Iran, US lock horns over sanctions relief, nuclear curbs in Vienna talks

European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Chief Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani and delegations await the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Committee in Vienna, Austria, December 17 2021. EU Delegation in Vienna / EEAS / Document via REUTERS

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  • Sanctions relief is a thorny issue
  • Reviving the limits of atomic work is also a difficult subject
  • Nuclear work exceeded 2015 deal limits
  • Iran maintains it is not under pressure

DUBAI, Jan. 12 (Reuters) – Iran and the United States show little flexibility on fundamental issues in indirect nuclear talks, raising questions whether a compromise can be found soon to renew a deal 2015 that could allay fears of a wider war in the Middle East, diplomats say.

After eight rounds of talks, the thorniest points remain the speed and scope of the lifting of sanctions against Tehran, including Iran’s demand for a US guarantee to stop taking punitive action, and how and when. restore restrictions on Iran’s atomic work.

The nuclear deal limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder to develop nuclear weapons – an ambition Tehran denies – in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

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But former US President Donald Trump abandoned the pact in 2018, saying he had not done enough to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, ballistic missile program and regional influence, and reimposed sanctions. which have seriously damaged the Iranian economy.

After waiting a year, Iran responded to pressure from Trump by gradually violating the deal, including rebuilding stocks of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity, and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up. the production.

After months of stop-start talks that began after Joe Biden replaced Trump in the White House, Western officials now say time is running out to resuscitate the pact. But Iranian officials deny being under pressure, arguing the economy can survive on oil sales to China. Read more

“WE NEED GUARANTEES”

A former Iranian official said Iranian leaders “are confident that their maximalist and uncompromising approach will work.”

France said on Tuesday that despite some progress at the end of December, Iran and world powers were still a long way from relaunching the deal. Read more

The United States on Wednesday cited “modest progress” in recent weeks, but not enough.

“Modest progress is also not enough if we are to” revive the 2015 agreement, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Iran insists on the immediate removal of all Trump-era sanctions through a verifiable process. Washington has said it will remove restrictions inconsistent with the 2015 pact if Iran returns to comply with the deal, which would mean leaving others such as those imposed under terrorism or the measures relating to human rights.

“The Americans should give assurances that no new sanctions of any kind will be imposed on Iran in the future. We need guarantees that America will not abandon the deal again.” , said a senior Iranian official.

Iran’s Nournews, a media outlet affiliated with the Supreme National Security Council, reported Wednesday that Iran’s key terms in the talks “are assurances and verifications.”

US officials were not immediately available to comment on the issue of guarantees. However, US officials said Biden could not promise that the US government would not back down from the deal because the nuclear deal is a non-binding political agreement, not a legally binding treaty.

Asked to comment on this American constitutional reality, an Iranian official said: “It is their internal problem”. On getting verified that the sanctions have been lifted – at which point Iran should revive restrictions on its nuclear program – the senior Iranian official said Iran and Washington differ on the timing.

“Iran needs a few weeks to verify the lifting of sanctions (before it reverses its nuclear steps). But the other side says a few days would be enough to load oil onto a ship, export it and transfer money through the banking system, ”he added. the manager said.

THREATS

In the background of the talks shadowed the threats of Israel, widely suspected of possessing the only nuclear weapon in the Middle East, but which sees Iran as an existential threat, of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. he deems diplomacy ultimately futile to contain Tehran’s atomic capacities and potential.

Iran says it would retaliate harshly if attacked.

A Western diplomat said that “early February is a realistic end date for the Vienna talks” because the longer Iran stays out of the deal, the more nuclear expertise it will acquire, thereby shortening the time it takes. might need to build a bomb if he wants to. at.

“We still don’t know if Iran really wants a deal,” said another Western diplomat.

Iran has ruled out any “artificial” deadline.

“Several times they have called on Iran to slow down its nuclear work during the talks, and even the Americans have sent messages about an interim deal through other parties,” said a second Iranian official, close to the talks. Iranian negotiating team.

“He was rejected by Iran.

Asked for comment, a State Department spokesperson who declined to be identified told Reuters: “Of course we – and the entire international community – want Iran to slow down its nuclear program and we communicated it very clearly. “

“Beyond that, we don’t negotiate the details in public, but those reports are a long way off.”

Other points of contention include Iran’s advanced nuclear centrifuges, machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in atomic power plants, or, if purified to a high level, weapons.

“Discussions continue on Iran’s request to store and seal its advanced centrifuges … They wanted these centrifuges to be dismantled and shipped overseas,” the chief official said.

Asked about the matter, a Western diplomat said, “We are looking for ways to overcome our differences with Iran over the verification process.”

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Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, John Irish in Paris, Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minnesota and Simon Lewis in Washington Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by William Maclean and Grant McCool

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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