In April 2021, Iran attended indirect talks on its nuclear program hosted by the European Union in Vienna. The talks included the other five participants to the 2015 nuclear deal—Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—and the United States. Iran did not meet directly with the United States but held separate discussions with the five remaining participants, known as the P4+1. The Iranian delegation included representatives from the Central Bank of Iran and the Petroleum Ministry, which reflected Tehran’s interest in sanctions relief.
The negotiations played out over six rounds:
- The first round from April 6 to 9
- The second round from April 15 to 20
- The third round from April 27 to May 1
- The fourth round from May 6 to May 19
- The fifth round from May 25 to June 2
- The sixth round which began on June 12
The goal of the Vienna talks was to draft a roadmap of steps -- one on the United States lifting sanctions and one on Iran rolling back its nuclear program. But U.S. and Iranian diplomats did not participate in the same sessions.
Iran's goal in Vienna was to “rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on April 2. More specifically, the goal was reportedly to draft two agreements – one with the United States and one with Iran – to detail steps each would take to restore full compliance with the nuclear pact.
The new diplomacy is designed to reverse the policy of President Donald Trump, who abandoned the accord in May 2018. He also reimposed punitive economic sanctions that had been lifted by the deal. After the Trump decision, Iran continued to comply with its obligations for more than a year. But in July 2019, it began breaching the agreement. Iran’s breaches were incremental and calibrated until the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top nuclear scientist, in November 2020.
Iran then took steps – including enriching uranium up to 20 percent – that could bring Tehran closer to sufficient fuel for a bomb. Enriching from 20 percent to weapons-grade levels – 90 percent or higher–could be a relatively quick process if Tehran made the political decision to actually produce the world’s deadliest weapon. As a result of Iran’s breaches, the so-called breakout time – or the time Iran would need to enrich enough uranium to make one nuclear bomb – has shortened from one year in 2015 to about three months in 2021, the Institute for Science and International Security estimated. The following are Iranian statements on the new diplomacy.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Televised speech on April 14: “I have discussed the country’s policy with officials both in public and private meetings and also in writing. It is clear what the country’s policy is and what officials should do. Now, they have decided to negotiate in order to implement this same policy. I have no problem with this, but they should be careful not to let negotiations become too draining or allow the other side to lengthen the negotiations too much, because this is detrimental to the country.”
“When the Americans continuously speak of their willingness to negotiate directly with Iran, they do not intend to negotiate in order to accept the truth. Rather, their purpose in negotiating is to impose their false claims. This is what they always do. They do not want to listen to and accept the truth. In some of the European’s private meetings with our officials – whose reports we have received – they acknowledge that Iran is right about its policy that the sanctions should be removed first. This is because we are not sure about their promises since they have already broken their promises tens of times and acted exactly opposite to what they have said. They will do the same now too. Therefore, they should first do what we say, and we must be certain that they have done so. Then we will carry out our obligations.”
“Sometimes the European negotiators confirm in private meetings that what Iran says is correct, and that the Iranians are right. But when it comes to decision-making, they follow them (the US). They are not truly independent in any way. As for the Americans, they have an aggressive attitude. They try to impose their demands. This is the issue.”
“In addition, the proposals that they put forward are usually so arrogant and degrading that they are not even worth looking at. We are hopeful that with God’s grace, the officials of the country will move forward on this matter with their eyes fully open, with a firm heart and with reliance on God. I hope that God will bestow His blessings on them so that they will make the nation happy.”
President Hassan Rouhani
Remarks to Cabinet on May 20: “The talks in Vienna are about minor issues. They have accepted to lift sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping sectors as well as sanctions on the Central Bank and others.”
Remarks to Cabinet on May 19: "Whether you want it or not, this government has been successful in every negotiation that it had in the past 8 years, while some came back from every negotiation with a resolution against the country”.
“I promise to the people of Iran that Vienna talks will end with Iranian nation’s victory, and very big steps have been taken in this regard."
"If someone puts national interests aside to follow factional and partisan interests, they have betrayed the country."
"The new U.S. administration has announced many times that the policy of maximum pressures against the Iranian nation and government has been a mistake, and it was them who insisted on negotiations. Therefore, our path has been right."
"The government is people’s representative and those who insult the government are in fact insulting the people.”
“This government has taken advantage of the Supreme Leader’s guidance, support and advice in all stages."
Remarks to Cabinet on May 5: "Today, our people are witnessing the fruit of their patience and resistance in the Vienna talks, and in my opinion as the head of the government, the sanctions have broken and they will be lifted soon if we are all united."
"The United States and the other parties to the negotiations have no choice but to return to the path of law and fully live up to their commitments."
