VIENNA – The decor was correct, but the atmosphere is cool. After more than a five-month hiatus, negotiations to reopen the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran resumed Monday at Palais Coburg, a luxury hotel in Vienna where the original pact was signed with great fanfare, at a more optimistic time.
There is now a more conservative government in Iran and a new group of Iranian negotiators, who said that negotiations should begin with a complete lifting of sanctions, set Western negotiators gloomily.
But since the first round of formal discussions ended on Monday, negotiators also tried to be optimistic.
Enrique Mora of the European Union, who is chairing the talks, said Iran “recognizes the work done in the past six rounds and the fact that we will build on it.” But he said Iran “insists on the immediate lifting of sanctions,” which is likely to be unacceptable to Washington.
Iran is also insisting that the United States and its allies promise never again to impose sanctions on Iran, the country’s chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters after talks.
The Iranian negotiator also said during the meetings that Iran will continue to build up its nuclear program if these requirements are not met, according to a senior European official who asked to remain anonymous.
But as an important step towards the continuation of negotiations, Iran agreed to resume negotiations on Tuesday in one of three working groups set up in previous rounds, on which sanctions will ultimately be lifted by the United States. The other two working groups, on the nuclear issue itself and on the implementation and sequencing of each country’s actions in the event of a new deal, will not resume talks on Tuesday.
Mr Mora said the nuclear energy working group will meet on Wednesday. “There is a sense of urgency” to re-establish the nuclear deal, he said, but “I have no fixed time frame.”
Europeans felt that significant progress had been made in previous negotiations in all three working groups – albeit embarrassing as Iran refuses to speak directly to US envoy Robert Malley and will only do so through existing signatories – France, Britain. , Germany, China, Russia and Mr. Mora.
The Biden administration has said it wants to return to the original nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, calling it “the worst deal in history.”
The new Iranian government seems to believe the same, as Mr. Bagheri Kani repeated in an article in the Financial Times that he believed the very term “nuclear negotiations” itself was “riddled with errors.”
According to him, Iran’s first goal is “to achieve a complete, guaranteed and verifiable lifting of the sanctions imposed on the Iranian people.” The talks, he said earlier this month, are “talks to lift illegal and inhuman sanctions,” the topic also touched on Monday in an Iranian press article by Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian.
To underline this emphasis on lifting punitive economic sanctions, Mr Bagheri Kani brought a delegation to Vienna, which included the Deputy Foreign Ministers for Economic and Legal Affairs, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank and its former Head, the Deputy Minister of Economy and Petroleum and the Economic Advisor. Vice President of Iran.
After several days of informal discussions, during which the main discussions took place, the full plenary session began more than an hour later than scheduled when Mr. Bagheri Kani finally entered the room. He spoke only about the fact that all sanctions should be lifted by the “aggressor”, the United States, and paid tribute to the “martyrdom” of Iranian scientists who died as a result of clandestine attacks, mainly from Israel.
The situation on the ground in Iran has changed in the past five months since the conclusion of the last round of talks, making it difficult to discuss this week.
Iran honored the deal for a year after Washington’s withdrawal, but its nuclear program has advanced significantly since then, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear power watchdog. He built modern centrifuges, prohibited by the deal, and violated the enrichment limits. It is also much closer to having enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb (even if the creation of a weapon that Iran has always denied wanting to do is perhaps two years from now).
Iran has also adjusted to the current tough sanctions regime, boosted by oil sales to China and Russia, two countries that opposed America’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and whose relations with Washington have barely improved over time.
Iran has also tried to put pressure on Washington by so far canceling an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to restore access to inspect Iranian nuclear facilities and restore records from those facilities. The concern is that the agency, and thus the entire world, will soon be oblivious to what Iran is actually doing with its nuclear program.
Regardless, the agency’s board of governors did not vote on the censure resolution against Iran, largely because China and Russia oppose it.
The United States ruled out the possibility of lifting sanctions unilaterally before Iran itself reverts to the deal, and rejected Iran’s demand to ensure that Washington never backs down on the deal, calling it unrealistic.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzade spoke positively Monday, placing the burden of responsibility on the United States. “The delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in Vienna with a firm resolve to reach an agreement and looks forward to fruitful negotiations,” he said in Tehran. “The government has shown its readiness and seriousness by sending a well-known quality team. If the other side shows the same willingness, we will be on the right track towards reaching an agreement. ”
But Mr Malley, the US envoy, regularly said, as he did in his BBC interview over the weekend, that “if Iran thinks it can use this time to create more leverage, then go back and say they want something best, it just won’t work. We and our partners will not agree to this. “
However, no one expects the talks to conclude permanently, which will present the United States and Israel with tougher choices, as both countries vow that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons.
Israel, which vehemently opposed the 2015 deal, does not want Washington and the Europeans to soften over Iran or negotiate a compromise or temporary deal. Israel says it will continue to attempt to sabotage, postpone, or destroy Iran’s nuclear program, even though US officials believe such efforts are ultimately counterproductive.
And there is a growing perception that Iran’s growth in nuclear knowledge cannot be quenched, and that the country might want to be able to produce a bomb in a short time if it wants to do so in order to become a more nuclear threshold state with important geopolitical ramifications in the Middle East. …
“The stakes are high and there are no safe fences,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, who studies Iran and non-proliferation for the Quincy Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The resumption of negotiations in Vienna is an opportunity to move from maximum pressure to a diplomatic recession and a reduction in tensions,” she said. “But all the signs point to the rocky road ahead.”