Iran and P4+1 resume nuclear talks: what to expect?

April 7, 2021 - 12:2

TEHRAN – Iran and other signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal began important series of meetings that are aimed at reviving the nuclear pact amid a race against time to reach an understanding about the deal in the next few months. 

Hopes for a swift revival of the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), gained steam on Friday when the remaining parties to the deal agreed to continue the talks in an in-person way in Vienna with Iranian and American officials in attendance, though these officials will not be engaged in any kind of direct or indirect talks. 

Intense negotiations have been going on between different delegations in the Austrian capital where the joint commission of the 2015 nuclear deal met on Tuesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. 

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Seyed Abbas Araghchi led the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna. He met with the head of the Chinese negotiating team on Monday night and the head of the Russian delegation earlier on Tuesday. The Iranian diplomat also sat down with Enrique Mora, the European Union’s coordinator and the chairman of the JCPOA Joint Commission.

The first round of Vienna talks resulted in an agreement to continue expert-level talks, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement following the end of the meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission. Under this agreement, two expert-level groups held separate meetings to discuss “technical” issues related to removing sanctions and nuclear measures. 

“These expert-level meetings are to discuss technical aspects and details pertaining to the removal of sanctions and nuclear issues and report the result of their discussions to the [JCPOA Joint] Commission,” the statement said. It also quoted Araghchi as saying that “removing U.S. sanctions is the first and most essential move to revive the JCPOA.”

U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley was present in Vienna but he did not have any meeting with Iran, which has roundly rejected the idea of holding talks with the U.S. while sanctions remain in place. Before leaving Tehran for Vienna, Araghchi had told state media that Iran’s negotiation team will have no direct or indirect talks with the Americans in the Tuesday meeting. He made it clear that this meeting will only serve as a venue for Iran to announce its demands and conditions for a U.S. return to 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,” Araghchi said. 

But the U.S. doesn’t seem to be willing to lift its sanctions on Iran all at once, something that is evident from American officials’ insistence that negotiations over reviving the JCPOA would be difficult and hard. Malley said on Tuesday that Vienna talks are the first step in a long path aimed at bringing Washington and Tehran back to compliance with the JCPOA. 

This is while Iran has announced that it wants the U.S. to lift the sanctions in one major step. It has also ruled out any prospect of Iran and the West negotiating over non-nuclear issues, namely Iran’s missile program and its influence in the region.

Whether Iran and the U.S. would overcome obstacles to an understanding about reviving the nuclear deal remains an open question. But some believe that the Rouhani government is working hard to get the deal revived in the next weeks. A source close to the government told Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar that the Rouhani government is looking for a breakthrough concerning the JCPOA “as soon as possible and in the coming days” to leave behind a remarkable legacy and strengthen the hand of JCPOA supporters in the upcoming presidential election of Iran set to be held in June. 

Al-Akhbar noted that the gap between the U.S. and Iran expectations seems too huge to be bridged in the upcoming months. Therefore, it seems that serious diplomacy between Tehran and Washington has been postponed until after the June election. “It is unlikely that there will be significant and real progress within the next few weeks,” the newspaper concluded. 

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