"Today, the entire world is unanimous on this and they are saying that there is no way but the full implementation of the nuclear deal and returning to commitments and the law, and this is a great victory for the Iranian nation."
"Efforts to lift sanctions have also been successful in controlling COVID, improving people's livelihoods and completing unfinished projects, and these goals will be pursued strongly until the last day of the government’s term of office."
Speaking about a leaked interview featuring Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on April 28: "This recording was published by those who are against Iran, the people of Iran and the interests of our country exactly at the time when we are making the best achievements in Vienna in order to sow discord in our country,”
During a cabinet meeting on April 14: “Why are some afraid of negotiations and talks? We are strong even if we negotiate with the United States. As we negotiated in the JCPOA and showed them their place.”
“The Iranian nation is also capable in the field of production, advanced technologies, soft power and negotiation, because we have a strong logic with which we can teach the enemies a lesson.”
“So do not be afraid of the Vienna talks. Some are afraid. They are worried that these negotiations would yield results soon and the sanctions would be lifted immediately, and therefore they may face problems in the elections. Negotiation has its own complexities.”
“We are not in a hurry for negotiations and this depends on the other side. We are ready and we have made it clear. We say that the United States must implement the same conditions that we agreed upon according to Resolution 2231.”
“Therefore, we have made it clear. As soon as the United States implements them and we see that it is right and operational, we will immediately return to all our commitments.”
During a cabinet meeting on April 7: “Today we are witnessing a new chapter in the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and all the countries that were committed to the JCPOA have gathered in Vienna. They have come to the conclusion that there is no better solution than the JCPOA and there is no other way but the full implementation of the deal, and this is a great success for Iran.”
“Despite all the pressure, the enemy could not break our economy, and today they explicitly say that their actions have failed and that they have no choice but to negotiate.”
“Of course, we need to evaluate the honesty of the Americans in practice, but today the legitimacy of the Iranian nation is revealed to the world and there is no doubt about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
It remains unclear whether @POTUS and @SecBlinken are ready to bury the failed “maximum pressure” policy of Trump and @mikepompeo, and cease using #EconomicTerrorism as bargaining “leverage”.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 7, 2021
Iran is in compliance with the #JCPOA. Just read paragraph 36.
Time to change course.
Lifting Trump's sanctions, @SecBlinken, is a legal & moral obligation. NOT negotiating leverage.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 24, 2021
Didn’t work for Trump—won't work for you.
Release the Iranian people’s $Billions held hostage abroad due to US bullying
Trump's legacy is past its expiration date. Drop it, @POTUS
Remarks while visiting Iraq on April 26: "Today we had the opportunity to talk about the nuclear talks between Iran and the P4+1 countries. Of course, the Americans are in Vienna, and we have no dialogue with the United States. But we had very good talks on the implementation of the JCPOA, and we hope that the new U.S. administration, with a sensible policy and the fulfillment of its commitments, will be able to return to the JCPOA more quickly and all sides fulfill their commitments. We are ready to return and fulfill our commitments in full as soon as the U.S. commitments are met and verified."
Iran proposes logical path to full JCPOA compliance:— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 9, 2021
-US—which caused this crisis—should return to full compliance first;
-Iran will reciprocate following rapid verification;
-All Trump sanctions were anti-JCPOA & must be removed—w/o distinction between arbitrary designations.
At virtual JCPOA JC meeting, Iran & EU/E3+2 agreed to resume in-person talks in Vienna next Tues.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 2, 2021
Aim: Rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures.
No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary.
In a telephone call with French FM @JY_LeDrian today I urged France to show a constructive stance on the JCPOA in next week’s meeting in Vienna.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 3, 2021
I called on France to honor its commitments under the accord, and to cease abiding by illegal sanctions imposed by the US.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi
#Iran DepFM Araghchi says “the next round of the talks in Vienna, logically, could and should be the final round”, adding “we decided to have a week for break and consultations”. pic.twitter.com/8rZWdTa7Rl— Abas Aslani (@AbasAslani) June 2, 2021
Remarks to state TV on June 2: "Differences have reached a point where everyone believes these differences are not insolvable... But the details are important and Iran's firm positions are important to be observed."
"I do not think there will be much delay between today's meeting and the next round of talks. Like in the previous rounds, we will probably return to Vienna after consulting with our capitals."
Remarks to state TV on May 25: "There are still serious and important issues that need to be resolved," he said. "Today we will start the negotiations again and we hope that during the few days of talks, God willing, we will be able to reach the final solutions."
Yesterday I spent 4hrs before our Parliament's NatSec/FP Commission to brief MPs on Vienna talks. Very tough. But useful.— Seyed Abbas Araghchi (@araghchi) May 24, 2021
Bottom line is same:
Having left JCPOA, US must first provide verifiable sanctions lifting. Iran will then resume full implementation.
