Negotiators resumed talks on Monday to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The remaining signatories to the nuclear deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK – will meet at Palais Coburg, the luxury hotel where the deal was signed six years ago.
As in other talks, the US has remained outside of the negotiations since it left the agreement under “maximum pressure” during the then President Trump’s campaign against Tehran. The parties to the direct negotiations will inform the US delegation later.
The talks are coming because Austria remains closed due to the corona virus. Iran’s state media showed pictures from the talks when journalists stayed outside the hotel.
The final round of talks took place in June, aimed at bringing Iran back into line with the deal and paving the way for the US. Since then, the task of reviving the agreement has only gotten more difficult.
President Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal. A US delegation led by the government’s special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, is indirectly participating in the talks, with diplomats from other countries acting as mediators.
As part of the nuclear deal, Iran limited its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since the failure of the agreement, Iran has now enriched small amounts of uranium with a purity of up to 60% – a small step from a weapon grade of 90%. Iran is also turning advanced centrifuges banned by the deal, and its uranium supplies are now well beyond the limits of the deal.
Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful. However, US intelligence agencies and international inspectors say Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program until 2003. Non-proliferation experts fear that the Brinkmanship could push Tehran to even more extreme measures to force the West to lift sanctions.
To make matters worse, the United Nations nuclear inspectors are still unable to fully oversee the Iranian program after Tehran restricted their access. A trip by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, to Iran last week brought no progress on this issue.
Russia’s highest representative, Mikhail Ulyanov, said he had “useful” informal talks with officials from Iran and China on Sunday. The aim of this meeting is to “better understand Tehran’s updated negotiating position”.
For the first time, a delegation appointed by the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes part in the negotiations. Iran has made maximalist demands, including calls on the US to release $ 10 billion in assets as a first gesture of goodwill, a tough line that could be an opening move.
Ali Bagheri, an Iranian nuclear negotiator, told Iranian state television late Sunday that the Islamic Republic “entered the talks with serious willpower and strong preparation.” However, he warned that “we cannot now foresee a timeframe for the duration of these talks”.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh suggested on Monday that the US could get “a ticket to return to the room” of the nuclear talks if it agrees to “the real lifting of sanctions”. He also criticized an opinion article recently written by the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom and Israel which promised to “work day and night to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power”.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned in a video address to the nations negotiating in Vienna that he saw Iran trying to “end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing”.
“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargains and no sanctions relief in return for its brutality,” said Bennett in the video he later posted on Twitter. “I call on our allies around the world: do not give in to the nuclear blackmail of Iran.”
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After a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, British Foreign Minister Liz Truss called the meeting in Vienna “the last opportunity for Iranians to come to a table”.
“We want these conversations to work,” said Truss. “But if they don’t work, all options are on the table.”
In an interview with NPR on Friday, US negotiator Malley said the signs from Iran were “not particularly encouraging.”
The Russian Ulyanov said there was pressure to start the process after a “very long pause”.
“The talks can’t last forever,” he tweeted on Sunday. “There is an obvious need to speed up the process.”
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