Talks to relaunch the Iran nuclear deal resume; The United States remains distant
Posted on Monday, November 29, 2021 | 10:56 a.m.
Updated 2 hours and 17 minutes ago
VIENNA (AP) – Negotiators in Vienna resumed talks on Monday to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers, with the United States participating remotely as in previous rounds since the Trump administration broke down was withdrawn from the agreement three years ago.
Hopes for rapid progress faded after a hard-line new government in Tehran resulted in a more than five-month hiatus in negotiations. But the European Union official chairing the talks appeared optimistic after the conclusion of the first meeting.
“I am convinced that we can do important things in the coming weeks,” European diplomat Enrique Mora told reporters.
All the participants showed a willingness to listen to the positions and “sensitivities” of the new Iranian delegation, Mora said. At the same time, the Tehran team has made it clear that they want to engage in “serious work” to revive the deal, he said.
The remaining signatories to the nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain – gathered at Palais Coburg, a luxury hotel where the agreement was signed six years ago.
A US delegation led by the Biden administration’s special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, stayed at a nearby hotel where they were briefed on the talks by diplomats from other countries.
President Joe Biden has indicated he wants to join the talks. The last round, aimed at bringing Iran back into line with the agreement and paving the way for US re-membership, was held in June.
“There is a sense of urgency in ending the suffering of the Iranian people,” Mora said, referring to the crippling sanctions the United States reimposed on Iran when it resigned from the agreement.
“And there is a sense of urgency in placing Iran’s nuclear program under the transparent oversight of the international community,” he said.
“What has been the norm in the first six rounds will be practice again in this seventh round,” added Mora. “Nothing new on the working methods.
The United States abandoned the deal as part of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran in 2018.
The nuclear deal saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since the deal failed, Iran is now enriching small amounts of uranium with purity of up to 60%, a small step from military grade levels of 90%. Iran is also making advanced centrifuges banned by the deal, and its stockpile of uranium now far exceeds the deal’s limits.
Iran maintains that its atomic program is peaceful. However, US intelligence agencies and international inspectors say Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program until 2003. Nonproliferation experts fear this trend on the brink will push Tehran to adopt measures even more extreme in trying to force the West to lift the sanctions.
To complicate matters, UN nuclear inspectors remain unable to fully monitor Iran’s program after Tehran restricted their access. A trip to Iran last week by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, failed to make progress on this issue.
Russia’s top official Mikhail Ulyanov said he held “useful” informal consultations with Iranian and Chinese officials on Sunday. This meeting, he said, was aimed at “better understanding (…) Tehran’s updated negotiating position”.
A delegation appointed by new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is joining the negotiations for the first time. Iran has made maximalist demands, including calls for the United States to release $ 10 billion in assets as a first goodwill gesture, a hard line that could be an opening bet.
Ali Bagheri, an Iranian nuclear negotiator, told Iranian state television on Sunday evening that the Islamic Republic “has entered the talks with serious will and preparation.” However, he warned that “we cannot anticipate a timetable for the duration of these talks now”.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Monday suggested that the United States could “receive a ticket to return to the hall” of nuclear talks if it accepts “the real lifting of sanctions” . He also criticized a recent opinion piece by the foreign ministers of Britain and Israel, who pledged to “work day and night to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video address to negotiating nations in Vienna, warned that he had seen Iran try to “end the sanctions for next to nothing.”
“Iran deserves no awards, no trade deals and no sanctions relief for their brutality,” Bennett said in the video he later posted on Twitter. “I call on our allies around the world: do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”
British Foreign Minister Liz Truss called the meeting “the last chance for Iranians to sit down at the table” after meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
“We want these talks to work,” Truss said. “But if they don’t work, all options are on the table.”
In an interview with NPR on Friday, US negotiator Malley said the Iranian signs “are not particularly encouraging.”
Russian Ulyanov said there was pressure to move the process forward after “a very prolonged break”.
“The talks cannot go on forever,” he tweeted on Sunday. “There is a clear need to speed up the process.”
Mora, the EU official, said attendees at Monday’s meeting agreed on an agenda for the next few days. Diplomats are scheduled to discuss the issue of sanctions on Tuesday, followed by a meeting on Iran’s nuclear commitments on Wednesday.
Associated Press editors Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Jill Lawless in London, and Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.