Is the US ready? pic.twitter.com/hvhcItT31a
Remarks to IRIB on May 19, 2021: "I believe that good progress has been made over the past two weeks, which was the fourth round of negotiations, and a number of key issues remain that need further consultations and decisions by the capitals."
“There is agreement on the other issues. The texts have been drafted nicely. So this is the time to return to the capitals to hold the latest consultations. We will proceed with the talks afterwards."
Remarks to NHK World on May 7, 2021: “We hope that we make enough progress so there will be no need for extension of that understanding [with the IAEA], but if needed, we would consider at its proper time."
Remarks to the press on May 4, 2021: "Our red lines, which has been the same since day one, is that all the sanctions imposed on Iran after the nuclear deal must be lifted, including public sector sanctions and sector sanctions. Good progress has been made in this round of talks, and the two sides have been able to reach a common understanding in many areas."
Remarks to state TV on April 27, 2021: "There are still challenges and difficult details... The more we enter into details, the more time is needed for discussions. I cannot say when this round of talks will end, but I hope we'll get to a more specific point before going back to capitals.”
“The first and second expert groups (removal of sanctions, and nuclear issues) will start their work today and will prepare the drafts. But the 3rd expert group on practical arrangements will still need to discuss broader issues like verification."
Remarks to Press TV on April 13, 2021: “We believe this round of negotiations is the time for the U.S. to present a list and I hope that I can go back to Tehran with the list of sanctions which should be lifted. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time.”
Interview with The Wall Street Journal on April 9, 2021: “All the sanctions imposed or reimposed by the Trump administration should be reversed because they were all part of the maximum pressure policy against the JCPOA, and in order to kill the JCPOA.”
“The United States knows what they have to do to satisfy Iran, and we know what to do to satisfy the [U.N. atomic energy] agency so we just need to identify the measures.”
Interview with Press TV on April 7, 2021: “To us, it does not matter what aspirations our opposite sides have about the future of the negotiations. The position of the Islamic Republic of Iran is completely clear and we will not have any talks on other issues.”
“If we see that the negotiating parties are seeking to waste time or pursuing other goals, we will stop [participation in] the negotiations at the current level.”
“It is worth mentioning that we have no subject such as a step-by-step implementation of commitments on the agenda. All the required measures will be taken in one step.”
Remarks to state-controlled television on April 5, 2021: “We will have no direct or indirect talks with the Americans in Vienna. We will negotiate with the Joint Commission and the P4+1 and will announce our demand and condition for returning to compliance with the JCPOA. We demand that the United States first fulfill all of its obligations and lift all the sanctions it has imposed, and then we will verify and return.”
“Our talks with the P4+1 in Vienna will be completely technical and they will be about the sanctions that should be lifted, the measures that should be done and the sequencing of what Americans should do. There must be verification.”
Remarks at a virtual meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission on April 2, 2021: “Iran will stop its remedial nuclear measures immediately after it verifies the lifting of sanctions.”
“The United States can get back to the deal and put an end to law-breaking in the same way as it left the JCPOA and imposed unlawful sanctions against Iran.”
Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi
During a Clubhouse discussion on April 2, 2021: “No one can say negotiation between Iran and the U.S. is banned forever. This wall of mistrust can be broken to some extent in economic and scientific fields, among others.”
“Slowly the dead-end [between the United States and Iran on who recommits to the deal] is being resolved.”
“When you enter the technical phase, it means the ‘who goes first’ is not anymore an issue.”
“Tehran needs two to three months to reverse its measures and return to its commitments [under the JCPOA].”
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh
To appease the sworn enemy of JCPOA, UK/US FMs spin goals of #ViennaTalks. Disappointing!— Saeed Khatibzadeh (@SKhatibzadeh) May 27, 2021
The brutal Israeli regime you try to placate has done its utmost to torpedo the deal
Instead of eroding your credibility, focus on reviving the original deal—the ONLY solution on the table
@SKhatibzadeh addressing Monday press conference: The issue of prisoners has been a humanitarian issue that has always been on Iran’s agenda and has been pursued separately from negotiations and other issues related to #JCPOA and other related issues pic.twitter.com/7sY3hb9g74— IranGov.ir (@Iran_GOV) May 3, 2021
Interview on CNN’s Amanpour on April 9, 2021: “Vienna talks showed that progress is possible. And the positive momentum which has been created by 4+1 and Iran can be sustained if the United States is ready to fulfill its obligation under the resolution, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231.
“At the same time, we are in a delicate situation. It seems that there are there are those inside the current United States administration that are much more committed to Trump's sanction than President Obama's nuclear deal.”
