Timeline: Biden Diplomacy on Iran

In 2021, the Biden administration launched new diplomacy to get both Tehran and Washington to fully comply with the 2015 nuclear deal. On February 18, it announced three opening moves:

  • It accepted an invitation from the European Union to meet with the P5+1 countries – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – with Iran to chart a diplomatic way forward.
  • It rescinded the Trump administration’s letter invoking “snapback sanctions” at the United Nations.
  • And it lifted travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats based at the United Nations.

Diplomacy initially stalled over disagreements about which country should go first. Iran refused to meet directly with the United States unless it first lifted sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, which withdrew from the accord in May 2018. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told Politico that Tehran would wait "as long as it takes for the U.S. to return." After weeks of behind-the-scenes overtures, the European Union announced on April 2 that it would convene indirect talks including the six major world powers and Iran.

The negotiations played out over multiple rounds:

  • The first round from April 6 to 9, 2021
  • The second round from April 15 to 20, 2021
  • The third round from April 27 to May 1, 2021
  • The fourth round from May 6 to May 19, 2021
  • The fifth round from May 25 to June 2, 2021
  • The sixth round from June 12 to June 20, 2021
  • The seventh round from November 29 to December 17, 2021
  • The eighth round from December 27, 2021 to March 11, 2022
  • Indirect U.S.-Iran talks starting on June 28, 2022

The following is a timeline of diplomacy to fully restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

 

Timeline 

Sept. 13, 2020: As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden pledged that he would “offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy” if elected. “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations,” Biden wrote in September 2020. “With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern,” such as ballistic missiles and Iran’s regional proxies.

Jan. 29, 2021: Rob Malley was appointed Special Envoy for Iran. Malley was previously the lead U.S. negotiator for nuclear talks with Iran in 2015. The State Department praised Malley for his “track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran's nuclear program.”

Feb. 1, 2021: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested that the European Union could “choreograph” moves by the United States and Iran to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). ”There can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize it or coordinate what can be done,” he told CNN.

Feb. 7, 2021: President Biden reaffirmed in a CBS interview that his administration would not lift sanctions first to entice Iran back to the negotiating table.

Feb. 10, 2021: Special Envoy for Iran Malley spoke with China’s vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, Beijing said in a phone call readout.

Feb. 18, 2021: The Biden administration announced three opening moves to jumpstart diplomacy with Iran. The three moves were accepting an invitation from the E.U. to attend a meeting of the P5+1 countries, rescinding the Trump administration invocation of “snapback” sanctions at the United Nations, and lifting travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats in New York.

Feb. 19, 2021: Tehran reacted coolly to the U.S. offer of talks and instead repeated its demand  that Washington lift all sanctions imposed by the Trump administration between 2018 and 2021 as a precondition to roll back its breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. “Gestures are fine. But to revive P5+1, US must Act: LIFT sanctions,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted. “Here is the key sequence: #CommitActMeet.

Feb. 21, 2021: Zarif said that the United States needed to lift sanctions before it could meet in the P5+1 format. “All the sanctions must be removed; the United States must gain reentry to the JCPOA,” he told the state-run PressTV. “It’s not automatic; it’s not a revolving door.”

Feb. 22, 2021: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened to enrich uranium “to any extent that is necessary” if Washington refused to lift sanctions. “Iran's enrichment level may reach 60 percent to meet the country's needs,” he told the Assembly of Experts. He reiterated that Iran did not seek a nuclear weapon.

Feb. 28, 2021: Iran formally rejected an E.U. offer to broker direct talks with the United States. “Given the recent moves and positions of the U.S. and the three European countries, the Islamic Republic doesn’t assess the timing of an informal meeting proposed by the E.U. coordinator as appropriate,” the foreign ministry said.

March 10, 2021: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Iran needed to take proactive steps to spur new diplomacy. “The ball is in their court to see if they are serious about re-engaging or not,” Blinken testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. U.S. negotiators would not “rush or slow things because of the Iranian elections” in June, Malley told Axios.

March 17, 2021: Malley acknowledged that “neither side is going to go first entirely” in returning to compliance with the JCPOA. “There's going to have to be some agreement on choreographing, on synchronizing,” he told BBC Persian. “We're open to discussing that. But it's going to have to be discussed. It's not going to happen simply unilaterally by one side taking all the steps and waiting then to see whether the other one reciprocates.”

March 25, 2021: Beijing pledged to play a “constructive role” in U.S.-Iran diplomacy but urged the parties to “increase the sense of urgency” over returning to the nuclear deal. “The U.S. side should take concrete actions as soon as possible, and both the United States and Iran need to meet each other halfway for the latter's return to compliance at an early date,” the vice foreign minister told Malley.

March 29. 2021: A Politico report detailed a purported diplomatic proposal by the Biden administration made to Iran. The United States would lift some sanctions in exchange for Iran reversing the most egregious violations of the JCPOA: enriching uranium to 20 percent and its work on advanced centrifuges. But Iran appeared to publicly reject the proposal; its U.N. mission reiterated that the U.S. needed to "fully and immediately" return to the nuclear deal first.

March 30, 2021: The Biden administration would be willing to discuss a comprehensive “roadmap” for both the United States and Iran to fully return to the nuclear deal rather than limited initial steps, a U.S. official told Reuters. “If that’s what Iran wants to talk about, we are happy to talk about it,” the official said.

