Iran nuclear talks closer to ‘practical steps’ in Vienna

Remaining parties to 2015 nuclear deal agree to form third expert working group to focus on steps to restore the accord.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi and Iran's ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog, Kazem Gharibabadi, leave a hotel in Vienna, Austria [Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Continuing talks in Austria’s capital to restore Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are getting closer to yielding actionable results as more progress was achieved on Tuesday.

The remaining parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Iran, China, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, together with the European Union – agreed during a Joint Commission meeting in Vienna’s Grand Hotel to form a third expert working group to focus on “practical steps” required to restore the accord.

The United States left the accord in 2018 and unilaterally imposed sanctions on Iran.

Two working groups have spent the past few weeks working on drafting a comprehensive list of the sanctions that the US would need to lift, and the nuclear steps Iran would need to reverse in order for all sides to go back into full compliance with the deal.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s lead negotiator, said following the meeting that talks are continuing despite difficulties and challenges.

He also warned that “whenever the talks veer toward demanding too much, killing time, or illogical bargaining, negotiations will be stopped” by the Iranian delegation.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that talks in Vienna have progressed up to 70 percent and “we will reach results in a short time if the Americans move within the framework of honesty”.

The delegations, including that of the US, which is in Vienna but in a different hotel as Iran refuses to meet directly, will now once more return to their countries to assess the progress, and will be back in Vienna next week.

“Progress made over the last two weeks. But much more hard work needed … I continue to think that diplomacy is the only way forward for the JCPOA to address ongoing challenges,” tweeted Enrique Mora, the European Union’s deputy policy chief and coordinator of the Joint Commission following Tuesday’s meeting.

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s lead negotiator, said in a tweet that the Joint Commission “took note with satisfaction of the progress made in negotiations”.

Ulyanov had said on Monday that a joint text is being drafted as representatives “have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps towards” restoring the JCPOA.

Talks with IAEA

The latest Joint Commission meeting came shortly after Iranian nuclear experts also began talks with representatives from the global nuclear watchdog.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday confirmed that it has started talks with Iran in Vienna to obtain explanations on the origin of uranium traces found at several previously undeclared locations in Iran.

Faced with a European plan backed by the US to censure Iran at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in March, which would hurt efforts to restore the nuclear deal, Iran and the IAEA had reached an agreement to hold talks in early April that were postponed.

If they fail to make progress explaining the uranium traces now, the European signatories of the nuclear deal may push for another resolution at the next IAEA board meeting in June.

Western intelligence agencies believe Iran had a secret nuclear weapons programme that it abandoned in 2003. Iran says it never has and never will seek a nuclear weapon.

It did, however, boost its uranium enrichment to a purity of 60 percent last week in response to an attack on its main nuclear facilities in Natanz that damaged an unknown number of centrifuges.

The attack, that led to a massive blackout, is widely believed to be orchestrated by Israel, and Iran has vowed “revenge”.

Iran had previously boosted its uranium enrichment to 20 percent following the assassination of a top nuclear and military scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November. The JCPOA caps the country’s enrichment at 3.67 percent. Enrichment of 90 percent is required for weapons-grade use.

Source: Al Jazeera