Iran’s nuclear program: Vienna talks resume
IIn Vienna, nuclear talks with Iran resumed on Thursday after a month-long hiatus. Initially, individual negotiators from Iran, Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia and China met for bilateral talks. Coordination lies with the European Union, represented by its top diplomat, Enrique Mora.
Russian negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov said he met Mora on Thursday morning. “We exchanged our views on what steps need to be taken to restore the agreement,” Ulyanov tweeted. He also met with the Iranian negotiator Bagheri. The American negotiator Robert Malley also traveled to Vienna.
But it remains the case that the Iranians do not want to speak directly to the Americans since the United States, under former President Donald Trump, withdrew from the 2015 Nuclear Accord (JCPOA) and imposed sanctions. Since then, the Iranian side has also violated all the specifications and restrictions for its nuclear program and enriched uranium to just before it could be used for weapons. The current talks are about finding a way for all sides to once again comply with the provisions of the JCPOA.
A largely negotiated draft of a renewed agreement is on the table. But talks have stalled since March. The reason for this is the geopolitical framework since Russia invaded Ukraine. Now a new round has been heralded – what may be a last chance for a revival of the 2015 agreement.
Washington’s expectations are limited
Malley announced in advance that his expectations of success were limited. We welcome the efforts of the EU and have the best of intentions – whether that is also the case on the Iranian side will soon become clear, the American special representative tweeted. Conversely, Tehran reported that the Americans had an obligation to deliver, since they had withdrawn from the JCPOA.
A senior EU official expressed cautious optimism in Vienna on Thursday. “It’s not about how complex the technical issues are, it’s about the political will,” he said. “Now we are trying to finalize the text and get the JCPOA back on track.” A draft was presented in July, which was modified in detail compared to March and with which all sides now agree – including the Iranians and the American. Various controversial issues that recently seemed to stand in the way of an agreement seem to be off the table – at least from the negotiating table in Vienna, where the JCPOA is at stake. According to this information, this also applies to the Iranian demand that the United States should remove the Revolutionary Guards from the terrorist list.
This was discussed, among other things, at meetings in Oman and Qatar, also with the participation of the EU as a transmitter of news. It is now, the EU side said, three or four specific points that affect the lifting of American sanctions. And about three “nuclear issues”, i.e. points relating to the Iranian nuclear program. These concern not only Tehran and Washington, but are also important to the other parties at the negotiating table, who share the interest in Iran not being able to obtain nuclear bombs.
These nuclear issues have not yet been taken into account in the text that has been negotiated so far, because Iran’s continued activity with ever more modern centrifuges to ever higher degrees of enrichment has only brought them to the fore. From the data of the International Atomic Energy Agency it can be calculated that Iran should already have enough material enriched to 60 percent to have enough weapons-grade material for a bomb with a small further enrichment step to 90 percent.
The EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell presented the draft in its most recent version. He outlined its content last week in the British newspaper “Financial Times”: The text is not perfect, but contains all the compromises that have been hard won since 2021. There is no other comprehensive or effective option available. The EU chief diplomat wrote that he was aware that the JCPOA in Washington was continuing to polarize politically and that the “midterm” elections were approaching.
But the strict limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment and tight control by the IAEA formed a cornerstone of global non-proliferation. Addressing Iran, Borrell expressed understanding for the distrust in view of the “negative experiences of the past few years”. In his article, Trump’s exit from the agreement is sharply criticized. But the new text for the JCPOA is better protected from being unilaterally undermined. An agreement would yield significant “economic and financial dividends” – a rejection would threaten a “dangerous nuclear crisis and deepened isolation of Iran and its people”.