Brussels (Brussels Morning) Talks on resuscitating the failed Iranian nuclear deal formally resumed in Vienna today, with envoys from all the original signatories participating, other than the United States, which Iran refuses to engage with directly.
Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov, Moscow’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirmed on Twitter today that a meeting of the Joint Commission is taking place.
Iran is engaging with the original signatories of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — France, Germany, Russia, China and the UK — which then act as intermediaries in indirect negotiations with the US. Washington’s top envoy, Rob Malley, is not scheduled to arrive in Vienna before the weekend, when he is expected to meet with other envoys.
The nuclear treaty, signed in 2015 between then-President Barack Obama and former Iranian moderate President Hassan Rouhani, limited the scope of the agreed Iranian nuclear programme to civilian purposes only, in exchange for providing Tehran with much-needed relief from western sanctions.
The deal was subsequently abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018, which resulted in Iran engaging in progressively more severe breaches of the treaty’s limitations on its nuclear programme.
As President Joe Biden came to power, Washington expressed interest in returning to the deal, but soon found itself at an impasse with Tehran, which demanded the removal of all sanctions before Iran would countenance returning to full compliance with the terms of the deal.
While the initial rounds of talks in the spring ended on a positive note, the talks were suspended as a new hardline conservative administration settled in in Iran, led by newly-elected President Ebrahim Raisi.
As the discussions resumed this month, western diplomats were apparently appalled at a change of stance in Iran, which has now abandoned all compromises made in previous rounds of talks, and demanded more compromises by the other sides. The Iranian hardline position makes it increasingly possible that the negotiations will ultimately fall through.
Some western officials fear Tehran is merely stalling for time while continuing to develop its nuclear capacities to the point where it could be capable of constructing nuclear weapons.