West Asks Whether Iran is Serious or Stalling as Nuclear Talks Set to Resume
Iran and world powers will meet in Vienna on Monday to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers increasingly frustrated, hopes of a breakthrough appear slim.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the pact, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round, due to begin at 1300 GMT in Vienna, begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president.
Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.
“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.
Iran’s demands include the dropping of all US and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program, in a verifiable process.
Iran’s foreign ministry ruled out the possibility of direct meeting between Iranian and US officials in Vienna.
“Traditional informal coordination meeting of #JCPOA participants (without #Iran and the #US) is convened in preparation for the official meeting of the Joint Commission and the opening of the seventh round of the #ViennaTalks,” Russia’s envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Twitter.
In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the UN atomic watchdog, which monitors the nuclear program, have festered.
As Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program, the International Atomic Energy Agency says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” US envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.
Since Trump took the United States out of the deal, Iran has breached many of its restrictions meant to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb. Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only for civil uses.
Malley warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if the talks collapse.
The Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers insist that its focus is purely the lifting of sanctions rather than nuclear issues.
“To ensure any forthcoming agreement is ironclad, the West needs to pay a price for having failed to uphold its part of the bargain. As in any business, a deal is a deal, and breaking it has consequences,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, said in a defiant column in the Financial Times on Sunday.
“The principle of ‘mutual compliance’ cannot form a proper base for negotiations since it was the US government which unilaterally left the deal.”
Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved. Several Iranian officials told Reuters Iran had no intention of accepting an interim deal.
Iran’s arch-enemy Israel, which opposed the original deal as too limited in scope and duration, has said military options would be on the table if diplomacy fails to reinstate the pact.
“They (Iranians) will play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear program,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters in London.
“This is what they have done in the past, and it is what they will do this time as well. The intelligence is clear. It leaves no doubt.”