World powers seek US return to Iran nuclear deal


VIENNA (AP) – Officials from five world powers on Tuesday launched a new effort to try to bring the United States back to the wreckage of the 2015 nuclear deal it signed with Iran, a delicate diplomatic dance that must balance the concerns and interests of both Washington and Iran. from Iran. Tehran.

The Vienna meeting of envoys from Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran came as the United States was due to initiate its own indirect talks with Iran. It would be one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to bring both nations back to the accord, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from US and international sanctions.

Following closed meetings of the agreement’s signatories, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Russia’s delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted that the initial talks were “successful.”

“The restoration of JCPOA will not happen immediately. It will take a little time. How long? Nobody knows, ”he wrote. “The most important thing after today’s meeting of the Joint Commission is that practical work has begun to achieve this goal.”

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of the deal, opting for what he called a maximum pressure campaign involving restored and additional US sanctions.

Since then, Iran has been constantly violating the deal’s restrictions, such as the amount of enriched uranium it can store and the purity to which it can be enriched. Tehran’s measures have been calculated to pressure the other nations in the deal to do more to offset the crippling U.S. sanctions reimposed under Trump.

US President Joe Biden, who was Barack Obama’s vice president when the original deal was negotiated, has said that he wants the United States to return to the JCPOA, but that Iran must reverse its violations.

Iran argues that the United States violated the agreement first with its withdrawal, so Washington has to take the first step by lifting sanctions.

After the meeting in Vienna, Iranian state television quoted Iran’s negotiator Abbas Araghchi reiterating that message during the opening round of talks.

“Lifting the US sanctions is the first and most necessary action to revive the agreement,” Araghchi was quoted as saying. “Iran is fully ready to reverse its activities and re-complete the implementation of the agreement immediately after it is verified that the sanctions are lifted.”

At the meeting, participants agreed to establish two expert groups, one on lifting sanctions and the other on nuclear issues, who “were tasked with identifying concrete measures that Washington and Tehran would take to restore full implementation of the JCPOA. “Ulyanov tweeted.

They must start work immediately and report their findings to the main negotiators.

The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something it insists it does not want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but it is nowhere near the amount it had before the signing of the nuclear deal.

In the latest announced violation, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s civilian nuclear program, said officials had begun mechanical testing of a prototype IR-9 centrifuge. That centrifuge would enrich uranium 50 times faster than the IR-1s allowed under the deal, he said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

Time is running out to try to get the United States back to the agreement, with the goal of getting Iran to comply again, with a series of issues to consider.

In late February, Iran began to restrict international inspections of its nuclear facilities, but under a last-minute agreement drawn up during a trip to Tehran by Rafael Grossi, the head of the Vienna-based UN atomic watchdog. , part of the access was preserved.

Under the agreement, Iran will no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the IAEA, but has promised to keep the tapes for three months. It will then hand them over to the IAEA if it is granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the recordings, narrowing the window for a diplomatic breakthrough.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also urged the United States in March to act quickly, noting that as his country’s June elections approach, Washington will find itself grappling with a government unable to make progress on the nuclear talks.

In addition, one of the main sunset clauses of the JCPOA, a United Nations arms embargo on Iran, expired last year and others will expire in the coming years.

The small window for negotiation will make it even more difficult for the United States to try to bring new concerns to the deal, such as Iran’s regional influence and its ballistic missile program.

Although he did not participate in the JCPOA talks, a US delegation led by the administration’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, was also in the Austrian capital.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the delegation was there for structured talks around the working groups the Europeans are forming.

Price said Monday that the talks are a “healthy step forward,” but added that “we do not anticipate early or immediate progress as these discussions, we hope, will be difficult.”

“We do not anticipate at this time that there will be direct talks with Iran,” he said. Although, of course, we remain open to them. And then we will have to see how things go ”.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that it was valuable to have American diplomats on the ground in Vienna, although they will not hold direct talks with Iran.

“I think it is important to convey to our partners … that we believe diplomacy is the best step forward,” said Psaki.

Zarif reiterated Iran’s position on Friday that no further talks on the JCPOA are needed, as the agreement and its parameters have already been negotiated.

“There is no meeting between Iran and the United States. Unnecessary, ”he tweeted.

The JCPOA Joint Commission was expected to meet again on Friday, and meanwhile Enrique Mora, the European Union official who chaired the talks, said he would communicate individually with all parties.

“As coordinator, I will intensely separate contacts here in Vienna with all relevant parties, including the United States,” he tweeted.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric asked about Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ reaction to the meetings and said: “We welcome all these efforts by the JCPOA participants … to maintain a constructive dialogue. We hope this is a first step in the right direction. “

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Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed.

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