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After a break since March, Iranian nuclear negotiators are expected in Vienna on Wednesday to resume the thread of difficulties to speak under the aegis of the European Union. This is yet another attempt to rescue an agreement that has become moribund.
The various protagonists in the Iranian nuclear dossier are back at the negotiating table in Vienna on Wednesday August 3. After a long break, the – difficult – talks will resume their course under the leadership of the EU.
“On the way to Vienna to discuss the return to full application of the JCPOA”, tweeted European Union coordinator Enrique Mora, in reference to the English acronym designating the 2015 agreement supposed to prevent Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons. He will be joined on site by Iranian chief negotiator Ali Bagheri. His team “will leave in a few hours”, announced the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The American envoy Robert Malley also visits the Austrian capital. “Our expectations are measured, but the United States welcomes the efforts of the EU and is ready in good faith to try to find an agreement,” he wrote on Twitter.
Preparing to travel to Vienna for interviews based on @JosepBorrellFthe text. Our expectations are subdued, but the United States welcomes the EU’s efforts and stands ready to try in good faith to reach an agreement. It will soon be clear whether Iran is ready for the same.
— Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley (@USEnvoyIran) August 3, 2022
Talks between Iran and the major powers, which took place in April 2021 with the indirect participation of the United States, have stalled since March. While an agreement was presented shortly before as “imminent”, the process was derailed, and talks in Qatar at the end of June did not bring any progress.
“Modest expectations for this new discussion session”
In a final attempt, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, submitted a draft compromise on July 26 and called on the parties to accept it to avoid a “dangerous crisis”. Iran was in the process shown “optimistic”, Ali Bagheri saying he was “ready to conclude the negotiations in a short time”.
“In this round of talks (…), discussions will be held on the ideas presented by the participants, in particular those presented this week by Iran to the other party,” the ministry spokesman said. Nasser Kanani, in a press release.
Asked by AFP, a European diplomat based in Vienna mentioned “a meeting which shows everyone’s desire to move forward”. “It’s positive, but at the same time there is absolutely nothing guaranteed,” he warned. “We have been trying to conclude the negotiations for months.”
>> Iranian nuclear: from diplomatic hope to a new escalation
“Expectations are rightly low for this new discussion session,” said Henry Rome, Iran specialist at US consultancy Eurasia Group. He evokes persistent “differences” between the United States and Iran “on several key issues”: leveraged sanctions, Tehran’s request for guarantees and the closure of an investigation by the International Security Agency. Atomic Energy (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
So why come back around the table now? “The other options are unattractive, so neither side is ready to enter into negotiations,” said Ali Vaez of the conflict prevention organization International Crisis Group.
Iran has greatly exceeded the uranium enrichment rate of the 2015 agreement
Concluded by Iran and six powers (Russia, United States, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany), the JCPOA aims to guarantee the civilian character of Iran’s nuclear program, accused of seeking to acquire the atomic weapon despite its denials.
But following the unilateral withdrawal of the United States under the leadership of Donald Trump in 2018 and the reinstatement of American sanctions, Tehran has gradually freed itself from its obligations.
Iran thus exceeded the uranium enrichment rate of 3.67% set by the JCPOA, rising to 20% at the start of 2021. Then it crossed the unprecedented threshold of 60%, approaching the 90% necessary for the making a bomb, while limiting access to IAEA inspectors.
>> To read also: What does Iran lack to acquire nuclear weapons?
In this escalation, Tehran began this week to supply gas to “hundreds” of new centrifuges, a measure presented as a response to new sanctions to prevent Iran from selling its oil.
“The program is going very, very quickly (…), to grow in ambition and capacity”, worried, Tuesday, the director general of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, during a press conference at the headquarters of the United Nations, New York. “In the nuclear field, good words are not enough,” he added, calling on Iran for “transparency.”