image Photo: Reuters

Iran: key issues still unresolved at nuclear talks

“Reaching a good deal is possible … three key issues still remain to be resolved. The US and European powers have not taken political decisions on these major issues,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said yesterday at a weekly news conference.

By Erin Viner

Khatibzadeh identified the remaining outstanding issues as: the extent to which sanctions against the Islamic Republic would be rolled back by the United States, guarantees that Washington will not withdraw from the pact again and resolution over international probes into uranium traces detected at several old but undeclared sites in Iran.

The Ayatollah regime has long demanded that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) drop its investigation into the presence of uranium at the clandestine locations. “We have answered the agency’s questions. But instead of closing the politically-motivated case, they are using it to gain leverage in the talks,” said an Iranian official in Tehran cited by Reuters.

Iran has been holding indirect talks with the United States mediated by world powers in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that was abandoned by former President Donald Trump three years later.

Yesterday Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, who flew to Tehran last week for consultations about the final draft of the deal, met with the talks’ coordinator for the European Union Enrique Mora.

Two sources close to the negotiations reported that Tehran has also submitted additional demands, including the removal of its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) from the US blacklist.

“Iran’s stance after Bagheri‘s trip to Tehran has become even more uncompromising …. they now insist on removal of sanctions on the IRGC and want to open issues that had already been agreed,” Reuters cited one of the sources as saying.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian declared that, “Under no circumstances will we cross the red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Vienna negotiations and we will show our commitment to this matter firmly,” and that the “essential trait of any negotiation in how useful it is and for there to be benefits for the Iranian people.”

Tehran’s top diplomat also asserted that while “we have mostly received positive talk and messages from the American side” so far Washington “has not made any effective attempt until now to prove its good intentions,” and that the Islamic Republic hopes to see a more “realistic approach” adopted by “the Western side.”

One aspect the world powers and Tehran agree on is that the negotiations have entered a crucial state, particularly due to Iran’s uncompromising position as well as the other parties’ involvement in the crisis over Ukraine.

“It is now or never. If they cannot reach a deal this week, the talks will collapse forever,” said an Iranian diplomat in Tehran. “There is indeed critical urgency to conclude the negotiations this week,” French Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre told reporters in a daily briefing yesterday.

Washington continues to cooperate with Moscow on Tehran’s nuclear program amid the ongoing talks in Vienna.

“I would say diplomacy around the world requires us to engage with countries, even where we have strong disagreements, strong opposition, strong condemnation. We’ve been very outspoken and taken actions against China’s human rights abuses, but we have worked with them in other capacities. We are working — Russia is a part of the P5+1, as we’re working and making progress on an Iran nuclear deal.  There’s no question that achievement of that would make the world safer. So it is our responsibility.  And — and diplomacy means engaging even with countries where you have strong disagreement and strong opposition,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at a media briefing.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price asserted that Russia’s invasion into Ukraine did not grant Iran a green light to develop nuclear weapons and that the diplomatic push in Vienna will endure.

“Of course, it remains in our interest to see to it that Iran is never able to acquire a nuclear weapon. The fact that Russia has now invaded Ukraine should not give Iran the green light to develop a nuclear weapon, to weaponize, to move towards the point at which it can quickly acquire a nuclear weapon. It remains as in our interest today to deny Iran that ability than it was on Saturday,” he said.

While acknowledging “there has been significant progress and we are close to a possible deal” with Iran, Price cautioned last week that, “at the same time, a number of very difficult issues remain unresolved. What we know is that there is very little time remaining to reach a deal, to resolve these remaining issues given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances. You’ve heard us say this before, but it remains true that even as we are narrowing the set of issues we’re discussing, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

The State Department Spokesperson also stressed that, “If Iran shows seriousness, if it demonstrates serious of purpose in Vienna, we believe that we can and should reach an understanding on a potential mutual return to compliance in short order, potentially within days. But anything much beyond that, if this were to drag on any longer than that, would put the possibility of return to the deal at grave and profound risk.”

Failure to reach agreement after 10 months of indirect talks carries the risk of prompting the imposition of additional harsh sanctions on Iran by the West, as well as a regional war.

Israel has consistently called on world powers to maintain a credible military option while pursuing an agreement with Iran – which has repeatedly threatened to annihilate the Jewish State.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has repeatedly stated that his nation will not be bound by a future nuclear deal with Iran, and that Jerusalem retains the right to act “without constraint” to prevent its arch-foe from developing nuclear weapons.

“It is important for me to say here clearly and unequivocally: Israel is not a party to the agreements. Israel is not bound to what will be written in the agreements if they are signed. Israel will maintain unlimited and unrestricted freedom of action, everywhere and at all times,” underscored the Prime Minister.

Tehran has warned of a “crushing” response if attacked.