European diplomats expressed frustration and concern that Iran backtracked on its earlier proposals in the diplomacy to get Tehran and Washington into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord. “Tehran is walking back almost all of the difficult compromises crafted after many months of hard work,” British, French and German diplomats said on December 3. It’s “unclear how these new gaps can be closed in a realistic timeframe on the basis of Iranian drafts.” Iran is demanding that the Biden administration lift many sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
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 on December 3. 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.”
China said that Iran had “proposed written amendments” that changed the working text on both lifting sanctions and Iran’s breaches. “Under the current circumstances, all parties should stick to the political direction of dialogue and negotiation, firmly maintain the momentum of negotiations, strive to expand consensus and push forward the negotiation process,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said on December 6. “Finger-pointing and pressuring will lead nowhere.”
After a hiatus of five months, the world’s major powers reconvened in Vienna between November 29 to December 3. Iran and the world’s six leading powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States – held six rounds of negotiations between April and June 2021. Negotiators made significant progress on mapping out how the United States would lift sanctions and reenter the deal, and how Iran would curb its nuclear program.
But Iran’s new negotiators walked back the compromises their predecessors had offered while demanding more concessions from the United States and European powers. “We reviewed the proposals ... carefully and thoroughly and concluded that Iran violated almost all compromises found previously in months of hard negotiations,” a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on December 6. The seventh round of talks was scheduled to resume on December 9. The following are statements from European powers, Russia and China on the seventh round of talks.
Britain, France and Germany
In a joint statement on Dec. 14, 2021: “The Security Council is seized today of a grave issue. For two years now, Iran has been taking unprecedented steps, and recently accelerated the pace of most sensitive violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). Iran has also curtailed monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), leaving the international community with less knowledge of the status the Iranian nuclear programme. Iran’s nuclear programme has never been more advanced than it is today. This nuclear escalation is undermining international peace and security and the global non-proliferation system.”
“France, Germany and the United Kingdom remain committed to the full implementation of the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231. We are working tirelessly and in good faith with all partners in Vienna to deliver a deal to save and restore the JCPoA. Iran has walked back hard-fought compromises reached after many weeks of challenging negotiations, while at the same time presenting additional maximalist demands. We are nearing the point where Iran’s escalation of its nuclear programme will have completely hollowed out the JCPoA.”
“The diplomatic door is firmly open for Iran to do a deal now. Iran has to choose between the collapse of the JCPoA and a fair and comprehensive deal, for the benefit of the Iranian people and nation. Iran’s continued nuclear escalation means that we are rapidly reaching the end of the road.”
“Over five months ago, Iran interrupted negotiations. Since then, Iran has fast-forwarded its nuclear program. 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.”
“Need for delegations to return to capitals to assess situation and seek instructions, before reconvening next week to see whether gaps can be closed or not. Our governments remain fully committed to a diplomatic way forward. But time is running out.”
Foreign Minister Liz Truss
In comments on Dec. 12, 2021: “This is the last chance for Iran to come to the negotiating table with a serious resolution to this issue, which has to be agreeing to the terms of the JCPOA. This is their last chance and it is vital that they do so. We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
In remarks on Dec. 8, 2021: “This is really the last chance for Iran to sign up and I strongly urge them to do that because we are determined to work with our allies to prevent Iran securing nuclear weapons.”
“So they do need to sign up to the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) agreement, it's in their interests to do so.”
Statement on Dec. 7, 2021: “Our goal remains the rapid conclusion of an agreement on the return of the United States to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCoA) and of Iran to its commitments under that agreement. Time is of the essence. Time is of the essence because Iran is continuing its nuclear program, and its trajectory is extremely worrying. On December 1, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had undertaken an effort to produce twice as much nuclear material enriched to 20% and is continuing to produce uranium enriched to 60%.
“Time is of the essence because five and a half months after Iran suspended negotiations, they have still not really resumed. We are disappointed that talks were unable to resume last week. Indeed, the proposals presented by Iran last week do not constitute a reasonable basis compatible with the goal of a swift conclusion in the interests of all. Apart from Iran, none of the delegations wanted to see negotiations to resume on that basis.
“It is therefore important for the Vienna negotiations, which were suspended for a few days to allow for consultations in the various capitals, to resume swiftly. All of the JCPoA’s participants asked the European Coordinator at a Joint Commission meeting held on December 3 to propose a resumption date for this week.”
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.”
"I think everyone is conscious of the fact that not talking, not trying to find a new framework on both nuclear and regional issues, weakens everybody and is a factor in increasing confliction. It is also important to reengage a slightly broader dynamic and involve regional powers as well.”
“It is difficult to reach an agreement if the Gulf states, Israel and all those whose security is directly affected are not involved."
“It is most likely that these negotiations do not continue in the short term.”
Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Nicolas de Riviere
To reporters on Dec. 14, 2021: “We are nearing the point where Iran's escalation of its nuclear program will have completely hollowed out the JCPOA.”
“Iran has to choose between the collapse of the JCPOA and a fair and comprehensive deal...Iran's continued nuclear escalation means that we are rapidly reaching the end of the road.”
“Iran's nuclear program has never been more advanced than it is today. This nuclear escalation is undermining international peace and security and the global non-proliferation system.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
In an interview on Dec. 11, 2021: “It has shown in the last days that we do not have any progress... due to the offer of the Iranian government negotiations have been thrown back six months.”
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Andrea Sasse
In comments on Dec. 6, 2021: “We reviewed the proposals ... carefully and thoroughly and concluded that Iran violated almost all compromises found previously in months of hard negotiations."
Berlin is “committed to the diplomatic path, but the window of opportunity is closing more and more.’
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov
In an interview on Dec. 13, 2021: “I think that now, the likelihood that we will come to an agreement has increased compared to what it was before the resumption of negotiations. I would rather say that there are reasons to expect some progress, not fast but at least clear, without any kickbacks and additional factors that can complicate [the situation].”
“There are other proposals presented not only by Iran. Negotiations are for finding a common denominator. It is not hopeless. On the contrary, there is material for consideration. As for the Iranian proposals, I can only say one thing — they have demonstrated the utmost seriousness of their approach to the task.”
“This is their [the U.S.’s] usual method — trying to drive someone to heaven with sticks. We constantly explain to the Americans the counterproductivity of this approach.”
Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, Permanent Representative to International Organizations
In a tweet on Dec. 14, 2021: “Mr. Bagheri Kani is right. Diplomacy is a two-way street. All participants in the #ViennaTalks should keep this in mind. Of course I address these words first of all to myself. Other counterparts in the process of negotiations on restoration of #JCPOA will decide for themselves.”
In a tweet on Dec. 13, 2021: “At #ViennaTalks numerous outstanding issues still remain. But the negotiators work hard to narrow down the differences. For example: the #JCPOA participants (without #Iran) and #US had a late Monday evening meeting. All of them (except for US) maintain close contacts with Iran”
In a tweet on Dec. 13, 2021: “The negotiators managed to reconcile the new Iranian ideas and the need for continuity of #ViennaTalks. The work will continue on the basis of the previous drafts. The Iranian proposals will be properly considered and either incorporated or rejected or modified. Normal practice.”
In a tweet on Dec. 11, 2021: “To my surprise some analysts and journalists describe the situation at the #ViennaTalks as dramatic, “almost deadlock”. This is not the case in point. After the break the negotiators returned to normal diplomatic business and maintain intensive dialogue. Atmosphere is positive”
In a tweet on Dec. 10, 2021: “At the meeting of the Joint Commission on December 9 I stated that #Russia never participated in blame games. We could disagree with our counterparts at the #ViennaTalks on numerous occasions but we didn’t blame them. We strongly don’t recommend others to follow the opposite way.”
In a tweet on Dec. 5, 2021: “The tone of these comments demonstrates that there is a room for further negotiations, to my mind. As I repeatedly said to all our counterparts at the #ViennaTalks, patience, just patience and we will find common language. Let’s refrain from hasty conclusions.”
In comments on Dec. 3, 2021: "Technically, amendments are always possible," he said. "However, it is desirable that such amendments... do not turn into a roadblock to progress."
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.”
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Ljian
In a press conference on Dec. 6, 2021: “With the concerted efforts of all parties, the seventh round of negotiations on resuming the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) kicked off in Vienna. Although there was no breakthrough in the negotiations, all parties showed a serious attitude and agreed to return to the JCPOA exactly as it is. On the basis of the text reached in the previous six rounds of negotiations, the parties held comprehensive and in-depth discussions on the lifting of sanctions and issues in the nuclear field, and the Iranian side proposed written amendments to the text in these two areas. These interactions help all parties to better understand the position of the new Iranian government.
“Under the current circumstances, all parties should stick to the political direction of dialogue and negotiation, firmly maintain the momentum of negotiations, strive to expand consensus and push forward the negotiation process. It should be pointed out that finger-pointing and pressuring will lead nowhere. At present, the key is to focus on the pending issues, adopt a flexible and open attitude, show political wisdom, seek practical and feasible solutions, and strive to reach an agreement on resuming the compliance of the JCPOA at an early date. As the one who started the Iranian nuclear crisis, the US should lift all illegal unilateral sanctions against Iran, China and other third parties, and Iran should resume fulfilling its nuclear commitments on this basis. In this process, all parties concerned should uphold fairness and justice, be rational and exercise restraint, and avoid radical words and deeds interfering with diplomatic efforts.”
Brett Cohen, a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center, contributed to this report.