Iran insists on immediate lifting of sanctions as nuclear talks resume

VIENNA – The setting was correct, but the atmosphere icy. After a hiatus of more than five months, talks on relaunching the 2015 Iran n...


VIENNA – The setting was correct, but the atmosphere icy. After a hiatus of more than five months, talks on relaunching the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed Monday at Palais Coburg, the luxury hotel in Vienna where the initial pact was signed with great fanfare, in a more optimistic time.

With a more conservative government now in place in Iran and a new set of Iranian negotiators who have said talks must begin with a full lifting of sanctions, the mood was grim among Western negotiators.

But as the first round of formal talks ended on Monday, negotiators also tried to be optimistic.

Enrique Mora of the European Union, who is chairing the talks, said Iran “recognizes the work done over the past six rounds and the fact that we are going to build on that”. But he said Iran “insisted on lifting sanctions” immediately, which is likely to be unacceptable to Washington.

Iran is also insisting that the United States and its allies promise never to impose sanctions on Iran again, the country’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, deputy foreign minister, told reporters in the press after the talks.

According to a senior EU official, who requested anonymity, the Iranian negotiator also told the meetings that Iran would further step up its nuclear program if those demands were not met.

But in an important step in keeping the talks alive, Iran agreed to resume talks on Tuesday in one of three working groups established in previous rounds – on which sanctions would ultimately be lifted by the United States. The other two working groups, on the nuclear issue itself and on the implementation and sequence of actions of each country in the event of a new agreement, will not resume discussions on Tuesday.

Mora said the nuclear task force would meet on Wednesday. “There is a sense of urgency” to restore the nuclear deal, he said, but “there is no fixed timetable in my mind.”

The Europeans had estimated that significant progress in all three task forces had been made in previous talks – albeit awkwardly, as Iran refuses to speak directly to US envoy Robert Malley and will only do so. through the existing signatories – France, Great Britain, Germany, China, Russia and Mr. Mora.

The Biden administration has said it wants to revert to the original nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Common Comprehensive Plan of Action, which former President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018, calling it of “worst deal in history”.

Iran’s new government seems to believe the same, with Mr Bagheri Kani repeating in an opinion piece in the Financial Times, his view that the very term “nuclear negotiations” is itself “riddled with errors”.

Iran’s first objective, he wrote, is “to achieve a total, guaranteed and verifiable removal of the sanctions that have been imposed on the Iranian people.” The talks, he said earlier this month, are “negotiations to remove illegal and inhumane sanctions,” a topic also touched on Monday in an Iranian press article by Foreign Minister Hossein Amir. Abdollahian.

To underscore the focus on lifting punitive economic sanctions, Mr. Bagheri Kani brought a delegation to Vienna that includes the Deputy Foreign Ministers for Economic and Legal Affairs, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank and his former chief, the deputy ministers of economy and petroleum and the economic adviser of the Iranian vice-president.

After days of informal discussions where the bulk of the discussion is done, the plenary plenary session began more than an hour later than expected when Mr. Bagheri Kani finally entered the room. He spoke only of how all sanctions are to be lifted by “the aggressor,” the United States, and paid tribute to the “martyrdom” of Iranian scientists killed in covert attacks largely carried out by Israel.

The situation on the ground in Iran has changed in the past five months since the end of the last round of talks, making this week’s talks more difficult.

Iran stuck to the deal for a year after Washington pulled out, but since then its nuclear program has advanced significantly, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. He built modern centrifuges banned under the deal and violated enrichment limits. It’s also much closer to having enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb (although creating a weapon, which Iran still denies it wants to do, would take maybe two years).

Iran has also adapted to the current tough sanctions regime, aided by oil sales to China and Russia, two countries which opposed the US withdrawal from the deal in 2018, and whose relations with Washington has hardly improved over time.

Iran also tried to put pressure on Washington by go back on a deal so far with the International Atomic Energy Agency to restore its access to inspect Iranian nuclear sites and retrieve records from those sites. The worry is that the agency, and therefore the world, will soon be blind to what Iran is actually doing in its nuclear program.

Even so, the agency’s board of governors did not pass a censure resolution against Iran, largely because China and Russia oppose it.

The United States has ruled out any unilateral lifting of sanctions before Iran itself again complies and has rejected Iran’s request to ensure that Washington never abandons the deal again, calling it unrealistic.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was positive Monday while blaming the United States. “The delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in Vienna with the firm determination to reach an agreement and looks forward to fruitful talks,” he said in Tehran. “The government has shown its will and its seriousness by sending a quality team known to all. If the other side shows the same will, we will be on the right track to reaching an agreement.

But Mr Malley, the US envoy, has regularly said, as he did on the BBC over the weekend, that “if Iran thinks it can use this time to build its influence, then come back and say he wants something better, it won’t work. We and our partners will not join.

Still, no one expects the talks to end for good, which would face the United States and Israel with more difficult choices, as both countries swear Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.

Israel, which fiercely opposed the 2015 deal, does not want Washington and the Europeans to give in to Iran or prepare a compromise or temporary arrangements. Israel says it will continue to try to sabotage, delay or destroy Iran’s nuclear program, even if US officials believe such efforts are ultimately counterproductive.

And it is increasingly believed that Iran’s increased nuclear knowledge cannot be extinguished, and that the country may want to achieve the capacity to produce a bomb in a short period of time if it chooses to do so – for become more of a nuclear threshold state, with significant geopolitical ramifications in the Middle East.

“The stakes are high and there are no reliable safeguards in place,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, who studies Iran and non-proliferation for the Quincy Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The resumption of talks in Vienna is an opportunity to move from maximum pressure to a diplomatic exit ramp and to defuse tensions,” she said. “But all signs point to a rocky road ahead.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Iran insists on immediate lifting of sanctions as nuclear talks resume
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