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Iran, US resume nuclear talks in Vienna

Both Tehran and Washington have played down the prospect of a breakthrough

Vienna: Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington resumed in Vienna with a meeting between Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the EU’s Enrique Mora, who coordinates the talks aimed at salvaging a 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian state media reported on Thursday.

According to Reuters, both Tehran and Washington have played down the prospect of a breakthrough in this round of talks, while the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned there is no room left for further major compromises.

As Iran refuses to hold direct talks with the United States, Mora will shuttle between Ali Bagheri Kani and U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, who tweeted on Wednesday he was heading to Vienna with his expectations “in check”.

Signaling little flexibility to resolve remaining thorny issues, Bagheri Kani put the onus on the White House to compromise, saying in a tweet the United States should “show maturity & act responsibly”.

According to New York Times, before the meeting, Mr. Malley suggested that he did not expect major progress. “Our expectations are in check, but the United States welcomes E.U. efforts and is prepared for a good-faith attempt to reach a deal,” he wrote on Twitter. “It will shortly be clear if Iran is prepared for the same.” Iran negotiators still refuse to meet directly with Americans.

Mr. Bagheri Kani said that the burden was on Washington. “The onus is on those who breached the deal & have failed to distance from ominous legacy,” he wrote in his own Twitter message. A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Nasser Kanani, described the talks as “a discussion and exchange of views.”

Speaking at the United Nations, Iran’s ambassador to the global body, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, blamed Washington for failing to guarantee that Iran would receive the pact’s economic benefits. “Achieving this objective has been delayed because the United States is yet to decide to give assurance that Iran will enjoy the promised economic benefits in the agreement,” he said.

The delay has meant that Iran has pressed ahead with its nuclear program so far that it will be difficult to monitor any revived agreement, even if one is reached, suggested the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael M. Grossi.

Little remains of the 2015 deal, which lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear programme. But then-President Donald Trump ditched the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions.

After 11 months of indirect talks in Vienna between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration, however, the broad outline of a revived deal was essentially agreed in March.

But talks then broke down, chiefly because of Tehran’s demand that Washington remove its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) from a U.S. terrorism list and the U.S. refusal to do so.

To overcome the impasse, Borrell in July proposed a new draft text, which two Iranian officials said Tehran “was not happy” with it.

“Iran has shown enough flexibility. Now it is up to Biden to make a decision. We have our own suggestions that will be discussed in the Vienna talks, such as lifting sanctions on the Guards gradually,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

According to CBS News, Iranian officials have been trying to offer optimistic assessments of the negotiations while blaming the U.S. for the deadlock. They may be worried that a collapse of the talks could send the country’s rial currency plunging to new lows.

Iran struck the nuclear deal in 2015 with the U.S., France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China. The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of U.N. inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the accord in 2018, saying he would negotiate a stronger deal, but that didn’t happen. Iran began breaking the deal’s terms a year later.

Reports suggest, as of the last public IAEA count, Iran has a stockpile of some 3,800 kilograms (8,370 pounds) of enriched uranium. More worrying for nonproliferation experts, Iran now enriches uranium up to 60% purity — a level it had never reached before. That is a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

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