and assessments carried out by other organizations.


January 26

The United States and Israel: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Israeli National Security Advisor Dr. Eyal Hulata discussed Iran's nuclear advances and other issues of mutual concern. During the virtual meeting, Sullivan “emphasized that while the United States remains committed to diplomacy as the best means for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the United States is preparing alternative options, in coordination with its partners, should diplomacy fail,” according to a readout from the White House.