VIENNA (AP) – Authorities from five world powers began a new effort on Tuesday to try to bring the United States back to the 2015 nuclear deal they signed with Iran, a delicate diplomatic dance that needs to balance the concerns and interests of Washington and Tehran.
The Vienna meeting of envoys from Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran took place at a time when the US was to begin its own indirect negotiations with Iran. It would be one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to return the two nations to the agreement, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from American and international sanctions.
After the closed meetings of the signatories to the agreement, known as the Joint Global Action Plan, Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted that the initial negotiations were “successful”.
“The restoration of JCPOA will not happen immediately. It will take some time. How much time? Nobody knows, ”he wrote. “The most important thing after today’s Joint Commission meeting is that the practical work to achieve this goal has already started.”
In 2018, then President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the deal, opting for what he called the maximum pressure campaign involving restored and additional American sanctions.
Since then, Iran has consistently violated the agreement’s restrictions, such as the amount of enriched uranium it can store and the purity with which it can be enriched. Tehran’s measures were calculated to pressure the other nations in the agreement to do more to offset the crippling U.S. sanctions reimposed under Trump.
US President Joe Biden, who was vice president of Barack Obama when the original deal was negotiated, said he wants to bring the US back to the JCPOA, but that Iran must reverse its violations.
Iran argues that the United States violated the agreement first with its withdrawal, so Washington has to take the first step by suspending sanctions.
After the meeting in Vienna, Iranian state television quoted Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi as reiterating the message during the opening round of negotiations.
“The lifting of U.S. sanctions is the first and most necessary action to resume the agreement,” said Araghchi. “Iran is fully ready to reverse its activities and return to the full implementation of the agreement immediately after the sanctions are verified.”
At the meeting, participants agreed to establish two groups of experts, one on lifting sanctions and the other on nuclear issues, which were tasked with “identifying concrete steps to be taken by Washington and Tehran to restore full implementation of the JCPOA”, Ulyanov tweeted.
They must start working immediately and report their findings to the main negotiators.
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something it insists it does not want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
In the latest announced breach, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s civilian nuclear program, said the authorities had begun mechanical testing of an IR-9 centrifuge prototype. Such a centrifuge would enrich uranium 50 times faster than the IR-1s allowed under the agreement, he said, according to the semi-official news agency ISNA.
Time is running out in an attempt to get the United States back to the agreement, with the goal of getting Iran back into compliance, with a number of issues to consider.
In late February, Iran began to restrict international inspections of its nuclear facilities, but under a last-minute deal struck during a trip to Tehran by Rafael Grossi, head of UN atomic surveillance based in Vienna, some access has been preserved .
Under the agreement, Iran will no longer share surveillance images of its nuclear facilities with the IAEA, but has pledged to preserve the tapes for three months. He will then hand them over to the IAEA if he receives relief from the sanctions. Otherwise, Iran has promised to delete the recordings, narrowing the window for diplomatic progress.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also called in March for the United States to act quickly, noting that with the approaching June elections in his country, Washington will find itself faced with a government unable to make progress in nuclear negotiations.
In addition, one of the main so-called JCPOA sunset clauses, a United Nations arms embargo on Iran, expired last year and others are set to expire in the coming years.
The small negotiating window will make it even more difficult for the United States to try to bring new concerns to the deal, such as Iran’s regional influence and its ballistic missile program.
Although he did not participate in the JCPOA negotiations, a US delegation headed by the government’s special envoy to Iran, Rob Malley, was also in the Austrian capital.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the delegation was there to hold structured talks around working groups formed by Europeans.
Price said on Monday that the negotiations are a “healthy step forward”, but added that “we do not anticipate an early or immediate advance, as these discussions, we hope, will be difficult”.
“We do not foresee at the moment that there will be direct negotiations with Iran,” he said. “Although, of course, we remain open to them. And then we’ll have to see how things go. ”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that there is value in having American diplomats in Vienna, although they are not in direct negotiations with Iran.
“I think it is important to convey to our partners … that we believe that diplomacy is the best step forward,” said Psaki.
Zarif reiterated on Friday Iran’s position that no further negotiations on the JCPOA are necessary, as the agreement and its parameters have already been negotiated.
“No Iran-US encounter. Unnecessary, ”he tweeted.
The JCPOA Joint Commission is expected to meet again on Friday and in the meantime, Enrique Mora, the European Union official who chaired the negotiations, said he would contact all parties individually.
“As a coordinator, I will severely separate contacts here in Vienna with all relevant parties, including the United States,” he tweeted.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric asked about Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ reaction to the meetings, said: “We welcome all these efforts by the JCPOA participants … to maintain a constructive dialogue. We hope this is the first step in the right direction. “
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed.