Nuclear: The United States and Iran are trying to resolve their differences in Vienna
A new episode in the interminable saga of the Iranian nuclear issue: talks resumed in Vienna on Thursday, after months of deadlock, in an attempt to resolve the latest sticking points between Tehran and Washington.
This is the first time since March that all the parties (Iran, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany) have met in the Austrian capital in order to save the moribund agreement of 2015, supposed to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring atomic weapons.
The United States is indirectly participating in these negotiations, which began in April 2021, with the European Union acting as intermediary.
“I think there is a real possibility (to conclude), but it is not going to be easy,” commented a senior European official in the evening.
Tehran and Washington still have to agree “on the scale of the sanctions to be lifted and on several nuclear issues that did not exist in March” because of the progress made since by Iran, according to the same source.
– “Measured expectations” –
On this first day, the bilateral meetings took place one after the other at the Palais Cobourg, a luxury hotel where the talks are taking place under the aegis of the coordinator of the European Union Enrique Mora.
He received in the morning the Russian ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, then the Chinese representative Wang Qun and finally the Iranian chief negotiator Ali Bagheri.
The latter had called on the United States on Wednesday to “seize this opportunity (…) to act responsibly”.
A separate meeting was also held between Iranians and Russians, who have traditionally been close in discussions.
According to the EU official, the talks are expected to continue until the weekend.
Washington’s envoy, Robert Malley, is also present in Vienna.
In a message announcing his trip, he tempered the enthusiasm from the outset. “Our expectations are measured but the United States (…) are ready in good faith to try to find an agreement,” he wrote on Twitter.
On Thursday, White House security spokesman John Kirby said that “time seems to be running out more and more”.
“We are not going to wait forever for Iran to accept the agreement that is on the table,” he said at a press briefing, “urging” Tehran to accept the offer that has been offered to it.
After so many failed attempts, so many false alarms, the European diplomat nevertheless wants to believe that we are finally reaching the end.
“We are exhausted, I can’t imagine myself here in four weeks. This is not another discussion session, we are here to finalize the text,” he insisted.
– The obstacle of the Guardians removed –
After the failure of talks in Qatar at the end of June between the Americans and the Iranians, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, submitted a compromise draft on July 26 and called on the parties to accept it to avoid a “dangerous crisis”.
Tehran as well as Washington have an interest in keeping the diplomatic channel alive for lack of better options, experts note.
“Faced with the range of domestic and international challenges, the United States especially does not want a nuclear crisis with Iran that could degenerate into a wider regional conflict,” emphasizes Suzanne DiMaggio, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The Islamic Republic, for its part, still aspires to the lifting of the sanctions that are suffocating its economy.
Among the obstacles raised, Tehran’s request for a withdrawal of the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological army of the Islamic Republic, from the US blacklist of terrorist organizations “is no longer on the agenda,” the European official said. “This issue will be discussed later,” in another frame.
Ditto for the guarantees demanded in case Joe Biden’s successor goes back on the word given: “we now have important guarantees that, I believe, satisfy Iran,” he assured.
There remains Tehran’s wish to close an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a delicate subject that falls under separate discussions with the UN nuclear watchdog.
The pact known by its English acronym JCPOA aims to guarantee the civilian character of Iran’s nuclear program, accused of seeking to acquire atomic weapons despite its denials.
But following the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under the leadership of Donald Trump and the reinstatement of US sanctions, Tehran has gradually freed itself from its obligations.
Iran has thus exceeded the 3.67% uranium enrichment rate set by the JCPOA, amounting to 20% at the beginning of 2021. Then he crossed the unprecedented threshold of 60%, approaching the 90% necessary to make a bomb.
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