April 1, 2021: The European Union said that it would host a virtual meeting to discuss the “possible return of the United States to the JCPOA” with the remaining five participants of the deal, including Iran. State Department spokesperson Ned Price welcomed the meeting as a “positive step, especially if it moves the ball forward on that mutual return to compliance.”

April 2, 2021: The United States and Iran said that they would both attend diplomatic talks in Vienna the following week to discuss the JCPOA but would not meet directly. The Vienna meeting would focus on reaching two separate agreements: one with the United States on its timetable for lifting sanctions and one with Iran on its timetable for returning into compliance, The Wall Street Journal reported. Malley told PBS that the U.S. delegation would also push for the return of American detainees in Iran, "whatever happens on the nuclear side, whether we succeed or fail."

April 5, 2021: The Iranian delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, arrived in Vienna. The group included representatives from the Central Bank of Iran, the Petroleum Ministry and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. In the evening, Iran and China held a bilateral meeting.    

April 6, 2021: Indirect talks between the United States and Iran began in Vienna. Two expert working groups were formed: one on the timetable for lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran, the other on reversing Iran's breaches of the nuclear deal. Araghchi said that negotiations were on "the right track," but that it was "too soon to say it has been successful."

April 7, 2021: Special Envoy Malley met with Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian ambassador in Vienna. "We had a businesslike discussion on issues related to restoration of full implementation of the #JCPOA by all sides," Ulyanov tweeted. Malley also met with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi. 

April 8, 2021: Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi met with IAEA Director General Grossi while in Vienna. Araghchi said that the IAEA would play an "important role" in verification if Iran came to an agreement with the world powers over returning to compliance with the JCPOA. 

April 9, 2021: The first week of talks in Vienna concluded. No final agreement was reached, but participants agreed to reconvene the following week. The P4+1 "took stock of the work done by experts over the last three days and noted with satisfaction the initial progress made," Ambassador Ulyanov tweeted

April 11, 2021: An explosion at Natanz hit the power supply for centrifuges and caused damage that could take up to nine months to fully repair, The New York Times reported. "Thousands of centrifuges" were destroyed, according to Alireza Zakani, head of Iran's Parliament Research Center. Foreign Minister Zarif blamed Israel but insisted that Iran would not "allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks.”

April 13, 2021: Iran said that it will begin enriching uranium to 60 percent, the highest level of enrichment that it has publicly acknowledged. The move would be a major breach of the 2015 nuclear deal and brought Tehran closer to having weapons grade uranium. Iran also planned to install 1,000 additional centrifuges at Natanz. 

April 14, 2021: Britain, France and Germany expressed "grave concern" about Iran's decision to enrich uranium up to 60 percent. "Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level," the three European countries said in a joint statement. They condemned the move as "contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith" of diplomatic negotiations. Secretary of State Blinken called the decision to enrich up to 60 percent "provocative" and that it "calls into question Iran's seriousness" at the Vienna talks. "We're committed to pursuing that process, but the real question is whether Iran is," he said in Brussels.

April 15, 2021: Indirect talks over getting the United State and Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA resumed in Vienna. In Tehran, President Rouhani reiterated that Iran was not seeking a nuclear weapon. “We can enrich 90 percent today, but we stand by our word and we are not looking for an atomic bomb,” he said during a cabinet meeting. “It is YOU who made and stockpiled the atomic bomb and are still making bombs. This is what YOU do. Do not accuse us of making bombs, Iran's activities are completely peaceful.”

April 16, 2021: Iran began enriching uranium up to 60 percent. “We are producing about nine grams of 60 percent enriched uranium an hour,” AEOI chief Salehi said. President Joe Biden said that the step was not "helpful" to negotiations in Vienna. "We are, though, nonetheless, pleased that Iran has continued to agree to engage in discussions, indirect discussions with us and with our partners on how we move forward," he said at a news conference in the Rose Garden. The heads of the Chinese, Russian and Iranian delegations held a trilateral meeting. 

April 17, 2021: The Joint Commission instructed the expert-level working groups to work over the weekend. "We need now more detailed work," Enrique Mora, E.U. coordinator for the talks, tweeted. "Key that everyone is committed to the same objectives"

April 19, 2021: The U.S. and Russian delegations in Vienna held "useful" bilateral talks on lifting U.S. sanctions and returning Iran to full compliance with the JCPOA, Ambassador Ulyanov tweeted

April 20, 2021: The Joint Commission created a third expert group "to start looking into the possible sequencing of respective measures" by the United States and Iran to reenter the JCPOA. Diplomatic talks in Vienna paused to give delegations time to consult with their capitals. Parties would resume discussions the following week. "There has been some progress, but there remains a long road ahead," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. "And I think it’s fair to say that we have more road ahead of us than we do in the rearview mirror."

April 27, 2021: Talks resumed in Vienna for the third round. 

April 28, 2021: The third expert working group aimed at sequencing steps by the United States and Iran to the JCPOA met for the first time, Ambassador Ulyanov tweeted.

May 1, 2021: The Joint Commission wrapped up the third week of Vienna talks. "Moderate advances but with more detail comes more complexity," E.U. Coordinator Mora tweeted. "We will reconvene next week to continue." Ambassador Ulyanov said that participants aimed to complete talks to restore the JCPOA in three weeks. 

