Further progress in Vienna hinges on Western goodwill

January 12, 2022 - 21:33

TEHRAN – Intensive talks are underway between Iran and the P4+1 group of countries and they are making progress but only slowly. The plodding atmosphere in Vienna is largely because of U.S. unwillingness to constructively engage in the talks.

Unlike the relative silence at media level, the Vienna talks are going on with strident conversations between Iranian and Western sides. Press reports even suggest that the talks have reached a critical juncture. 

Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, said in a Tuesday dispatch from the Austrian capital, that the Vienna talks, aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal – JCPOA -, is getting closer to a “fateful and critical stages.”

In general, the talks are moving forward. Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said the talks are moving in the right direction and in order for them to proceed better, a good faith is needed on the part of the Western side. 

“Talks in Vienna are proceeding in the right direction. Iran’s initiatives brought the talks back on track in a constructive atmosphere. It is now up to the Western side to show good faith and commitment for a good deal,” Amir Abdollahian said on Twitter. 

The latest assessment coming from the West showed no sign of a Western willingness to break with past positions. In cautiously downbeat remarks on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian complained about the slow process of the talks, while suggesting that time is running out to revive the JCPOA. 

“The discussions are ongoing. They are slow, too slow and that creates a gap that jeopardizes the chance of finding a solution that respects the interests of all sides,” the top French diplomat said. “Bits of progress were made at the end of December, but we are still far from concluding this negotiation.”

Fostering a sense of urgency by setting artificial deadlines, such as the end-January/early February one, is in part intended to put more diplomatic pressure on Iran’s negotiating team in the hope of forcing it into making hasty concessions or at least making it accept marginal ideas such as an interim agreement. 

Iran has made it clear that its top priority in Vienna is securing a reliable and viable deal that would stand a chance of surviving after Biden’s presidency. A senior Iranian lawmaker confirmed this assessment on Wednesday by saying that the Iranian negotiating team has received instructions on negotiating such a deal. 

Vahid Jalalzadeh, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said the instructions given to the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna prioritize a permanent deal that would best serve the interests of the Islamic Republic. 

The lawmaker also said the P4+1 nations - China, Russia, France, Britain plus Germany - has proposed discussing an interim agreement but he suggested that Iran doesn’t view such an agreement favorably, though the P4+1 proposal regarding the agreement has not been accepted or rejected. 

According to press reports, the American side has floated the agreement as a way to relieve the pressure posed by time. The reports also said that it would likely involve Iran halting some of its nuclear activities in exchange for an affirmative nod from America at unblocking Iranian assets in frozen bank accounts. 

While it remains to be seen if such an arrangement would ever take place, the U.S. can greenlight the release of Iranian assets as a goodwill gesture to pave the way for a lasting agreement, not an interim one that is unlikely to be accepted by Iran.

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