image Photo: Reuters

Vienna Talks near dangerous impasse

The warning comes from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

“This negotiation is urgent and progress has not been fast enough. We continue to work in close partnership with our allies but the negotiations are reaching a dangerous impasse,” Secretary Truss informed the British Parliament in an update on world efforts to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

“Iran must now choose whether it wants to conclude a deal or be responsible for the collapse of the JCPOA,” she stressed, adding, “And if the JCPOA collapses – all options are on the table.”

Iran also topped discussion held by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz with his German counterpart Christine Lambrecht on Monday.

Earlier this month, Minister Lambrecht visited German forces stationed in Iraq and Jordan as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, whose official mandate is to eradicate the Islamic State terror group. She pledged Berlin’s determination and commitment to sustain a proactive role and deployment, amid repeated attacks by Iranian-proxy militias on international troops in an effort to force the United States-led coalition to withdraw from the region.

Separately, during a joint press briefing with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock expressed frustration over Iran’s malign behavior in the nuclear sphere, which is the root cause for tensions surrounding the nuclear talks in Vienna.

“The negotiations in Vienna are not in a decisive phase, they are in the decisive phase because time is running out, not least because unfortunately, Iran continues the nuclear escalation spiral while the talks continue. A uranium enrichment of 60% as Iran has reached it is unprecedented for a country without nuclear weapons and there is no plausible explanation for it and Iran does not give a plausible explanation,” said Germany’s top diplomat.

While Secretary Antony Blinken asserted that he held discussions with his German, French and British counterparts on steps that would be jointly taken “if Iran refuses to return to compliance with the agreement on terms that are acceptable,” he declined to answer a question on whether the Russians are playing a constructive role in Iran.

The query comes in the wake of last week’s meetings between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow with their respective Iranian counterparts, Ebrahim Raisi and Hossein Amirabdollahian. Lavrov said that the presidential summit “highlights the special focus our two leaders place on foreign policy coordination in many areas. I believe our talks will be useful in specifying the goals set by the presidents of our countries and for moving forward in many areas relating to the regional and global agendas.”

After subsequent talks in Geneva with Moscow’s top diplomat, US Secretary Blinken commented that “Russia shares our sense of urgency, the need to see if we can come back into mutual compliance in the weeks ahead.  And we hope that Russia will use the influence that it has and relationship that it has with Iran to impress upon Iran that sense of urgency, and equally, that if we’re unable to do that because Iran refuses to undertake the obligations that are necessary, that we will pursue a different path in dealing with the danger posed by Iran’s renewed nuclear program, a program that had been put in a box by the agreement that we had reached in the past, the JCPOA, and that unfortunately has now escaped from that box as a result of us pulling out of the agreement and Iran restarting its dangerous program.”

Meanwhile, major differences have emerged among the US negotiators over the scope of possible concessions to Tehran, according to a report initially published by the Wall Street Journal and later confirmed by US officials. Deputy Special Envoy for Iran Richard Nephew and at least 2 other delegates have resigned from the team over their push for the assumption of a tougher stance against Iran than that adopted by top American envoy Robert Malley, who has been repeatedly subject to criticism over his conciliatory approach.

Citing sources familiar with the negotiations, the report maintained that the internal disputes have increased since last summer over a range of issues that were ultimately decided at the highest levels of the Biden Administration; including suggested withdrawal by Washington from the Vienna Talks in early December 2020 after Tehran rescinded most of the concessions that had already been agreed on by the previous Iranian government last spring.

Western diplomats corroborated the contents of this report to TV7, although the US State Department has not immediately responded to a request for comment.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced that the Islamic Republic “has not accepted any preconditions since day one and will ignore these matters being brought up.”

Separately, Iranian Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian stated a possible change of format at the Vienna Talks. Rather than the current indirect talks through their JCPOA partners, he said that Tehran would consider Washington’s request for direct negotiations if “a good deal” has been reached including the lifting of all US sanctions.

The Ayatollah regime’s top diplomat went on to criticize the E3 nations of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, which have reportedly been more hawkish than their American counterparts, insisting they “have not presented any new, constructive, or progressive innovations during the negotiations. Of course, they have tried within our talks within previous weeks to enter rationally and with a constructive attitude.”

He went on to warn, “Our negotiations are reaching a point where our technical negotiations in the not-so-distant future will reach its saturation point and we must make a political decision.”

In related developments, Malley declared that the US is less likely to return to the JCPOA while “4 innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran.” During an interview with Reuters, the US Envoy stressed that there has been ongoing indirect “discussions” with Tehran to secure the “release of the hostages.”

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said Washington’s red line on the hostages “is a point he has made repeatedly before, so this is – should not be news. It also, I can tell you, is not news to the Iranians. They have heard this position indirectly from us before as well. But the Special Envoy also made the point that these issues are operating on separate tracks, and they’re operating on separate tracks for a very simple reason: A mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is at best an uncertain proposition.”