May 2, 2021: White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain denied media reports that Iran had agreed to release four American detainees. "We're working very hard to get them released," he said on CBS Face the Nation. "We raised this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time. But so far there's no agreement to bring these four Americans home."

May 6, 2021: Talks resumed in Vienna for the fourth round.

May 11, 2021: Russian Ambassador Ulyanov said that completing negotiations by May 21 was "very difficult but doable." Araghchi met with E.U. coordinator Mora and the heads of the three European delegations, IRNA reported.

May 12, 2021: Iran, Russia and China held a trilateral meeting and called for "accelerated progress" in the Vienna talks, Mehr News Agency reported

May 14, 2021: The Iranian and Chinese delegations held a meeting to discuss the JCPOA, IRNA reported

May 16, 2021: The U.S. and Russian delegations in Vienna held a bilateral meeting. The discussions were "frank and fruitful," Ambassador Ulyanov tweeted.

May 19, 2021: The Joint Commission met in Vienna and concluded the fourth round of talks. "We’ve made good progress. An agreement is shaping up," Mora tweeted after the meeting. "Significant" progress was reached and an agreement was "within reach," according to Ambassador Ulyanov. "Hopefully the 5th round will be final," he tweeted.

May 21, 2021: Foreign Minister Zarif spoke with E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to discuss the state of the talks. "All sides now need to take necessary political decisions, so we can conclude negotiations & get back to full implementation," Borrell tweeted

May 23, 2021: Secretary Blinken told CNN that the delegations in Vienna had "made progress in clarifying what each side needs to do to get back into full compliance" with the 2015 nuclear deal. But "the question that we don’t have an answer to yet, is whether Iran, at the end of the day, is willing to do what is necessary," he added.  

May 25, 2021: Talks resumed in Vienna for the fifth round. 

May 26, 2021: The U.S. and Russian delegations had a "useful and businesslike" meeting, according to Ambassador Ulyanov. The Russian ambassador also met with the heads of the British, French and German delegations. "We exchanged views on the progress made, the on-going diplomatic efforts and the way ahead," he tweeted.

May 31, 2021: Iran, Russia and China held a trilateral meeting in Vienna. 

June 1, 2021: The U.S. and Russian delegations had a "frank discussion" on "remaining issues" about returning to the JCPOA, according to Ambassador Ulyanov

June 2, 2021: The fifth round of talks in Vienna ended. Differences between the parties were "not insolvable," according to Iran's deputy foreign minister. "I do not think there will be much delay between today's meeting and the next round of talks," Araghchi said. "Like in the previous rounds, we will probably return to Vienna after consulting with our capitals."

June 12, 2021: Talks resumed in Vienna for the sixth round.

June 13, 2021: The Russian and Iranian delegations held a bilateral meeting in Vienna "to discuss outstanding problems," Ambassador Ulyanov tweeted. "As always the consultations took place in a warm, constructive and businesslike atmosphere," he added. 

June 18, 2021: Araghchi met with IAEA chief Grossi in Vienna, according to Iran’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The pair discussed the latest developments around the JCPOA negotiations and possible assistance of the [IAEA]," Ambassador Gharibabadi tweeted

June 20, 2021: The sixth round of talks in Vienna concluded. Delegations returned to their respective capitals for consultations.  

June 21, 2021: President-elect Ebrahim Raisi warned that his administration would take a harder stand on diplomacy with the international community. “The world, particularly the West, should realize that the situation in Iran has changed through the people’s vote,” Raisi told reporters on June 21. He specifically rejected negotiations to limit either Iran’s regional role or its ambitious missile program, although he expressed support for the 2015 nuclear deal brokered with the world’s six major powers. 

June 23, 2021: Iran said that it would allow its monitoring deal with the IAEA to expire on June 24 before deciding whether to extend it. "After the expiration of the agreement's deadline, Iran's Supreme National Security Council (will) decide about the agreement's extension at its first meeting," presidential chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi said. 

June 24, 2021: Iran's monitoring agreement with the IAEA expired.

June 25, 2021: The U.N. nuclear watchdog demanded an "immediate response" from Iran on whether it would retain data collected at declared nuclear sites. Iran had yet to respond to the agency's questions, Grossi told the IAEA's board of directors. Secretary of State Blinken warned that expiration of the IAEA's monitoring agreement could complicate efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. "The concern has been communicated to Iran and needs to be resolve," he told reporters in Paris.

Rob Malley said that he has brought up American detainees in Iran "at every single round of talks" in Vienna. "They were detained as political pawns," he told NPR. "They are being detained for absolutely no good reason."

June 28, 2021: Iran has not made a decision "negative or positive" on whether to extend a monitoring agreement with the United Nation's (U.N.) nuclear watchdog, a foreign ministry's spokesperson told reporters. The government had also not decided whether it would delete data and camera footage collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency during the past four months, the spokesperson added.

July 6, 2021: Britain, France and Germany expressed "grave concern" that Iran had increased its production of enriched uranium metal. "Iran has no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon," the three European parties to the 2015 nuclear deal said in a joint statement. The move was "more concerning at a time when no date has been set" for the next round of talks in Vienna.

July 7, 2021: The State Department said that it had "every expectation that there will be a seventh round of talks" in Vienna. "The team continues to remain here, continues to engage in discussions, continues to do important work from the department, but that team will be ready, will be prepared to travel back to Vienna when there’s a seventh round of talks," department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington D.C.

