Iran Deal Negotiations Tense but Continuing

April 14, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
Exterior view of the 'Grand Hotel Wien' in Vienna, Austria, Friday, April 9, 2021 where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place. Diplomats meeting in Vienna assess progress of three days of talks aimed at bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

Preliminary talks in Vienna about the possible return of the U.S. to the Iran Deal, also known as the joint comprehensive plan of action, are set to resume this week.

The U.S. withdrew from the deal, one of the signature foreign policy accomplishments of the Obama administration, during Donald Trump’s term in office. 

Last week, negotiations began in Vienna to feel out what it would take to bring the U.S. and Iran back into compliance. According to U.S. officials, Iran did not want to meet directly with them, rather they prefer to go through the European Union and other intermediaries.

A statement from an unnamed senior official released by the U.S. Department of State at the end of last week characterized the portion of the talks held last week as “productive” and “very constructive.” That same official said Iran showed some signs of “seriousness of purpose” in their intent to bring the U.S. back to the deal, but not yet enough. 

There was also some concern that Iran would demand the U.S. lift all sanctions on Iran going back to 2017.

The U.S. has indicated it is prepared to lift all sanctions that are inconsistent with JPCOA. But that would not mean lifting all sanctions, officials say, since the deal allows for some. The U.S. position is that not all of the sanctions put in Iran since 2017 are inconsistent with JPCOA.

The Trump administration muddied the issue by intentionally redesignating sanctions as terrorism-related which were intially imposed for nuclear reasons in a bid to make it harder for future administrations to rejoin the deal, the senior official said.

Going back to the negotiating table, tensions will be high.

An attack on Iran’s primary nuclear site, Natanz, at the beginning of this week, which Iran blamed on Israel, led Iranian officials to say they would begin enriching uranium at a higher purity level, advancing them towards the purity levels needed for a nuclear bomb,  Al Jazeera reported.

Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at a press conference this week that “neither sanctions nor acts of sabotage will give [the U.S.] negotiation tools and these acts will only make the situation more difficult for them.”

Standing next to the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Tehran, Zarif indicated that the U.S. would need to lift all “unilateral sanctions.”

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