VIENNA (AP) — World powers began a fourth round of high-level talks in Austria aimed at bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran, with major stumbling blocks remaining Friday but both sides suggesting a resolution was possible.
The U.S. pulled out of the landmark 2015 deal in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump said the pact needed to be renegotiated. The deal had promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, and the Trump administration reimposed heavy sanctions on the Islamic republic in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Tehran into new talks.
Iran reacted by steadily increasing violations of the deal, which is intended to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons, by enriching uranium to a greater purity and stockpiling more than allowed, and beginning to use more advanced centrifuges. It also pressured the world powers remaining in the deal - France, Britain, Russia and China - for economic relief.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said he wants to rejoin the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, but that Iran needs to return to compliance.
Iran, which insists it does not want to produce a nuclear bomb, has said it is prepared to reverse all of its violations but that Washington must remove all sanctions imposed under Trump, including ones outside the JCPOA.
On the other side is the question of what Iran's return to compliance would look like. Delegates to the Vienna talks concede, for example, that Iranian nuclear scientists cannot unlearn the knowledge they acquired in the last three years, but it is not clear whether Iran's new centrifuges would need to be destroyed, mothballed and locked away, or simply taken offline.
Because the U.S. is currently out of the deal, there is no American representation at the talks. Diplomats from the participating countries involved are shutting between the Iranian side and a delegation from Washington elsewhere in Vienna.
Ahead of the talks, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. position, said Washington has laid out the concessions it’s prepared to make and that success or failure now depends on Iran making the political decision to accept those concessions and to return to compliance with the accord.
The official declined to predict whether the fourth round of the talks that began in early April would produce a breakthrough but said it remains possible to reach an agreement before Iran’s June presidential election, which some believe are a complicating factor in the discussions.
The official said the outlines of what both sides need to do is clear. “We think it’s doable,” the official said. “This isn’t rocket science;”
But according to the official, success depends on Iran not demanding more than it is entitled to under the terms of the original deal and verifiably reversing the steps it has taken that violate the 2015 accord.
Iran's delegate to the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, told his country's state-run IRNA news agency late Thursday that his team was trying to reach an agreement as soon as possible but would not act in haste and would act in Iran's national interests.
“As I said before, we are on a specified path about which there are, fortunately, agreements, but there are serious obstacles in the way as well," Araghchi said.
Heading into the talks, Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted that he saw positive signs from the Iranian minister's statements.
“The head of the Iranian delegation is cautious in his assessment of the current state of affairs at the Vienna talks (very similar to assessments of the US colleagues),” he tweeted. "But both #Iran and #US refrain from pessimistic conclusions. This seems to be not a bad sign as of the moment.
Matthew Lee in Washington and Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed to this story. Rising reported from Berlin.