July 12, 2021: The State Department said that the U.S. delegation was "prepared to return" to Vienna for a seventh round of talks "as soon as they are scheduled." 

July 13, 2021: Iran confirmed that it was negotiating a prisoner exchange with the United States. "‌Because of its humanitarian aims, Iran is ready to exchange all American political prisoners in exchange for the release of all Iranian prisoners who have been detained around the world at the behest of America," government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said.

July 14, 2021: Iran informed European diplomats that it would not be ready to resume negotiations in Vienna until after Ebrahim Raisi was inaugurated as the new president in August, Reuters reported. "We were prepared to continue negotiating, but the Iranians requested more time to deal with their presidential transition," a State Department spokesperson said. 

The State Department warned that the U.S. offer to return to the nuclear deal was not "indefinite" and urged a swift return to negotiations. "There will come a point where our calculus will change, where the gains that Iran is able to make in its nuclear program, the benefits it accrues might one day outweigh the benefit that the international community would accrue from a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA," Ned Price told reporters at a press briefing. "We’re not there yet, but that is why we believe we should...return to Vienna for these talks just as soon as we can.

The State Department warned that the U.S. offer to return to the nuclear deal was not "indefinite" and urged a swift return to negotiations. "There will come a point where our calculus will change, where the gains that Iran is able to make in its nuclear program, the benefits it accrues might one day outweigh the benefit that the international community would accrue from a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA," Ned Price told reporters at a press briefing. "We’re not there yet, but that is why we believe we should...return to Vienna for these talks just as soon as we can.

July 17, 2021: Araghchi said that Iran would not return to Vienna for a seventh round of talks until after Raisi’s inauguration. “We’re in a transition period as a democratic transfer of power is underway in our capital,” he tweeted. State Department spokesman Price condemned the delay as “outrageous.” 

The delay also postponed a potential deal for the safe return of American and British detainees in Iran in exchange for Iranian detainees in the United States and Britain. Araghchi said that up to 10 prisoners “on all sides” could be released immediately, if the Biden administration made a decision to act. But State Department denied that any detainee exchange had been agreed. “We see just another cruel effort to raise the hopes of their families,” Price said.

July 20, 2021: Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) rejected a draft agreement over returning to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said. A SNSC committee "decided the draft agreement is incompatible with the law passed by parliament in December" that ordered Iran to increase enrichment levels to 20 percent and end snap nuclear inspections, he told reporters.

But a different spokesman, working directly for the SNSC, denied that any agreement existed in the first place. "Contrary to what has been said, the committee has fundamentally dealt with a number of important issues on which the Vienna talks have failed to reach an agreement due to the bullying of the [United States] and some European parties," SNSC secretariat spokesman Keyvan Khosravi said. "Saying that there was an agreement or disagreement about something which is not real isn’t relevant."

July 29, 2021: Secretary Blinken warned Iran against advancing its nuclear program and dragging out talks. “We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely,” he told reporters in Kuwait. “At some point the gains achieved by the JCPOA cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it's undertaken with regard to its nuclear program.” 

July 30, 2021: In one of his last acts as foreign minister, Zarif published a 204-page book titled “Documenting Six Years of Western (Non-) Implementation of the ‘Iran Nuclear Deal.’” The book included his last letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, dated July 20, in which he accused the United States and its “European accomplices” of failing to comply with the deal. Zarif claimed that the Britain, France, Germany and the United States were using economic pressure and blackmail to renegotiate provisions of the agreement, including the timetable for restrictions on Iran to expire.   

Aug. 4, 2021: Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi met with E.U. coordinator Mora in Tehran to discuss Afghanistan, E.U.-Iran relations and the nuclear talks in Vienna. Mora's "key priority is to resume negotiations in Vienna and facilitate the way back to full JCPOA implementation," E.U. external affairs chief Josep Borrell said

Aug. 5, 2021: E.U. coordinator Mora attended the inauguration of President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran.

Aug. 19, 2021: Britain, France and Germany condemned Iran for producing uranium metal enriched up to 20 percent and for increasing its production capacity of uranium enriched up to 60 percent. “Both are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon and Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure,” the three powers said in a joint statement. “Iran must halt all activities in violation of the JCPoA without delay. We urge Iran to return to the negotiations in Vienna as soon as possible with a view to bringing them to a swift, successful conclusion.”

Aug. 29, 2021: President Raisi appointed Mohammad Eslami as a vice president and chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). Eslami, a civil engineer with extensive experience in the defense industry, replaced Ali Akbar Salehi, an MIT-educated nuclear engineer who played a key role in the negotiations that led to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Shortly after his appointment, Eslami demanded that the United States make the first move in returning to compliance with the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). JCPOA. “It is the time [for the United States] to rectify the wrong policies and initially remove all sanctions in a practical, effective and verifiable manner,” Eslami said

Oct. 25, 2021: Special Envoy for Iran Malley warned that Tehran’s reasons for delaying nuclear talks were “wearing very thin.” He also said that the United States and its partners were increasingly concerned “over the “pace and direction of Iran’s nuclear progress.” He added that Iran’s nuclear advances could eventually negate the nonproliferation benefits of the JCPOA. “You can’t revive a dead corpse,” he told reporters after visiting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and France.

