Part 2: Iran on Nuclear Talks

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.

KhatibzadehIran demanded that the United States first lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and present guarantees that they will not be reimposed in the future before it rolls back its breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. “Unless sanctions are lifted, other issues won’t be discussed,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on December 6. The Biden administration has committed to a mutual return to full compliance—at the same time, and without long-term U.S. guarantees—with the deal.  

Iran did not expect to reach a final agreement in the seventh round of negotiations, Iran’s foreign ministry said. “Bearing in mind the unresolved impasses inherited from the last rounds of the talks, it was already clear that no final outcome would be reached,” the senior official said. Iran criticized the Europeans for suspending talks after its delegation presented “two draft texts containing our editions and new proposals; one on the removal of the oppressive sanctions and the other on the nuclear commitments.”

U.S. and European diplomats expressed frustration with Iran’s changes to a text prepared during the previous six rounds of talks with the world’s major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. They said that Iran’s new negotiators walked back compromises made by their predecessors. “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,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on December 3.

“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,” the senior Iranian official said. Iran urged Western powers to “present new proposals and clear ideas in writing.” The seventh round of talks was scheduled to resume on December 9. The following is a transcript of a briefing by a senior Iranian official and remarks from other Iranian diplomats.

 

Briefing by a Senior Official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Dec. 5, 2021

QUESTION: Please explain about the latest status of the talks, the progress made and the challenges ahead.

First of all it has to be noted that this was the first round of negotiations of the new government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Also, bearing in mind the unresolved impasses inherited from the last rounds of the talks, it was already clear that no final outcome would be reached during this new round of talks. Notwithstanding, the government believed that the negotiating team should participate in the Vienna talks with high capacity, both in terms of the level of expertise and the composition of the negotiating team, and also in the proposals and texts, first, because the delegation was heading to Vienna with a mandate to reach a good deal, and also because it was predictable that the other party might accuse the Islamic Republic of Iran of being not serious and not presenting solid proposals in the talks. This is while the new government has entered the talks with a pragmatic approach and a clear plan and before going to Vienna, Iran’s proposals and drafts were finalized and prepared for presentation to the other party.

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.

I imagine that, in particular the European parties and the United States which is in constant touch with these three countries, were not expecting that Iran enter this round of negotiations with drafts that have been drafted in full compliance with the JCPOA, the UNSC Resolution 2231 and common principles of the past negotiations. That is why the other party, immediately after receiving the drafts, proposed the idea of halting the talks and returning to capitals for consultations.

While from the day one, Iran adopted a flexible and engaging negotiating approach, unfortunately, the three European countries seem to be lacking the necessary high decision-making authority in Vienna while additionally are constantly concerned with coordinating their positions with the US delegation. And that’s while the negotiations are between Iran and the P4+1, and not between Iran and the US (which is not a party to the deal). Unfortunately, this approach by the European parties have created challenges for the progress of negotiations.

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. However, none of these countries were able to detect any legal deficiency in Iran’s drafts or describe them in contradiction with the JCPOA. The only point raised by the European countries was that they are not willing in the first place to give such concessions which are clearly asserted by the JCPOA, and secondly they are not willing to “re-negotiate” the matters that were propounded in last drafts. This is while everyone agrees that the outcome of the previous six rounds of negotiations is purely “drafts” and not “agreements”, and there is a well-known principle that “nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed.”

Now, it is crystal clear that the US reluctance to fully drop the sanctions is the main challenge for the progress of negotiations. We believe that anytime the US administration abandons the maximum pressure campaign, and Europeans demonstrate necessary political determination, the way will be opened for the swift attainment of an agreement.

QUESTION: How do you see the general atmosphere of the talks? Have the parties entered into serious talks or remained in the stage of declaration of positions?

Despite differences in the positions of the parties, it should be highlighted that last week’s talks were held in professional and at the same time frank manners and the other sides proposed their views in an atmosphere free from tension.

In general, it could be stated that a constructive atmosphere was prevailing the talks and with the Islamic Republic of Iran presenting the two draft documents, an important and crucial step forward was taken in the course of the negotiations. Of course, as the title of the documents suggests, we consider the proposed texts as drafts that can be negotiated; and we have encouraged the other parties to table their own drafts and clear proposals on the basis of common principles.

Even though in this round of negotiations, some discussions were held on the text, our expectation is that in the next round of negotiations slated for the late days of the next week, the other parties arrive in Vienna with precise and logical written responses and perhaps new practical ideas. In that case, one can hope for serious negotiations on the available draft documents. It is necessary that the other parties, too, adopt an engaging and flexible approach.

the 2015 nuclear deal. “Unless sanctions are lifted, other issues won’t be discussed,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on December 6. The Biden administration has committed to a mutual return to full compliance—at the same time, and without long-term U.S. guarantees—with the deal.  

