Iran Atomic Talks Progress Could Set Stage for Blinken and Zarif Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2021. (VIRGINIA MAYO/Pool AP/AFP via Getty Images)
Jonathan Tirone and Yasna Haghdoost Friday, 09 April 2021 07:07 AM
Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are set to conclude on Friday amid signs the sides could be closing in on a compromise, setting the stage for another round of meetings between Tehran and Washington’s top diplomats.
While officials at this week’s talks in Vienna don’t ultimately possess the authority to make decisions needed to resuscitate a 2015 agreement, which capped Iranian nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief, they’ve transmitted signals that talks are moving in the right direction.
There have been no direct contacts between Iranian and U.S. envoys but Iran said discussions have moved onto how to remove American sanctions imposed since then-President Donald Trump abandoned the accord. That’s probably only possible if Tehran dials back its enrichment to within limits set six years ago.
“It seems the U.S. and Iran have broad understandings on a return to the deal,” said Tariq Rauf, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s former top policy adviser. “But final compromises and agreement would require ministerial-level engagement.”
Meetings on Friday, which also include China, the European Union, Russia, and the U.K., are expected to conclude with plans for potential next steps. Direct future engagement by ministers including Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken would be tangible evidence talks have advanced.
The Eurasia Group sees a rising possibility that the nuclear deal could be revived before the third quarter based on the “cautiously positive momentum in the early discussions,” analyst Henry Rome wrote in a note.
There were other signs of detente, with Iran releasing a South Korean chemicals tanker it seized three months ago and which quickly became embroiled in the West’s broader dispute with Iran.
Swirling tensions with Tehran since Trump reimposed sanctions, including on oil exports, sparked a series of maritime confrontations in the Persian Gulf, and raised concerns over another Mideast conflict.
Iran’s chief negotiator said on Thursday the sides were focusing on removing U.S. sanctions in a single step, in a statement of progress that didn’t specify what Tehran was offering in return.
“We are negotiating the removal of sanctions all at once, specifying which sanctions and how, their details. All of these have to be precisely clarified,” said Abbas Araghchi.
The U.S. has so far ruled out unilaterally removing sanctions in order to get Iran to return to enrichment parameters set by the 2015 agreement. The Islamic Republic says Washington must move first as it was the party that abrogated the deal.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to respond directly to the Iranian claim but said the Biden administration’s position remains that the U.S. will remove sanctions only after Iran returns to compliance with the nuclear deal. He said the response “would include lifting sanctions that are inconsistent” with the nuclear accord but declined to say whether that would encompass removing sanctions tied to what the U.S. considers Iran’s support of terrorism.
At the same time, Price said the discussions had made progress.