Sept. 14, 2021: Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, appointed Ali Bagheri (also known as Ali Bagheri Kani) as deputy foreign minister for political affairs. Bagheri, a career diplomat with a background in economics, replaced Abbas Araghchi, the British-educated diplomat who helped negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal and led the Iranian team during the first six rounds of renewed diplomacy in 2021. Bagheri was a vocal critic of the JCPOA.

Sept. 21, 2021: President Raisi expressed support for diplomatic negotiations to restore full U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. “We want nothing more than what is rightfully ours. We demand the implementation of international rules,” he said during his debut address to the United Nations. “All parties must stay true to the nuclear deal and the U.N. Resolution in practice.”

In his pre-recorded speech, the hardline cleric repeatedly condemned the United States for imposing economic sanctions on Iran. “The Islamic Republic considers the useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive (U.S.) sanctions,” he said.

Oct. 2, 2021: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said that he had urged the United States to release at least $10 billion of Iran’s frozen assets as a goodwill gesture. “The Americans tried to contact us through different channels in New York (at the U.N. General Assembly in September), and I told the mediators if America's intentions are serious then a serious indication was needed,” Amir-Abdollahian explained in a televised interview.

Oct. 27, 2021: Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri, Iran’s lead negotiator, announced a return to nuclear talks with the world’s six major powers by the end of November. 

Oct. 30, 2021: President Joe Biden and the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said that the 2015 nuclear deal could be restored quickly if Iran changes course. “We call upon President [Ebrahim] Raisi to seize this opportunity and return to a good faith effort to conclude our negotiations as a matter of urgency. That is the only sure way to avoid a dangerous escalation, which is not in any country’s interest” President Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Emmanuel Macron, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome.

Nov. 8, 2021: Tehran outlined three key demands ahead of the resumption of talks. Iran expects the United States to “recognize its fault in ditching” the 2015 deal, lift all U.S. sanctions imposed after the withdrawal in one go, and guarantee that no other U.S. administration will renege on the agreement, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said.  

Nov. 9-15, 2021: Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri conferred with officials from the other parties to the nuclear deal – Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia. On November 9, he started a European tour that included stops in Paris, Berlin and London. Bagheri said that European powers should guarantee that they will trade with Iran, regardless of what happens in Vienna. The Europeans emphasized that talks should be concluded swiftly.

On November 15, Bagheri had a virtual meeting with Chinese and Russian officials. “It was reiterated that the United States should remove all unlawful sanctions,” he tweeted afterward. 

Nov. 29, 2021: Talks resumed in Vienna for the seventh round.

Dec. 3, 2021: The seventh round paused to allow negotiators to return to their capitals for consultations. European diplomats expressed concern that Iran backtracked on its earlier proposals in the talks. “Tehran is walking back almost all of the difficult compromises crafted after many months of hard work,” British, French and German diplomats said. It’s “unclear how these new gaps can be closed in a realistic timeframe on the basis of Iranian drafts.”

Russia’s lead negotiator, Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, was more optimistic. “Disappointment seems to be premature. In multilateral diplomacy there is the rule: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he tweeted. But Ulyanov also appeared to be losing patience with Iran. “Changes are possible as a matter of principle. But they need to be calibrated in a way conducive to the task of making further progress.”

Dec. 4, 2021: U.S. officials expressed frustration that Iran returned to nuclear diplomacy by rolling back compromises previously floated and demanding more concessions on U.S. sanctions. Iran’s new negotiators tried to “pocket all of the compromises that others, and the U.S. in particular, had made, and then asked for more,” a senior State Department official said on December 4. Even Russia and China, which have usually been closer to Iran, were “quite taken aback.”

Dec. 5, 2021: Iran accused the United States and the major European powers of trying to extract “maximum concessions” while yielding “minimum concessions” in the seventh round of talks on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal. “Now, it is crystal clear that the U.S. reluctance to fully drop the sanctions is the main challenge for the progress of negotiations,” a senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official said on December 5.

Dec. 7, 2021: Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that the United States would not allow Iran to “tread water at talks and not come forward with any meaningful and serious propositions…while at the same time advancing its [nuclear] program.”

Dec. 9, 2021: The seventh round of nuclear talks resumed in Vienna.

Dec. 15, 2021: In a joint statement, Britain, France and Germany urged Iran to “choose between the collapse of the JCPOA” and reaching a deal. “We are nearing the point where Iran’s escalation of its nuclear programme will have completely hollowed out the JCPOA,” they warned.

Dec. 17, 2021: The seventh round of talks ended. U.S. officials acknowledged modest progress but warned that time was running out for restoring the JCPOA’s nonproliferation benefits. “We’re now at best to where we were last June, and what we’ve done is define the items on the agenda that need to be discussed,” a senior State Department official said on December 17. “So we made some progress, not enough, certainly at a pace that will not be sufficient to get to where we need to go before Iran’s nuclear advances render the JCPOA a corpse that cannot be revived.”

Dec. 27, 2021: The eight round of talks began in Vienna. “The reason for calling this eighth round, starting today, on the 27th, is simply because there is, again, a sense of urgency. We have to work. We have to work hard,” E.U. coordinator Mora said at a press conference. After one day of talks, Russian Ambassador Ulyanov said that “indisputable progress” was made in the working group on nuclear issues.

Dec. 30, 2021: The eight round of talks paused ahead of the New Year holiday. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri reported “relatively satisfactory progress” in the talks. “Some written changes on the lifting of sanctions were established between the two parties and relatively satisfactory progress has been made over the first days of the eighth round of negotiations,” he told the press.

