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Optimism Over Progress in Vienna Talks on Iran Nuclear Deal

By Kelsey Davenport, Julia Masterson and Sang-Min Kim

While Kelsey Davenport is Director for Nonproliferation Policy and Julia Masterson, Research Associate at the Arms Control Association, Sang-Min Kim is Scoville Fellow.

Photo: The talks in the Joint Commission of the JCOPA in the Austrian capital on bridging what the US calls “tremendous and profound differences” over how to salvage the nuclear agreement. Source: Eureporter.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (IDN) — The United States, Iran, and the other parties to the 2015 nuclear deal expressed varying degrees of optimism over the progress made during recent talks in Vienna on the necessary steps to restore full implementation of the accord. [2021-04-22]


The parties met April 15-20 and are set to return to Vienna next week for further discussions on the steps necessary to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The United States and Iran are still not talking directly, which has slowed the process, but EU political director Enrique Mora tweeted on April 20 that progress is being made. He noted that “more hard work” is needed and announced that a third working group was created during the most recent meetings to “address sequencing issues.”

During the first round of discussions in Vienna, the parties created a working group to detail the specific sanctions that the United States must lift and a working group to look at the nuclear steps Iran must take to return to compliance with the deal.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abas Araghchi, said on April 19 that work has begun on a “joint draft” detailing the required steps. He said there is “agreement over final goals,” but that path will not be easy.

Russia’s Ambassador to the international organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, also said that drafting had begun, noting that the parties have moved from “general words to agreeing on specific steps towards the goal” of restoring the deal.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters April 20 that the United States believes progress has been made, but there have been “no breakthroughs.” He said that “we have more road ahead of us than we have behind us.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani offered a more optimistic take, saying on April 20 that results can be achieved in a short time and that 60-70 per cent of the issues have been resolved. He said the United States seems serious “in words” about lifting sanctions and noted that the parties in Vienna discussed how to verify that measures were lifted.

It appears that the sequencing of steps by the United States and Iran remains a difficult issue. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on April 18 in a Fox News interview the United States will not lift sanctions “unless we have clarity and confidence that Iran will fully return to compliance.”

Rouhani said April 20 that the first step is for the United States to lift sanctions, the second for Iran to verify that sanctions have been lifted and, in the third step, Iran will return to compliance with its obligations. Iran has consistently pressed the United States to act first, noting that former President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions in violation of the accord in May 2018, despite Iran’s compliance at the time.

In an April 21 press briefing, a senior State Department Official said that the Biden administration is “not going to accept a process in which the U.S. acts first and removes all of the sanctions that it is committed to removing before Iran does anything” but that there are “many other forms of sequencing” that can be discussed.

U.S. partners in the Middle East are also weighing in on the prospect of restoring the deal.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to oppose restoring the original JCPOA, Saudi Ambassador Rayd Kirmly, head of policy planning at the foreign minister, said April 15 that Riyadh is “not interest(ed) in hindering or blocking the current negotiations.” He said Saudi Arabia wants to make sure that “financial resources made available to Iran via the nuclear deal” are not used for destabilizing regional activities.

Krimly expressed support for including states from the region in future dialogue with Iran.

Iran also held talks with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts in Vienna April 18 to discuss the agency’s investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities. The agency said in a February report that Iran has not provided satisfactory, technically credible answers to IAEA questions about the presence of processed uranium at undeclared sites in Iran. 

While the IAEA has made clear that these materials and activities date back to the pre-2003 period, Iran is still required to declare all nuclear material to the agency under its safeguards agreement.

The IAEA issued a statement saying that the agency and Iran began to “engage in a focused process aimed at clarifying outstanding safeguards issues.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 April 2021]

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Photo: The talks in the Joint Commission of the JCOPA in the Austrian capital on bridging what the US calls “tremendous and profound differences” over how to salvage the nuclear agreement. Source: Eureporter.



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