Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program begin in Vienna

The negotiators have begun a new round of talks on Iran. nuclear program in Vienna on Thursday in an attempt to salvage an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Officials from world powers and Iran met in the Austrian capital for the first time since March, when talks started in 2021 to reintegrate the United States into the agreement stalled.

In late June, Qatar held indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in the hope of getting the process back on track, but those talks failed to produce a breakthrough.

In a last-ditch effort, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell presented a compromise proposal last month and urged the parties to accept it to avoid a “dangerous nuclear crisis.”

Borrell said the draft text included “hard-won compromises by all parties” and “deals in great detail with the lifting of sanctions as well as the nuclear steps needed to rebuild” the 2015 pact.

Bilateral talks began on Thursday at the luxurious Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna, under the auspices of European Union representative Enrique Mora.

The Iranian and Russian delegations, traditionally close in negotiations, held a separate meeting.

The UK, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United States signed the JCPOA in July 2015. Delegations from all countries will take part in the talks on Thursday, but US and Iranian officials are not expected to meet face-to-face.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action aims to guarantee the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the gradual lifting of sanctions.

But after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under former President Donald Trump and the re-imposition of US sanctions, Tehran backtracked on its commitments.

Subsequently, Iran exceeded the JCPOA’s uranium enrichment level of 3.67 percent, rising to 20 percent in early 2021.

He then passed the unprecedented 60 percent threshold, approaching the 90 percent needed to build a bomb.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, warned on Tuesday that Iran’s programs are “moving forward very, very fast” and “ambitions and capabilities are growing.”

– Cautious optimism –

Ahead of Thursday’s talks, officials were cautiously optimistic, while warning that the parties remained far apart on key issues.

These include sanctions, Iran’s demands for safeguards, and the termination of investigations by the UN’s nuclear monitoring organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The head of the US delegation, Rob Malley, and the head of Tehran’s representatives, Ali Bagheri, said on Twitter on the eve of the talks that they were proceeding in good faith, but laying responsibility on each other.

Meanwhile, analysts say resurrecting the JCPOA remains the best option.

“The last thing the United States needs is a nuclear crisis with Iran that could easily escalate into a wider regional conflict,” Suzanne DiMaggio, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a statement.

Ellie Geranmaye, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), said that “in the end, Tehran and Washington know that the alternatives to the collapse of the JCPOA are terrible.”

“This is unlikely to be a meeting that will resolve outstanding issues,” but “it could create the breakthrough needed to push negotiations to the finish line, not collapse,” she said.