Jan. 4-6, 2022: South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Jong Kun Choi arrived in Vienna. On January 5, he expressed support for the nuclear talks in three separate meetings with:

  • U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley
  • Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora
  • The lead European negotiators, including Philippe Errera, Director General for Political and Security Affairs (France), Ruediger Bohn, Deputy Federal Government Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control (Germany), and Robert Macaire, Director for Iran Affairs (Britain)

On January 6, Vice Minister Choi met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri to discuss the issue of $7 billion Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks due to U.S. sanctions. The two “agreed that the release of the frozen assets should take place in an urgent manner.” An Iranian official later clarified that the funds would not be released immediately and that the topic would be discussed at the sanctions removal working groups.

Choi also met with Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov to discuss the nuclear talks and South Koreas efforts to resolve disagreements with Iran.

Jan. 21, 2022: Secretary Blinken warned that the talks had reached a “decisive” moment. “The talks with Iran about a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA have reached a decisive moment. If a deal is not reached in the next few weeks, Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances will make it impossible to return to the JCPOA.”

Jan. 24, 2022: Special Envoy Malley told Reuters that restoring the 2015 nuclear deal was “very hard” to imagine “while four innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran.” He, however, reiterated that the United States was pursuing each issue separately. “So even as we're conducting talks with Iran indirectly on the nuclear file we are conducting, again indirectly, discussions with them to ensure the release of our hostages.”

Jan. 24, 2022: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran could consider direct talks with the United States. “If we reach a stage in the negotiations where it becomes necessary to have a [direct] dialogue with the US to reach a good agreement, we will not ignore it.”

Jan. 24, 2022: Secretary Blinken explained two reasons for why time was short for reviving the 2015 deal. First, Iran is “getting to the point where its breakout time, the time it would take to produce fissile material for a bomb, is getting down to a matter of a few weeks,” he said. “Second, it continues to acquire knowledge and build up expertise such that at some point in the relatively near future, even going back to all of the restrictions of the JCPOA will not recapture sufficient nonproliferation benefits.” Iran could “break out, even with the JCPOA restrictions, at a much faster rate,” he added.

The State Department confirmed reports that Richard Nephew, the deputy special envoy for Iran, had left the negotiating team in Vienna in December. The State Department did not specify a reason for Nephew's departure, but The Wall Street Journal and others reported that Nephew and Ariane Tabatabai, another member of the team, disagreed with the U.S. negotiating posture. Both took up other roles in the government. 

Jan. 25, 2022: In a televised interview, President Raisi said that reviving the nuclear deal was possible if the United States “removes the unjust sanctions.”

Jan. 28, 2022: E.U. coordinator Mora announced a pause in the eighth round of talks. “Participants will go back to capital for consultations and instructions to come back next week. Political decisions are needed now,” he tweeted.  

Jan. 31, 2022: Special Envoy Malley said that the parties “made progress narrowing down the list of differences to just the key priorities on all sides.” The diplomat, however, said that Iran needed to “decide whether it’s prepared to make those decisions necessary for a mutual return to compliance” with the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran said that key differences with the United States on sanctions relief remained, but that a deal could be swiftly concluded. “We suggest that after returning from their capitals, (other parties) come with necessary decisions so that we can conclude quickly what has been prepared in drafts,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Khatibzadeh said. “We await political decisions by Washington upon the return of the U.S. delegation.”

Feb. 4, 2022: The Biden administration renewed a sanctions waiver allowing China, Russia and European countries to cooperate on civilian nuclear projects with Iran. The Trump administration had revoked the waivers in May 2020 as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign. A State Department official told The Associated Press that the move was not a “concession.”

Feb. 12, 2022: Mehdi Safari, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for economic diplomacy, joined the talks in Vienna. The U.S.-educated official had participated in the seventh round.  

Feb. 14, 2022: E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell discussed the Vienna talks during a phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian. “As Coordinator of the #JCPOA, I strongly believe an agreement is in sight. The moment has come to make an ultimate effort and reach a compromise,” Borrell tweeted afterwards.

Feb. 23, 2022: Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri Kani left Vienna to consult with his superiors in Tehran.

Feb. 28, 2022: Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri Kani returned to Vienna with “clear instructions to pursue the negotiations with the aim of solving problems in order to reach an agreement,” according to Iranian state media.

March 4, 2022: British, French and German negotiators returned to their capitals for consultations.

March 5, 2022: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Western sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine must not interfere with its bilateral ties with Iran. “We have asked for a written guarantee,” Lavrov said, “that the current process triggered by the United States does not in any way damage our right to free and full trade, economic and investment cooperation and military-technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic.”

March 7, 2022: Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri Kani traveled to Tehran, putting talks on hold.

March 9, 2022: Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri Kani returned to Vienna.  

March 11, 2022: E.U. foreign policy chief Borrell announced a pause in the eighth round of talks. Russian Ambassador Ulyanov said that he did not think that the negotiations had hit “any impasse.” He emphasized that “the conclusion of the deal does not depend on Russia only.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Khatibzadeh said that no “external factor” would dissuade Iran from reaching an agreement. “Pause in #ViennaTalks could be a momentum for resolving any remaining issue and a final return,” he tweeted.

March 21, 2022: State Department Spokesperson Price told reporters that an agreement “is neither imminent nor is it certain.”

