Nuclear Energy

Iran nuclear talks break amid European 'concern'

Published : December 04, 2021 16:28 IST

Diplomats, including Iran's Ali Bagheri Kani, will consult with their capitals and meet again next week. Photo: Guo Chen/Xinhua/picture alliance

High-ranking diplomats say Tehran has demanded changes to compromises agreed during "many months of hard work."

European diplomats expressed "disappointment and concern" on December 3 after five days of international negotiations in Vienna on reviving the Iran nuclear deal. Senior diplomats from the E3 group of Britain, France and Germany accused Tehran of "walking back almost all of the difficult compromises crafted after many months of hard work," and that the Iranian delegation had demanded "major changes" to the text.

The diplomats said they "thoroughly and carefully" analyzed Iran's "proposed changes to the text negotiated during the previous six rounds" of talks that took place earlier this year. They went on to say it was "unclear how these new gaps can be closed in a realistic timeframe." The diplomats warned that time is running out, but added that the delegations would reconvene next week "to see whether gaps can be closed or not." Later on December 3, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that "the new Iranian administration did not come to Vienna with constructive proposals."

What is the focus of the latest Iran talks?

The latest round of talks began on November 29 with the E3, Iran, China and Russia at the table and the U.S. participating indirectly. Diplomats are aiming to revive the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which Tehran and the world powers signed in 2015. The Iran nuclear deal, as it is more popularly known, sought to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

But the JCPOA unraveled in 2018 when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal under a "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran. Washington reimposed sanctions, which hit the country's oil sector and economy hard, prompting Iran to start exceeding limits on its nuclear program the following year. Tehran now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 60 per cent purity — a short step from weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent. Iran also spins advanced centrifuges barred by the accord, and its uranium stockpile now far exceeds the accord's limits.

The remaining signatories to the nuclear deal — Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain — have been meeting at the Palais Coburg, a luxury hotel where the agreement was signed six years ago. A U.S. delegation headed by the Biden administration's special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, is staying at a nearby hotel and being briefed on the talks by diplomats from the other countries.

E3 diplomat admits little progress

The European Union official chairing the meeting said there had been some progress, but further "convergence'' was necessary. "We have identified the challenges ahead. Now it is time to consult with capitals," E.U. diplomat Enrique Mora told reporters. "We will be resuming here in Vienna next week."

Mora said reviving the agreement would require Iran to meet its commitments under the accord, and bring the United States back into "full compliance," meaning Washington would need to drop the crippling economic sanctions it imposed on Tehran. "We are incorporating also new policy sensitivities for the new Iranian delegations," he said. "But again, the point of departure, the common ground is where we finished on the 20th of June."

Iran has said its nuclear program is peaceful, but U.S. intelligence agencies fear that the program is a cover for the development of nuclear weapons.

mm/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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