No products in the cart.
Press Play to listen to this article
VIENNA – Negotiators for a nuclear deal with Iran unexpectedly end the week in their home countries, with talks stuck on several key points of contention.
Still, several officials stressed that the US and Iran could soon find common ground and find a way back to complying with a 2015 deal that curbs Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in return for a lifting of sanctions.
The negotiators created at least 20 pages of text with various options to help clear the remaining hurdles. Including a dispute over how to deal with Iran’s advanced centrifuges, uranium enrichment machines, and a disagreement about whether inspectors have adequate access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. The US and European powers also urge mentioning of follow-up talks that would address Iran’s ballistic missile program and broader regional behavior.
Sanctions are another long-standing point of contention. The US and Iran still cannot agree which US will repeal.
Meanwhile, Iran wants guarantees that the US won’t abandon the deal – again. The deal has been on life support since the resignation of former US President Donald Trump in 2018.
How much of an obstacle these disputes pose to a final settlement seems to depend on who is speaking.
Enrique Mora, the European Union official overseeing the negotiations, told reporters on Wednesday that he was “sure” that the next round of talks, which is expected to take place on Nov.
“I hope it won’t take long to reach an agreement,” he said.
The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi shared this positive assessment and told the Iranian broadcaster IRIB that “the next round of talks in Vienna could and should logically be the last round”.
The cheerful mood between the two diplomats was evident when they talked amicably in front of the Grand Hotel in Vienna before leaving.
But senior diplomats from Great Britain, France and Germany were more cautious. “We have made further progress and important parts of a future deal have now been substantiated, but the most difficult decisions are before us,” said a statement.
Similarly, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that the US “has its goals clearly in view” and that “there is almost every expectation that there will be more rounds after the upcoming sixth round,” which Moras. contradicts more optimistic outlook.
Find a way back
Negotiators from the remaining parties to the agreement – Iran, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany – will work with the European Union as coordinator in Vienna for nine weeks to finalize the original agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The process required the negotiators to come up with a step-by-step plan detailing mutual action for Tehran and Washington for each step. In essence, Iran must reverse recent advances in its nuclear program – made after the US withdrew from the deal – in exchange for sweeping US sanctions relief.
The fifth round of talks this week brought more clarity about these steps. However, work remains to be done, particularly on the sequence of these steps.
Furthermore, Iran is still demanding that the US lift all of its Iran sanctions – not just the ones Trump re-imposed immediately after exiting, but the additional penalties he later imposed. The US has rejected this “maximalist” position and wants to maintain some sanctions that are not directly related to the JCPOA, such as those related to human rights violations or terrorism.
Iran and the US are also at odds over Tehran’s advanced centrifuges, which the country has used in recent years to enrich uranium beyond the limits allowed in the original agreement. Iran prefers not to destroy them, but the European powers and the US argue that simply mothballing them will not be enough.
Access is another aggravating factor that brings the conversations with it.
Since February, Iran has been restricting the inspection of its nuclear facilities by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In a confidential report viewed by POLITICO, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told IAEA member states: “The agency’s review and monitoring activities have been affected by Iran’s decision to suspend its nuclear-related commitments.”
Inspectors were restricted from daily access to Iran’s main nuclear power plants at Natanz and Fordow, and they had no access to the data and records collected from some of their equipment, among other things, the report said. Without the IAEA’s full access to Iran’s nuclear sites and oversight of its nuclear activities, a review of a phased plan will be impossible.
Missiles and stability
Another point of tension is whether Iran will agree to follow these nuclear talks into a second round of negotiations on segregated behaviors that Western countries have long criticized.
The US and the European powers in particular have stepped up the Iranian missile program and its support for militant groups across the region.
The negotiators are currently discussing whether the nuclear deal should include a reference to follow-up meetings to cover these activities. The US and its European partners are pushing for such a reference, but it is unclear whether Iran will give in.
Iran, for its part, wants guarantees from the US that Washington (or any other country) will never leave the JCPOA again.
Both demands need to be reconciled, which is particularly difficult as they were not part of the original 2015 agreement.
A secret nuclear program?
Not only nuclear negotiators are coming to Vienna next week. The 35-member IAEA Board of Governors will also meet to discuss the latest IAEA reports on Iran.
The agency’s quarterly report said Iran produced 2.4 kilograms of 60 percent enriched uranium, which is close to weapon quality. And Iran’s total supply of enriched uranium has now reached about 3.241 kilograms – 16 times higher than what the JCPOA allows.
The board will also discuss a second confidential report detailing the occurrence of decades-old uranium particles in multiple locations in Iran, a series of findings that was last leaked to the public in February. Iran’s critics say the traces may be an indication that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program in the past. Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful.
“After many months, Iran has not provided the necessary explanation for the presence of nuclear material particles at one of the three locations at which the agency carried out additional access,” says the report viewed by POLITICO.
The secret “seriously undermines the agency’s ability to ensure the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program,” the report added.
Despite this sobering assessment, two diplomats involved in the talks told POLITICO, on condition of anonymity, that they did not expect the IAEA meeting to break the nuclear talks, as the executive committee would likely refrain from passing a resolution against Iran .