March 22, 2022: State Department Spokesperson Price said that the “onus is on Tehran to make difficult decisions.” When asked if the talks had reached an impasse, he acknowledged that “there are a number of difficult issues” remaining.

March 23, 2022: “We believe that today we are closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before,” Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said at a press conference in Damascus with his Syrian counterpart. “If the U.S. acts pragmatically, we are ready to have foreign ministers of countries belonging to the nuclear deal's joint commission gather in Vienna to finalize the agreement.”

March 25, 2022: The United States will work with its international partners to “increase the pressure on Iran” if diplomacy fails, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned.

March 26-27, 2022: Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said that differences with the United States on sanctions relief were among the main outstanding issues in talks. He, however, said that senior IRGC officials told diplomats “to do whatever is necessary” and in the interests of Iran on the issue of removing the group from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The IRGC officials said that the issue should not be “a hurdle for agreement.” Ami-Abdollahian lauded the IRGC for its “selflessness.”   

After facing domestic backlash over his remarks, the foreign minister said that he never implied that Iran would stop demanding that Washington delist the IRGC. “The issue is not compromising or making a concession over red lines. I suggest re-examination of my interview yesterday,” he wrote in an Instagram post on March 27.

March 27, 2022: Iranian and U.S. officials provided divergent assessments of the nuclear talks at the Doha Forum in Qatar. A deal is “imminent” but “depends on the political will of the United States,” Kamal Kharrazi, a senior advisor to the Supreme Leader and a former foreign minister, told the conference. “I can't be confident it is imminent... A few months ago we thought we were pretty close as well,” Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, said later that day. “In any negotiations, when there's issues that remain open for so long, it tells you something about how hard it is to bridge the gap.”

March 27, 2022: E.U. envoy Mora met with Iranian officials in Tehran to discuss remaining obstacles to restoring the 2015 nuclear deal. He met with Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian and negotiator Bagheri. Local and international media published little information about the visit.

March 29, 2022: E.U. envoy Mora arrived in Washington to discuss a range of issues, including the nuclear talks and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with U.S. officials.

April 4, 2022: Tehran blamed Washington for the pause in talks. “If there’s a pause in the Vienna talks, that’s because of the excessive U.S. demands,” Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian tweeted. “If the White House behaves realistically, an agreement is achievable.” At a press briefing, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Khatibzadeh warned that Iran would “not wait forever” for the United States to make a decision on how to proceed.

April 6, 2022: Secretary of State Blinken said that he was not “overly optimistic at the prospects of actually getting an agreement to conclusion.” He warned that time was running out. “But this is something that we’ll be talking to our European partners about this afternoon and then over the course of the next day,” he said during a trip to Belgium for the NATO Foreign Ministerial.

April 10, 2022: Iranian lawmakers stipulated conditions for returning to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. “The United States should give legal guarantees, approved by its ... Congress, that it will not exit the pact again,” they wrote in an open letter to President Raisi, signed by 250 lawmakers out of 290. They also demanded guarantees that the so-called “snapback” mechanism, under which multilateral sanctions could automatically be reimposed, not be used under pretexts.  

April 18, 2022: Tehran again blamed Washington for the delay in reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.  “Messages [from Washington] sent through Mora these past weeks... are far from providing solutions that could lead to an accord,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Khatibzadeh told reporters. “The United States are responsible for these delays, because they are taking their time to give replies.”

April 18, 2022: Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that all members of the Security Council want full implementation of the JCPOA. “I think what Iran would hear, if this were to be brought before the council is that the world wants action in this area, and it is Iran that has blocked this efforts,” she told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed Newspaper. “We agreed that we would go back into mutual compliance, if they go back into mutual compliance. And that's the crux of where we are right now. We're prepared and they're not.”

April 22, 2022: E.U. foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell called for the resumption of nuclear talks during a phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian. Amir-Abdollahian said that all of the parties involved in the talks, except the United States, are ready to finalize an agreement. “The White House should end its excessive demands and its indecision and walk down the path of realism and resolution.

April 25, 2022: Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Khatibzadeh called for a “face-to-face meeting” to be held “as soon as possible” to finalize the deal. “It is not yet decided where and when to have this meeting and at what level it should be held, but it is on the agenda,” he told reporters. He clarified that the talks “have not stopped and are continuing through the coordinator of the Vienna negotiations.”

April 26, 2022: “We continue to believe that getting back into compliance with the agreement would be the best way to address the nuclear challenge posed by Iran, and to make sure that an Iran that is already acting with incredible aggression doesn’t have a nuclear weapon or the ability to produce one on short notice,” Secretary Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Todd Young (R-IN) asked Blinken to commit to not removing the FTO designation as part of a deal. “The only way I could see it being lifted is if Iran takes steps necessary to justify the lifting of that designation. So it knows what it would have to do in order to see that happen,” Blinken said.

May 3, 2022: “There’s still a lot more work to be done” to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said. “Of course, if diplomacy does not succeed, then we’ll continue to work very closely with others in the international community to increase the pressure on Iran.”

May 9, 2022: E.U. coordinator Mora “has continued to convey messages back and forth” to Iranian officials, State Department Spokesperson Price confirmed. He would not say if Mora was going to convey a new proposal during his upcoming trip to Tehran. Price said that the negotiations could be concluded quickly if the Iranians are willing to proceed in good faith.

