Negotiators to push on in bid to narrow gap, as China urges US to end sanctions
VIENNA－Iran and world powers held what they hailed as “constructive” talks on Tuesday in Vienna, paving the way for teams to discuss the compromises required by Washington and Teheran if they are to revive a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
It was agreed that working groups from the signatories to the pact will discuss the sanctions the United States might lift and the nuclear curbs Iran might observe to refloat the deal.
While longtime foes the US and Iran have said they do not expect any quick breakthroughs, both governments and the European Union described the early exchanges in positive terms.
Intermediaries have started shuttling between Iranian and US officials in Vienna as they seek to bring them back into compliance with the accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for restrictions to its nuclear program.
In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal, prompting Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear program designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb－an ambition Teheran denies.
Senior diplomats of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran met at a Viennese hotel on Tuesday behind closed doors. The meeting was chaired by Enrique Mora, deputy secretary-general and political director of the European External Action Service.
Representatives of the United States did not attend.
Local media reported that the US delegation, led by US Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley, was based in a hotel five minutes’ drive away.
“Constructive Joint Commission meeting. There’s unity and ambition for a joint diplomatic process with two expert groups on nuclear implementation and sanctions lifting,” Mora said on Twitter after the meeting.
Russia’s delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted that the meeting was “successful”.
“The restoration of JCPOA will not happen immediately. It will take some time. How long? Nobody knows,” he wrote. “The most important thing after today’s meeting of the Joint Commission is that practical work toward achieving this goal has started.”
A source familiar with the matter said diplomats briefed the US delegation after their talks with Iran and the wider group.
The two expert-level groups have been given the task of marrying lists of sanctions that the US could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet, and reporting back on Friday, when the joint commission will meet again.
And US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington: “It is a welcome step, it is a constructive step, it is a potentially useful step”, even as he repeated the US expectation that the indirect talks would be “difficult”.
Wang Qun, the Chinese envoy to the United Nations and other international organizations in Vienna, said after the meeting that China supports the Joint Commission’s efforts to set up the two expert-level groups and hopes they can make progress as soon as possible.
China continues to unswervingly uphold the JCPOA, Wang said, urging all parties to increase their sense of urgency, seize the current opportunities, and push the JCPOA back on track through fair and reasonable negotiations.
He said Washington should lift all unlawful sanctions against Teheran, and the Iranian side should resume full compliance with the deal on that basis.
Wang said the status of the Iranian issue is undoubtedly attributable to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, and its policy of maximum pressure toward Iran. Therefore, the early return of the United States to the accord is the key to cracking the current situation.
The JCPOA was reached in 2015 between Iran and the so-called P5+1. The grouping comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council－the US, the UK, Russia, France and China－plus Germany and the European Union.
The US and Iran are in a standoff over reviving the nuclear deal. The administration of US President Joe Biden said that if Iran returns to full compliance with the JCPOA, the US would do the same. But Iran insisted its compliance would only take place once the US sanctions were removed.
Agencies – Xinhua