The European Union’s foreign policy chief says “a pause” is needed in ongoing talks over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers, blaming “external factors” for the delay.
The comments by Josep Borrell came on Friday as a plan appeared imminent for the United States to rejoin an accord it unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, and for Iran to again limit its rapidly advancing nuclear programme.
While Borrell did not elaborate, his statement also came as Russia last week tied the ongoing negotiations to sanctions Moscow faces over its war on Ukraine.
“A final text is essentially ready and on the table,” Borrell wrote on Twitter. “As coordinator, I will, with my team, continue to be in touch with all #JCPOA participants and the U.S. to overcome the current situation and to close the agreement.”
The JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the 2015 nuclear deal’s formal name. Talks have been going on for months in Vienna over trying to come up with a way to revive the deal.
Iran’s foreign ministry said on Friday a pause in talks with world powers to revive the deal could help the negotiations.
“Pause in #ViennaTalks could be a momentum for resolving any remaining issue and a final return. Successful conclusion of talks will be the main focus of all,” Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Twitter.
“No external factor will affect our joint will to go forward for a collective agreement.”
A report by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, quoting an anonymous source it described as close to Tehran’s negotiators, also suggested Russia’s demands caused the pause.
“There are some issues such as the issues between Russia and the United States, which, of course, will be unrelated to the issue of Iran’s talks … and that need to be resolved between the U.S. and Russia,” IRNA quoted the source as saying.
However, Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, speaking to journalists outside of the Vienna hotel where the talks took place, insisted: “I’m not aware of any impasse.”
“Contacts will continue,” he said. “The conclusion of the deal does not depend on Russia only.”
On Thursday, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the US was “close to a possible deal – it’s really down to a very small number of outstanding issues”.
But last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he wanted “guarantees at least at the level of the secretary of state” that the US sanctions would not affect Moscow’s relationship with Tehran.
That threw into question the months of negotiations held so far on restoring the deal, which saw Iran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
“The new Russia-related sanctions are wholly unrelated to the JCPOA and should not have any impact on a potential mutual return to compliance with it or its ultimate implementation,” Price said.
“We also have no intention of offering Russia anything new or specific as it relates to the [Ukraine] sanctions, nor is anything new required to successfully reach an agreement on a mutual return to full compliance with the” deal, he said.
The 2015 nuclear deal saw Iran put advanced centrifuges into storage under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) while keeping its enrichment at 3.67 percent purity and its stockpile at just 300kg (661 pounds) of uranium.
It also halted enrichment at its underground Fordo nuclear facility. But then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the accord in 2018, fulfilling a campaign pledge to tear up the deal as it did not address Iran’s ballistic missile programme and support for regional militias.
Iran in 2019 began methodically breaking all the deal’s limits as a series of escalating attacks put the wider Middle East on edge.