May 10-12, 2022: E.U. coordinator Mora traveled to Tehran to work on closing remaining gaps between Iran and the United States. On the following day, he met with Ali Bagheri-Kani, Iran’s lead negotiator. Talks during the trip were “difficult,” one official involved with the visit told journalist Lauren Rozen on May 12.

May 13, 2022: E.U. foreign policy chief Borrell said that Mora’s trip to Tehran had “gone better than expected” and that JCPOA talks were “deblocked.” There is a “perspective of reaching agreement,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Germany.  

“At this point a deal remains far from certain,” a State Department spokesperson told Reuters. “Iran needs to decide whether it insists on extraneous conditions and whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly, which we believe would serve all side's interests. We and our partners are ready, and have been for some time. It's now up to Iran.”

May 21, 2022: In a phone call, E.U. foreign policy chief Borrell discussed the way forward for restoring the nuclear deal with Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian. “We are now on a new path of continuing the dialogue and focusing on solutions,” Borrell said in reference to new suggestions from Iran on how to proceed.

 

June 8, 2022: The IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution that formally censured Iran for failing to explain traces of uranium at three undeclared sites that date back to a covert program before 2003. The resolution, sponsored jointly by the United States, Britain, France and Germany, passed 30 to 2, with three abstentions. Russia and China, which have veto power at the U.N. Security Council, opposed the resolution. India, Pakistan and Libya abstained. The overwhelming majority vote “sends an unambiguous message to Iran that it must meet its safeguards obligations,” the United States, Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement.

June 9, 2022: Iran will remove “basically all” the extra monitoring equipment, including 27 cameras, installed as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, the U.N. nuclear watchdog announced. If Iran does not restore the cameras within three to four weeks, “this would be a fatal blow” to reviving the JCPOA, IAEA Director General Grossi warned at a snap press conference. “I think the window of opportunity is very, very, very small,” he said. “This, of course, poses a serious challenge to our ability to continue working there. “

June 11, 2022: During a phone call, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian that diplomacy must prevail to restore the JCPOA. The Iranian diplomat called the IAEA resolution “hasty and politically motivated.”

June 12, 2022: The U.N. nuclear watchdog may not be able to verify the nature or scope of Iran’s nuclear program if it does not restore 27 cameras that have monitored its activities over the past six years, IAEA Director General Grossi warned. The diplomatic challenge of reviving the JCPOA had become “extremely” difficult as a result, he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

June 13, 2022: “If the agreement is finalized in Vienna tomorrow, all the measures carried out by Iran are technically reversible,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Khatibzadeh told reporters. “Unfortunately the U.S. is extending the talks and wants to resolve some bilateral issues through the Vienna negotiations, which is impossible.”

On the same day, Secretary of State Blinken charged that Iran was trying to “inject extraneous issues” into negotiations “that simply have no place there.” He said that possibility of returning to compliance with the JCPOA seemed “more remote” after Iran removed IAEA cameras from nuclear facilities.

June 14, 2022: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran “put forward a new political package and initiative via the E.U.’s top foreign envoy Josep Borrell,” but did not offer any specifics. 

June 15, 2022: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian claimed that the United States responded positively to a new “initiative” that Iran had conveyed through intermediaries on returning to compliance with the JCPOA. “We have put a new political package and a new initiative on the table. Although the American side accepted the initiative, it also insisted on passing the resolution,” he told reporters. Iran “will not distance itself from… diplomacy and negotiations to reach a good, strong and lasting agreement,”

The United States was awaiting “a constructive response from the Iranians, a response that leaves behind issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA,” State Department Spokesperson Price said at a press briefing.

Borrell and Amir-Abdollahian
Borrell and Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran

June 17, 2022: E.U. foreign policy chief Borrell warned the U.N. Security Council that time was running out for restoring the JCPOA. “The basic elements and terms to do this are known and on the table. And the time for decision is now,” he said.

June 25, 2022: E.U. foreign policy chief Borrell announced that indirect talks between Iran and the United States would resume within days. “We are going to break this stalemate and stop this escalation process,” Borrell said during a press conference with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

In Tehran, Borrell also met with SNSC Secretary Shamkhani, who warned that Iran would continue “remedial measures” on its nuclear program “as long as the West’s illegal practices persist.” Shamkhani, however, emphasized that Iran was keen on a “strong, lasting and reliable agreement.”

June 28, 2022: Iran and the United States resumed indirect talks in Doha, Qatar. Mora mediated between the delegations led by Bagheri Kani and Malley. Washington had “very low expectations” for the new talks in Doha, a U.S. official told POLITICO.  

Mora and Bagheri Kani
Mora and Bagheri Kani in Doha

June 29, 2022: The talks in Doha ended with no breakthrough. “Unfortunately, not yet the progress the EU team as coordinator had hoped-for,” Mora tweeted. “We will keep working with even greater urgency to bring back on track a key deal for non-proliferation and regional stability.”

“The Iranians have not demonstrated any sense of urgency, raised old issues that have been settled for months, and even raised new issues that are unrelated to the 2015 nuclear agreement. A deal has been available for some time,” a senior U.S. official said. “If there is a side that needs to take a decision, it’s them — and it’s been them for months.”

 

Andrew Hanna, a former program specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace, assembled this timeline. Garrett Nada, managing editor of The Iran Primer, provided updates.

 

Photo Credits: Borrell and Amir-Abdollahian via Fars News Agency (CC BY 4.0)
Updated