Iran, World Powers on Vienna Talks

On November 29, the world’s major powers and Iran opened the seventh round of talks on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal. From April to June 2021, Iran and the major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – held six rounds of talks. The goal has been to draft a roadmap – for the United States to reenter the deal and lift sanctions, and for Iran to roll back breaches on its nuclear program. Diplomacy stalled in June during Iran’s presidential campaign and the political transition as Ebrahim Raisi took office and appointed his cabinet in August.

Tehran has taken an increasingly assertive stance on diplomacy with the outside world under Raisi, a hardliner. Iran’s new lead negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri (also known as Ali Bagheri Kani), has long criticized the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Day One: Enrique Mora, the E.U. coordinator for negotiations, was optimistic. “I feel extremely positive about what I have seen today…[Iran has] accepted that the work done over the first six rounds is a good basis to build our work ahead,” he said. “We will be of course incorporating the new political sensibilities of the new Iranian administration.”

But Bagheri said that issues were still open for negotiations. Iran’s delegation, which included some 40 people, was comprised largely of officials focused on economics and reflected Tehran’s focus on sanctions relief. “So long as the U.S. maximum pressure campaign breathes, reviving the JCPOA is nothing more than exorbitant talk,” Bagheri said

Day Two: European diplomats said that the parties were still navigating next steps in the diplomacy. “The next 48 hours will be quite important to know and to confirm that hopefully we can pick up there and get into very intensive working mode,” a senior diplomat told Reuters. “If they don’t show us that they’re serious this week, then we have a problem.”

Day Three: Iran “stands prepared to continue intensive talks as long as needed, [but] it will not be ready to sacrifice its principled demands and the Iranian nation’s rights for mere artificial deadlines or time tables,” a senior negotiator told PressTV.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh accused Israel of trying to sabotage diplomacy. “Israeli regime whose existence relies on tension is at it again, trumpeting lies to poison Vienna talks,” he tweeted. “All parties in the room now face a test of their independence & political will to carry out the job— irrespective of the fake news designed to destroy prospects for success.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had started enriching uranium up to 20 percent at the underground Fordo facility. It was the latest breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, which bans uranium enrichment at the site until 2031. Iran was producing the uranium using 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges. 

Day Four: Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Iranian leaders cannot “sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks.” He said that within a day or two, U.S. negotiators would be in a position to judge if Iran “intends to engage in good faith.”

Day Five: E.U coordinator Mora announced a brief suspension in talks to allow negotiators to return to their capitals for consultations. The parties would reconvene the following week.

British, German and French diplomats expressed frustration with Iran’s behavior. “Tehran is walking back almost all of the difficult compromises crafted after many months of hard work,” they said in a joint statement. It was “unclear how these new gaps can be closed in a realistic timeframe on the basis of Iranian drafts.” The officials said that some of Iran’s demands were incompatible with the JCPOA.

Secretary Blinken said that Iran did not appear to be “serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance.” He warned that the United States would pursue “other options” if restoring with the JCPOA was not possible. But he declined to provide specifics.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, however, told E.U foreign policy chief Josep Borrell that the “negotiation process is good, but slow.”

Russia's lead negotiator, Mikhail Ulyanov, said that disappointment in the talks was “premature.” He added that changes to the draft were natural but “need to be calibrated in a way conducive to the task of making further progress.”

Since the sixth round of talks, held in June, Iran has ramped up its nuclear program. It has stockpiled more enriched uranium and used increasingly advanced centrifuges. As of November, its breakout time—or the time needed to enrich enough uranium to make one nuclear bomb—was estimated to be only about one month. The breakout time was 12 months when Iran as fully adhering to the JCPOA. Iran began its breaches in mid-2019, 14 months after President Trump withdrew the United States from the accord. The following are remarks from Iran and the world’s six major powers on the seventh round of talks.

 

United States

Secretary of State Antony Blinken

At a conference on Dec. 3, 2021: Now we’ve had this first round of talks since the new government’s in and what we’ve seen in the last couple of days is that Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna. 

We’re going to be consulting very closely with all of our partners in the process itself – the European countries as well as Russia and China – but also with other very concerned countries, with Israel, with the Gulf countries.  And we will see if Iran has any interest in engaging seriously, but the window is very, very tight, because what is not acceptable and what we will not allow to happen is for Iran to try to drag out this process while continuing to move forward inexorably in building up its program.  So we’ve said all along that if the path to a return to compliance with the agreement turns out to be a dead end, we will pursue other options.

At a press availability on Dec. 2, 2021: “I think in the very near future, in the next day or so, will be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith. I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric don’t give us a lot of cause for optimism. But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course and engage meaningfully in an effort to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA.

“What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That will not happen. That’s also not our view alone. It’s very clearly the view of our European partners. I have to say, I had a good conversation as well with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this. I think Russia shares our basic perspective on this, and we’ll see what happens over the next couple of days. But it is up to Iran to demonstrate and to demonstrate quickly that it is serious about taking the steps necessary to return to compliance, not to try to drag things out while building up.”

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter

In a briefing on Nov. 29, 2021: “If Iran demands more or offers less than a mutual return to compliance, these negotiations will not succeed.”

 

European Union

Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora

In comments on Nov. 29, 2021: "I feel extremely positive about what I have seen today…[Iran has] accepted that the work done over the first six rounds is a good basis to build our work ahead. We will be of course incorporating the new political sensibilities of the new Iranian administration."