Iran did not expect to reach a final agreement in the seventh round of negotiations, Iran’s foreign ministry said. “Bearing in mind the unresolved impasses inherited from the last rounds of the talks, it was already clear that no final outcome would be reached,” the senior official said. Iran criticized the Europeans for suspending talks after its delegation presented “two draft texts containing our editions and new proposals; one on the removal of the oppressive sanctions and the other on the nuclear commitments.”

U.S. and European diplomats expressed frustration with Iran’s changes to a text prepared during the previous six rounds of talks with the world’s major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. They said that Iran’s new negotiators walked back compromises made by their predecessors. “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,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on December 3.

“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,” the senior Iranian official said. Iran urged Western powers to “present new proposals and clear ideas in writing.” The following is a transcript of a briefing by a senior Iranian official and remarks from other Iranian diplomats.

QUESTION: Can you please explain more about the substance of the draft documents presented to the other party? Is Iran going to submit another document?

As it was mentioned earlier, on the third day of the talks, the Iranian delegation provided the other party with two full draft documents. The first draft addresses the issue of removing unlawful and oppressive sanctions imposed on Iran and contain commitments for the US to lift the sanctions. One point emphasized during the negotiations with the other side was that

all sanctions that were imposed within the framework of the Maximum Pressure campaign had the clear and stated objective of killing the JCPOA, so, they are definitely related to the nuclear agreement. The other draft document specifies steps Iran needs to take in its nuclear activities and the quality of ceasing remedial measures in case sanctions are removed. In this respect, it

has been underlined during the negotiations that until the way that sanctions are going to be removed is not clearly defined and properly enforced, the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be expected to cease the nuclear remedial measures that have not been self-generated but were taken in reaction to the sanctions.

Of course there are other drafts which will outline our views and opinions and will be presented accordingly during the course of negotiations. The mechanism and time of verification and issues related to receiving guarantees to prevent the re-withdrawal of the US from the nuclear deal are examples of pending issues which will be later discussed in those drafts. In recent days, we witnessed that some US senators and Congressmen have threatened that a Republican president would once again pull the US out of the JCPOA. This per se shows the deep division inside the US and also illustrates that the US cannot be considered reliable in the negotiations, so, it must present solid and acceptable guarantees to return to the nuclear deal. They are well-aware that the Islamic Republic of Iran won’t allow that their disloyalty to their commitments -as it happened after the 2015 agreement reached- holds Iran’s economy hostage again.

QUESTION: Some media reports suggested that some European delegations requested the hasty conclusion of this round of talks and return to capitals. What was the reason behind such a request?

As I mentioned, our understanding was that European parties were not expecting the Islamic Republic of Iran to present in written its proposals in this round of negotiations. For this reason, these countries demanded, immediately after receiving Iran’s drafts, that they return to their capitals for consultation and to receive new negotiation instructions. The Islamic Republic of Iran had already underlined its sufficient decision-making and expert capabilities as well as preparations to keep up negotiations as long as necessary; however, the other parties seemed to need consulting their senior officials and asked for a halt in negotiations for several days. On this basis, the delegations left Vienna on Friday and are due to resume the talks late next week.

QUESTION: The qualitative and quantitative composition of the Iranian delegation was highlighted by the media. Please explain how Iranian negotiators were chosen and what the impacts on the talks are?

One of the issues which was emphasized before the start of the present round of negotiations was that the Islamic Republic of Iran should participate in the Vienna talks with proper decision-making power and expert capacity so as to make sure that, to a possible extent, the texts and drafts and positions of the Iranian delegation lack any deficiencies. Additionally, as the Iranian government is serious in achieving an outcome, and makes real and sincere efforts to conclude the talks in the shortest possible time, we believed that it is necessary to provide the possibility of making decisions in Vienna in order to expedite the process of drafting the texts and providing feedback to the other party.

For this reason, from several weeks prior to the start of negotiations, relevant decision-making and expert organizations were consulted and instructed to introduce their own members to accompany the negotiating team of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ultimately, the composition of the present negotiating team was decided, which is indeed highly capable in terms of management, decision-making and expertise. It is remarkable to mention that in this round of negotiations, the economic weight of the delegation outperforms the previous team and the reason is that the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the issue of removal of sanctions is presently the main agenda of the negotiations, and other issues cannot be finalized unless the issue of sanctions removal is decided upon. However, it is evident that based on our necessities, this composition can change and the number of members of the delegation can be lowered or even increased accordingly.

QUESTION: Some opponents of the deal such as the Prime Minister of the Zionist regime has called for cessation of talks, accusing Iran of wasting and buying time to advance its nuclear program. What is your response to this accusation?

