© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora and Iran’s Chief Nuclear Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani and delegations await the start of the JCPOA Joint Commission meeting in Vienna, Austria, December
(Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday expressed caution over Iran and Russia’s optimistic comments about talks in Vienna on rescuing Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, saying it was too early to say whether Tehran had returned to talks with a constructive approach.
Iran and Russia on Tuesday gave optimistic views on talks that began this week to save Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with global powers, although Western countries said negotiations were going too slowly.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said an agreement is possible in the near future if the other sides show “good faith”, while Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said the working group was making “indisputable progress” in the eighth round of talks.
Speaking at a telephone press briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price said some progress had been made in the last round of talks, but it was too early to say whether Tehran, in the current round, had returned to the table to build on those gains.
“It is really too early to say whether Iran has returned with a more constructive approach to this round,” Price said. “We are now assessing, during these talks, whether the Iranians have returned with a program of new issues or preliminary solutions to those already presented,” Price said.
The original agreement lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities, but Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the agreement in 2018, a year after he became U.S. president. Iran later violated many of the nuclear restrictions of the agreement and continued to significantly exceed them.
The last round of indirect talks between Iran and the United States resumed in Vienna on Monday, with Tehran focusing on lifting US sanctions again, as they were under the original treaty, despite little progress in curbing its nuclear activities.
Iran refuses to meet directly with U.S. officials, meaning that parties to the agreement other than the United States and Iran — Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – must move between the two sides.
The seventh round of talks, the first under Iran’s new hardline president Ebrahim Raisi, ended 11 days ago after some new Iranian demands were added to the working text.
“Negotiations in Vienna are going in the right direction,” Iranian Minister Amirabdollahian told reporters in state media. “We believe that if the other parties continue the round of negotiations that has just begun in good faith, it is possible to reach a good agreement for all parties.”
The U.S. delegation, led by Special Envoy Rob Malley, will be in a better position in the coming days to determine whether Iran must come to the final round of talks with a ‘fundamentally different position,’ Price said.
Iran insists all US sanctions must be lifted before steps can be taken on the nuclear side, while Western negotiators say nuclear and sanctions steps must be balanced in an agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA).
European negotiators also said some technical progress had been made in the latest round of talks to meet Iranian demands, but warned that the parties only have weeks, not months, to salvage the deal.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom said in a statement on Tuesday that technical progress had been made in the last round and that the parties must now focus fully on key outstanding issues, especially nuclear and sanctions.
They said that although they did not set an artificial deadline, there were a few weeks left, not months, to reach an agreement.
“Negotiations are urgent – and our teams are here to work quickly and in good faith to reach an agreement.”
Ulyanov, a Russian envoy, said on Tuesday that the working group was making progress. “The lifting of sanctions is being actively discussed in an informal environment,” he wrote on Twitter (NYSE :).
The 2015 agreement extended the time it will take Iran to procure enough fission material for a nuclear bomb – if it wants to – to at least a year from about two to three months. Most experts say the time is now less than before the agreement, although Iran says it wants to master nuclear technology for civilian use only.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel will not automatically oppose the nuclear deal, but world powers must take a firmer stance.
Israel says it will never allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table. Israeli leaders said a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel.
(This story corresponds to the spelling of the word ‘also’ in the first paragraph)