In Vienna on Thursday, negotiators began a new round of talks on Iran’s nuclear program in an attempt to salvage a deal on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Officials from world powers and Iran met in the Austrian capital for the first time since March, when talks that began in 2021 to re-integrate the United States into the deal stalled.
A senior EU official said progress was being made on some remaining hurdles, including assurances that the United States would not derail the deal by reneging on its word in the future.
“Now we have quite substantial guarantees,” the official said. “I understand that Iran is happy and feels satisfied with what is in the text.”
Tehran’s demand that the United States remove the country’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the State Department’s official blacklist of “foreign terrorist organizations” was left out of the discussion, the official added. Instead, it will be considered “in the future” – after the deal.
Tehran and Washington still need to agree on “issues related to the lifting of sanctions and a couple of nuclear issues that did not exist in March when the Iranians were advancing their program,” the official said.
“We are a bit exhausted, I can’t imagine being here in four weeks,” said an EU source. “This is not another round, we are here to finalize the text.”
“I think there’s a real possibility, but it’s not going to be easy.”
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday that “a deal is on the table” and Iran “must accept it.”
“You’ve heard the president say that we’re not going to wait forever for Iran to get this deal done,” Kirby said, adding that “it’s clear that time is getting very short in terms of being able to get a deal done.” .
At the end of June, indirect talks between Tehran and Washington were held in Qatar in the hope of getting the process back on track, but these talks did not lead to a breakthrough.
Most recently, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Barel, presented a compromise proposal last month and urged the parties to accept it to avoid a “dangerous nuclear crisis.”
Barrell said the draft includes “hard-won compromises by all sides” and “looks in detail at the lifting of sanctions as well as the nuclear steps needed to restore” the 2015 pact.
Bilateral talks began earlier Thursday at Vienna’s Palais Coburg Hotel under the auspices of EU representative Enrique Mora.
The Iranian and Russian delegations, which traditionally come together during negotiations, held a separate meeting.
The United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United States signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015. Delegations from all sides were due to attend the talks on Thursday, but officials from the US and Iran are now not expected to meet face-to-face.
The JCPOA aims to guarantee the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the gradual lifting of sanctions.
But after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under former President Donald Trump and the reimposition of US sanctions, Tehran reneged on its commitments.
After that, Iran exceeded the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent uranium enrichment, increasing to 20 percent in early 2021.
It then passed the unprecedented 60 percent threshold, approaching the 90 percent required to make a bomb.
The head of the UN nuclear agency, Rafael Grossi, warned on Tuesday that Iran’s program was “moving forward very, very quickly” and was “growing in ambition and capacity”.
– Cautious optimism –
Officials expressed cautious optimism ahead of Thursday’s talks, while cautioning that the two sides remain far apart on key issues.
These include sanctions, Iran’s demands for safeguards and an end to investigations by the UN nuclear body, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The head of the American delegation, Rob Malley, and the head of the representative office in Tehran, Ali Bagheri, said on Twitter on the eve of the talks that they are coming in good faith, but they hold each other accountable.
Analysts say renewing the JCPOA remains the best option.
“The last thing the United States needs is a nuclear crisis with Iran that could easily escalate into a broader regional conflict,” said Susanna DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Ellie Geranmaye, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), said that “at the end of the day, Tehran and Washington know that the alternatives to the collapse of the JCPOA are dire.”
“This is unlikely to be a meeting that will resolve the outstanding issues,” but “it could provide the breakthrough needed to push the talks to the finish line rather than collapse,” she said.
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