Tehran, Iran – The political delegations of Iran and the world powers party to its 2015 nuclear deal are due to return to Vienna for what could be the final stretch of intensive efforts to restore the landmark accord.
The eighth round of the talks, which was paused for more than a week to allow delegations to head back to their capitals for political consultations, will resume on Tuesday in the Austrian capital, multiple sides have confirmed.
While different sides have said real progress has been made since late November when the talks restarted after a months-long pause, it is clear that significant hurdles remain on the way to reaching an agreement to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The Iranian government still refuses to talk directly with the United States, which unilaterally abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran. This means European officials will have to continue their shuttle diplomacy between the two.
Iranian officials said on Monday that the onus falls on the Western parties to fulfil Iran’s expectations of sanctions relief.
In a joint conference in Tehran alongside his Finnish counterpart, Pekka Haavisto, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said a swift agreement in Vienna depended on the conduct and political will of the US and the so-called E3 – France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
“In the latest texts achieved in the Vienna negotiations, parts of our demands on lifting sanctions have not been considered,” he said. Still, he expressed hope that “in this round, we will reach a final agreement”.
Earlier on Monday, Iran’s security chief Ali Shamkhani said in a tweet that the Iranian team would head to Vienna with a clear agenda of lifting sanctions.
“An agreement in which the sanctions that form the maximum pressure are not lifted will condition the country’s economy and cannot be the basis of a good deal,” he wrote in reference to a policy of the administration of former US President Donald Trump that his successor, Joe Biden, continues to enforce.
The agenda for the Iranian negotiators to continue the eighth round of #ViennaTalks has been carefully defined. An agreement in which the sanctions that form the maximum pressure are not lifted will condition the country's economy and cannot be the basis of a #GoodDeal.
— علی شمخانی (@alishamkhani_ir) February 7, 2022
Signed by China, France Germany, Iran, Russia, the UK and the US, the JCPOA provided sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme. But after the US withdrawal and imposition of sanctions, Iran abandoned those curbs and is now using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium up to 60 percent.
Iran has said it wants a full lifting of US sanctions and guarantees that Washington will not renege on the deal again, as well as a short period to verify that sanctions have effectively been lifted.
But European officials seem to be signalling that Iran needs to scale back some of its demands in order to achieve an agreement.
“We need spirit of compromise to take us back to full implementation,” tweeted Enrique Mora, the EU’s coordinator for the nuclear deal. “In view of different undesirable trends undermining the JCPOA, there is a need to swiftly conclude these negotiations.”
The 8th round of #ViennaTalks #JCPOA will resume tomorrow in Vienna. We need spirit of compromise to take us back to full implementation. In view of different undesirable trends undermining the JCPOA, there is a need to swiftly conclude these negotiations.
— Enrique Mora (@enriquemora_) February 7, 2022
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, also told the Iranian foreign minister in a call on Sunday that he expected all sides to come back to Vienna ready to make the political decisions required to reach a deal.
Russia’s chief negotiator, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Monday talks are in the “final stage” but an agreement “requires determination and energetic efforts from all participants”.
Meanwhile, the US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said last week Iran still wants all US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration lifted, whereas the US is prepared to lift most but not all.
“We have different views about what it means for the United States to be back in compliance,” he said.
The US on Friday restored a sanctions waiver that allows Russian, Chinese and European companies to work with Iran on civilian nuclear activities, in what was seen as a step aimed at facilitating the talks.
Iranian officials welcomed the move but said it is “not enough” as they will only accept an effective lifting of sanctions that will provide Iran with the economic benefits it was promised under the deal.
The delegations head back to Vienna amid continued warnings by the Western parties that mere weeks are left to salvage the accord due to Iran’s nuclear advances.
Iran, which maintains it will never seek a nuclear weapon, says it will not be bound by any “artificial deadlines”.