Iran nuclear talks make progress in Vienna, diplomats say

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Top diplomats said Sunday that further progress had been made in talks between Iran and world powers to re-establish a groundbreaking 2015 deal to contain Iran’s nuclear development that was abandoned by the Trump administration. It is now up to the governments involved in the negotiations to make political decisions.

It was the first official meeting since the Iranian justice chief’s landslide victory in the presidential election last week.

Some diplomats have expressed concerns that Iran’s election of Ebrahim Raisi as president could hamper a possible return to the nuclear deal.

Enrique Mora, the European Union official who chaired the final meeting of the sixth round of talks between Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran, told reporters that “we are closer to an agreement, but we are not there yet”.

“We have made progress on a number of technical issues,” added Mora. “We now have more clarity on technical documents – which are all quite complex – and this clarity also gives us a good idea of ​​the political problems.”

He did not elaborate.

Senior Russian Representative Mikhail Ulyanov said members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had “taken stock of the significant progress made in the Vienna talks, including the sixth round, and decided to pause on it the participants choose their capitals in preparation for the supposedly final round of negotiations. “

“There are some controversial issues that require political decision-making. Apparently, diplomatic efforts to find a common language are almost exhausted. So the time for political decision-making has come,” added Ulyanov.

The nations involved in the negotiations have tried to resolve the most important outstanding issues of how the US can return to the groundbreaking agreement from which then US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled Washington out in 2018. Trump also restored and tightened sanctions, in order to achieve this, forcing Iran to renegotiate the pact with further concessions.

Ulyanov said that after returning to report the outcome of the talks to respective governments, he expected the diplomats to return to the final round of talks in Vienna in about 10 days and finalize negotiations by mid-July.

“I think we have every chance of reaching the last point in our negotiations, maybe even by mid-July, unless something extraordinary and negative happens,” he said.

In a written statement after the talks on Sunday, the high-ranking European diplomats of the E3 called for a quick decision-making in the capitals involved in the talks.

“The delegations will now travel to the capitals to consult with their leadership,” wrote the diplomats without giving their names, as was customary. “We urge all sides to return to Vienna and be ready to make a deal. The time for a decision is getting closer.”

Iran’s deputy foreign minister for political affairs said on Sunday before the meeting that “we think almost all of the agreement documents are ready,” said the semi-official Iranian news agency Mehr.

“Of the main issues that are still controversial, some have been resolved and some remain, but it has taken a very precise form and it is pretty clear what the dimensions of these disputes are,” said Seyyed Abbas Araghchi.

The USA did not have a representative at the table in Vienna. However, President Joe Biden’s administration has signaled its readiness to rejoin the Iran deal on terms that would result in the United States scaling back sanctions and Iran returning to its 2015 nuclear commitments. A US delegation in Vienna is taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as mediators.

Sunday’s meeting was overshadowed by the election of Raisi in Iran, which gives hardliners firm control of the government at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at the highest levels ever, albeit still below weapon grade. Tensions remain high with Iran and the US, as well as Israel, who are believed to have carried out a series of attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and murdered the scientist who created his military nuclear program decades earlier.

Raisi is the first Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government before he took office for his involvement in the mass executions of 1988 and his time as head of the internationally criticized Iranian judiciary – one of the world’s leading executioners.

In Jerusalem, the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned on Sunday that Raisi’s election as Iranian president was “the last chance for world powers to wake up before they return to the nuclear deal and understand who they are doing business with”.

“These guys are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal executioners must never have weapons of mass destruction that enable them to kill millions, not thousands,” he said.

Israel has long declared that it rejects the nuclear program of archenemy Iran and would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday that he hoped the election of the new Iranian president would not be an obstacle to an agreement in Vienna.

“We are very close. We have been working for two months,” Borrell told reporters during a visit to the Lebanese capital, Beirut. “So I hope that the election results won’t be the last obstacle to ruin the negotiation process.”

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