We were in fact foreseeing that we would be accused of a non-serious and time-wasting attitude in negotiations, which is an accusation that is being trumpeted by the Zionists now. But as we saw, the performance of the Iranian delegation and the swift presentation of the carefully crafted drafts to the other party neutralized this deception to a large extent. And indeed it was the other party that asked for a break in talks, while the Iranian delegation was prepared to continue the negotiations until whenever necessary. It is quite normal that the Zionist regime is not pleased with the status quo. And that why, in the past couple of days, the Zionist regime’s media, fabricated unfounded rumors and tried to negatively influence the atmosphere of the talks.

During the meetings, we cautioned the other parties that some external actors that are not pleased with the progress of negotiations should not be allowed to influence the progress of the talks by propagating lies and distorted reports.

QUESTION: The US Foreign Secretary has said he is not very optimistic about the Vienna negotiations. What is your take on that?

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. The Islamic Republic of Iran has put pragmatic proposals on the table and other parties should provide proper response or present new proposals and clear ideas in writing. I imagine that stating such negative statements and remarks are more a negotiating tactic than being related to the substance of negotiations and are rooted in the efforts of other parties to blame Iran and put pressure on Iranian negotiators. Other parties only need to show political determination and express readiness to take necessary practical steps. Then, ways will be opened for the conclusion of a deal and settlement of differences.

 

President Ebrahim Raisi 

In comments on Dec. 11, 2021: “If the other side has the will to lift the sanctions, a good deal will be made and we are certainly after this good deal.”

 

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian

During a joint press conference with his Syrian counterpart on Dec. 6, 2021: “We told them (E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and foreign ministers with diplomats in Vienna) bluntly that Raisi's government is a pragmatic and result-oriented government, and that vague and general dialogue will not help solve the problem. If you are concerned about Iran's completely peaceful nuclear program, we also have our own concerns and demands regarding the continuation of sanctions, the non-lifting of sanctions, and non-compliance with the so-called nuclear agreement.”

“In order for the other parties to know that we are in Vienna with a plan, we submitted two written draft proposals, one to the sanctions working group and the other to the nuclear working group.”

“The claim made by some Western parties that Iran has had maximalist demands, our demands are completely in line with the JCPOA and we have not had a post-JCPOA demand.”

“Iran, in the same framework that it has clearly announced and in the framework of the NPT, continues its enrichment of 20% and higher, and does not confirm any news pieces about 90% enrichment. It is a bold lie.”

“We are waiting and trying to achieve the progress that the nation expects in order to lift the sanctions through strong and solid negotiations.”

“The agreement must be comprehensive, and it must be an agreement that Iran and the people can tangibly feel the use of the economic benefits of the JCPOA and the lifting of sanctions. With the same approach, our team will return to Vienna in the coming days. Most of our team is currently in Vienna and will continue their expert discussions.”

In a phone call with E.U. foreign policy chief Borrell on Dec. 3, 2021: “The Iranian delegation is actively present at the negotiating table with good intentions, necessary authorities and achievable and forward-looking initiatives.”

“In addition to talks and meetings [chief negotiator Ali] Bagheri has held, Iranian experts in the form of the sanctions working group and the nuclear working group are holding technical and specialized talks with P4+1.”

“Our team has clear, tangible and practical plans and initiatives at every stage. The West must also take its real initiative in ending the sanctions and put an end to the repetition of previous slogans that violate the rights and interests of the Iranian people.”

 

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh

In a tweet responding to new U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses on Dec. 7, 2021: “Even amid #ViennaTalks, US cannot stop imposing sanctions against Iran.

“Washington fails to understand that 'maximum failure' & a diplomatic breakthrough are mutually exclusive.

“Doubling down on sanctions won't create leverage—and is anything but seriousness & goodwill.”

To the press on Dec. 6, 2021: “Basically there is nothing called a step by step deal or temporary plans. The Iranian government is firmly resolved to reach a good deal. Unless sanctions are lifted, other issues won’t be discussed.”

 

Chief Negotiator and Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani 

In a tweet on Dec. 17, 2012: Following our consultations with other delegations, yesterday, @enriquemora_ & I met to take stock of the situation & discuss the way forward. We have made good progress this week. We will convene a Joint Commission today & will continue talks after a break of a few days.

In a tweet on Dec. 13, 2021:

Some actors persist in their blame game habit, instead of real diplomacy. We proposed our ideas early, & worked constructively & flexibly to narrow gaps; diplomacy is a 2 way street. If there's real will to remedy the culprit's wrongdoing, way for quick good deal will be paved.

In comments on Dec. 9, 2021:

“I felt the other side [European representatives] has found a more serious will to enter effective and result-oriented talks.”

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