In a remarks to reporters on Nov. 29, 2021: “There is a sense of urgency in putting an end to the suffering of the Iranian people. And there is a sense of urgency in putting the Iranian nuclear program under the transparent monitoring of the international community...what has been the norm over the first six rounds will be again the practice in this seventh round. Nothing new on working methods.” 

 

Iran

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Senior official in a briefing on Dec. 5, 2021: “It is worth noting that the proposed texts of Iran were crafted based on the draft texts of the last 6 rounds. Those texts were regarded as a basis on which we applied our editions and new proposals, and presented them to the other parties. Because those proposals are definitely based on the logic of the JCPOA, one cannot describe them as maximalist, but the thing is that unfortunately the other party has adopted a minimalist approach in terms of its commitments.

“In this framework, on the third day of the talks, the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran provided the other party with two draft texts containing our editions and new proposals; one on the removal of the oppressive sanctions and the other on the nuclear commitments.” 

“It was evident that the Western parties, which have come to Vienna with a desire to yield the minimum concessions and to extract the maximum concessions, were not fully satisfied with the proposed drafts and clear demands of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

“Now, it is crystal clear that the US reluctance to fully drop the sanctions is the main challenge for the progress of negotiations.”

“In recent days, we witnessed that some U.S. senators and Congressmen have threatened that a Republican president would once again pull the U.S. out of the JCPOA. This per se shows the deep division inside the U.S. and also illustrates that the U.S. cannot be considered reliable in the negotiations, so, it must present solid and acceptable guarantees to return to the nuclear deal.”

“Contrary to the remarks of the American officials, I believe that if other parties have goodwill, and stop their futile blame game, an agreement is within reach.”

 

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian

In a tweet on Dec. 1, 2021: “#ViennaTalks proceeding with seriousness and sanctions removal as fundamental priority. Expert talks are continuing too. In daily contact with top negotiator @Bagheri_Kani.

“Good deal within reach if the West shows good will. We seek rational, sober & result-oriented dialogue.”

In a statement on Nov. 29, 2021: “The U.S. has no other way for its return to the JCPOA but to remove all the sanctions imposed on the Iranian nation since it walked out of the JCPOA.”

In a phone call with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Nov. 29, 2021: “We will not ignore the negotiations, but as a new administration, we reserve the right to review the disputed issues and discuss them in light of our own considerations.”

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri

In a press conference on Nov. 29, 2021: “All parties in the meeting accepted Iran’s demand that first the situation of illegal and unjust U.S. sanctions ... should be cleared and then (we) discuss other issues and decide on those issues.”

In a statement on Nov. 29, 2021: “So long as the US’ maximum pressure campaign breathes, reviving the JCPOA is nothing more than exorbitant talk.”

 

Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Mohammad Eslami

In a statement on Nov. 29, 2021: “The talks are about return of the U.S. to the deal and they have to lift all sanctions and this should be in practice and verifiable.”

 

President Ebrahim Raisi

In a phone call with French President Emmanual Macron on Nov. 29, 2021: “Sending a full team to the talks shows Iran's serious will in these talks...Those who have started to violate the nuclear deal must gain the confidence of the other party for the negotiations to proceed in a real and fruitful manner.”

 

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh:

In a tweet on Dec. 1, 2021:  “Israeli regime whose existence relies on tension is at it again, trumpeting lies to poison Vienna talks. All parties in the room now face a test of their independence & political will to carry out the job— irrespective of the fake news designed to destroy prospects for success.” 

 

Russia

Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, Permanent Representative to International Organizations

In a tweet on Dec. 3, 2021: “Disappointment seems to be premature. In multilateral diplomacy there is the rule: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So 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.”

In a tweet on Nov. 30, 2021: “The resumption of the #ViennaTalks is quite successful. At the very beginning of the seventh round  #JCPOA participants decided to continue without delay the drafting process in two working groups- on sanctions lifting and nuclear issues. This work starts immediately.”

In a tweet on Nov. 30, 2021: “The #US confirms its readiness to lift all #sanctions inconsistent with the #JCPOA in exchange for return of #Iran to full compliance with JCPOA. But in multilateral diplomacy the devil is in the details. The concrete list of sanctions to be lifted is subject to negotiations.”

 

Britain, France and Germany

Diplomats in a joint statement on Dec. 3, 2021: “Tehran is walking back almost all of the difficult compromises crafted after many months of hard work.”

“Over five months ago, Iran interrupted negotiations. Since then, Iran has fast-forwarded its nuclear programme. This week, it has backtracked on the diplomatic progress made.”

It is “unclear how these new gaps can be closed in a realistic timeframe on the basis of Iranian drafts. We have asked the coordinator to reconvene shortly.”

 

Britain

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss

During a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Nov. 29, 2021: “As far as I am concerned, these talks are the last opportunity for the Iranians to come to the table & agree to the JCPOA agreement. We will look at all options if that doesn’t happen.”

 

France

President Emmanuel Macron

In comments to reporters on Dec. 3, 2021: “I think it’s probable that this round of negotiations, given the positions, does not succeed.”

“It is most likely that these negotiations do not continue in the short term.”

In a phone call with Iranian President Raisi on Nov. 29, 2021: “Iran must return without delay to compliance with all its commitments and obligations … and quickly resume cooperation that allows the [U.N. atomic] agency to fully carry out its mission.”

 

Updated