Tehran, Iran – The first week of talks to restore Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers has concluded with all sides hopeful of continuing the discussions that started in Vienna.
A Joint Commission meeting of the remaining participants of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Iran, China, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom – was held in the Austrian capital on Friday following a virtual meeting last week and an in-person meeting on Tuesday.
Iran’s foreign ministry said Tehran was in favour of continuing the talks if all sides continue to exhibit “political will and seriousness” to restore the deal that the United States unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
For now, negotiators – including those from the US who were in Vienna but in a different hotel as Iran refuses to meet them directly – will head back to reflect on the progress made this week. The talks will continue on Wednesday.
“The JCPOA participants took stock of the work done by experts over the last three days and noted with satisfaction the initial progress made,” tweeted Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s representative at the talks that are aimed at figuring out how remaining parties can facilitate the return of the US and bring Iran back into full compliance after it started steps in 2019 to scale back its commitments.
Iran proposes logical path to full JCPOA compliance:
-US—which caused this crisis—should return to full compliance first;
-Iran will reciprocate following rapid verification;
-All Trump sanctions were anti-JCPOA & must be removed—w/o distinction between arbitrary designations.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 9, 2021
After Tuesday’s meeting, two working groups were formed. One was to list the sanctions the US started imposing in 2018 that would need to be lifted while the other would gauge what measures Iran needs to take to return to full compliance with the accord.
In response to US sanctions, Iran has boosted uranium enrichment and stockpile, installed cascades of new centrifuges, and expanded its research and development.
The sanctions dilemma
On Thursday, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the nuclear watchdog tasked with monitoring Iranian nuclear activity – met in Vienna separately with representatives of Iran, the US and Europe tasked with communicating Joint Commission messages to the US.
“The IAEA will continue its professional technical verification and monitoring in Iran, in support of JCPOA and other matters,” Rafael Grossi wrote on Twitter.
Hours before the discussions began on Friday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s website published an interview with Kazem Gharibabadi, representative to international organisations in Vienna and a senior member of the Iranian negotiating team.
Gharibabadi said all sanctions initially removed as part of the JCPOA and later reimposed by former US President Donald Trump, all new sanctions and all sanctions imposed using “non-nuclear excuses” need to be lifted.
On Thursday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US is ready to remove sanctions, “including those that are inconsistent” with the deal.
That could mean the US and Iran may come at odds over what “inconsistent” means as Washington may not be prepared to lift all sanctions as Iranian authorities have demanded.
In 2020 mainly, Trump imposed additional sanctions, including those with human rights and “terrorism” designations, on already sanctioned individuals and entities with the aim of making it more difficult for a potential Joe Biden administration to return to the JCPOA.
Gharibabadi said the effective lifting of sanctions needs to be verified in action, which would mean Iran being able to sign new oil contracts and export oil, transfer export yields inside the country or put them to other use, or be able to conduct financial transactions through a variety of channels.
He added that the possibility of the US or others reneging on their nuclear commitments again is “an issue that is totally under technical considerations, and several options have been proposed” without elaborating further.