“Iran has paved the way to preserve the deal. The United States knows exactly what Iran has done to preserve the deal. And we think that the United States has to first remove all the sanctions verifiably and open the verification.
“Iran is ready to not only stop its remedial measures taken to respond to the sanctions by -- imposed by the United States, but also to reverse.”
“What we are doing right now in 4+1, plus Iran and the E.U. as the coordinator of the JCPOA, as we call it, the built-in mechanism in the deal, joint commission, is to identify the list of sanctions, the full list of sanctions that the United States should actually remove.”
“Whether Iran and United States can again talk, it depends if the United States get back to the deal and on the table, JCPOA table, when everybody is present. Then we can continue.”
“And all the sanctions imposed by the United States is very much related to the JCPOA. And it is not hidden that all the officials under Trump, were arguing that they're going to make it impossible or make it very much difficult for any other administration to get back to full compliance.
“So we do believe that any sanctions imposed by Trump should be removed. It doesn't matter if it is relabeled or reimposed or actually imposed. Everything should get back to January 2017.”
“I assume that you know better than me that no country on Earth compromise on its national security and national -- and missiles is actually our defense, the issue of our defense. So, nobody is going to talk about that.
“If our neighbors are ready to talk about 100 billions of -- quote, unquote – ‘beautiful military"’-- American military equipment put in our region, if United States is ready to stop this, and if the other sides are ready to talk about those issues, it's a matter of time. We have to wait and see.”
In interview with @camanpour, clarified that @POTUS has a choice to make:— Saeed Khatibzadeh (@SKhatibzadeh) April 10, 2021
He can stick with Obama's deal. Or he can cling to Trump's sanctions, incl those anti-JCPOA designations with faux labels.
What he can't do is to simultaneously pursue both.https://t.co/4Ud6NLhr5g pic.twitter.com/FGtbiDEFij
During a press briefing on April 5, 2021: “The agenda of this [JCPOA joint] commission meeting is the removal of all U.S. cruel sanctions against Iran, and in other words, clarification of how parties [to the deal] should fulfill their commitments.”
“In other words, we have only one step and not step-by-step [lifting of sanctions], and this one step includes the lifting of all sanctions imposed by the United States. In return, Iran will be ready to reverse its remedial measures, which were taken because of the opposite sides' violation of the treaty.”
“If we could reach an agreement with the P4+1 and they could guarantee that US would comply with its commitments, then the way forward would be open.”
“There have been, and will not be, any direct or indirect talks with any American side in Vienna or anywhere else.”
“The Foreign Ministry has contacted all state bodies and organizations about sanctions that must be lifted.... [During the talks on April 6] all U.S. sanctions will be put forth and all those sanctions must be lifted followed by verification. The Islamic Republic of Iran will discuss technical aspects of verification with the P4+1.”
Remarks to Press TV on April 3, 2021: “As has been clearly stated many times, no step-by-step plan is being considered [for returning to compliance with the JCPOA].”
“The definitive policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the lifting of all U.S. sanctions, whether those which Trump reimposed after withdrawing from the JCPOA or those which he initiated, as well as sanctions imposed under any other heading.”
Government Spokesperson Ali Rabiei
News conference on June 1: "There is no impasse in the Vienna talks...Negotiations have reached a stage where a few key issues need to be decided, and these issues require the proper attention, perfectionism and time."
"It is natural that due to the complexities created by the Trump administration's numerous sanctions and Iran's measures... many details need to be considered, but none of these obstacles are insurmountable."
Press conference on May 25: "General agreements have been reached on major disputes. On the lifting of sanctions, the remaining cases are very minor, and given the negotiation process, we are optimistic about resolving the remaining minor and practical cases."
#Iran-Russia-China trilateral meeting was held on the eve of resuming #JCPOA joint commission meeting in Iranian diplomatic mission Vienna. Participants reviewed the latest conditions of negotiations on US possible return to JCPOA and lifting sanctions against #Iran. pic.twitter.com/icn7RIIfar— IranGov.ir (@Iran_GOV) April 27, 2021
Remarks to reporters on April 6, 2021: “We are not optimistic nor pessimistic about the outcome of this meeting now, but we are confident that we are on the right track, and if America’s will, seriousness and honesty is proven, it could be a good sign for a better future for this agreement and ultimately its full implementation."
U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi
Iran & P4+1 resuming nuclear talks in Vienna today.— Majid Takht Ravanchi (@TakhtRavanchi) April 6, 2021
The US has so far failed to honor @POTUS campaign promise to rejoin the JCPOA. So this opportunity shouldn't be wasted.
If US lifts all sanctions, Iran will then cease all remedial measures.
Can be win-win situation for all.