VIENNA – European diplomats shuttled Iranian and US officials to Vienna on Tuesday as part of the most serious effort to date to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
While the Biden administration has made it clear that it wants to join the deal, which the United States struck under Donald Trump in 2018, a carefully choreographed series of moves from Tehran and Washington would be needed to make that happen.
Diplomats saw Tuesday’s meeting as a small but significant step towards restoring the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), under which Iran agreed to severe restrictions. of its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
After a series of bilateral meetings on Tuesday morning, the Joint Commission of the JCPOA, charged with overseeing the implementation of the agreement, met in the afternoon at the five-star Grand Hotel in Vienna on the historic Ringstrasse. The commission includes all other parties to the JCPOA.
The American delegation settled directly in front of the Imperial Hotel, and diplomats from Great Britain, France, Germany and the European Union began to commute between the two sites through strong snowfall.
Enrique Mora, a senior EU official overseeing the talks, called the joint committee meeting “constructive”.
“As coordinator, I will intensify separate contacts here in Vienna with all parties concerned, including the United States”, Mora, Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service, said on twitter.
“There is a unity and an ambition for a joint diplomatic process with two groups of experts on the implementation of nuclear power and the lifting of sanctions,” he said.
The goal of the talks, which are expected to last up to 10 days, is to identify concrete steps Washington and Tehran can take to return to compliance with the deal. Diplomats don’t expect U.S. and Iranian officials to meet directly during this round of talks.
A second round of the JCPOA Joint Commission could take place as early as Friday.
The US delegation is led by Special Envoy Robert Malley, who helped negotiate the original deal in 2015. “It would not serve the interests of the United States or of the American citizens if there was growing tension in the Middle -East due to an expanding Iranian nuclear program. Returning to the deal is very, in our opinion, in the best interests of the United States and its citizens, ”Malley told NPR radio on Tuesday.
However, achieving this goal will not be easy. Iran is expected to reverse at least some of its JCPOA violations, such as the production of 20% enriched uranium, in exchange for relief from crippling US sanctions.
For the United States, lifting the sanctions is complicated because the Trump administration has imposed additional punitive measures on top of those previously in effect.
These included sanctions against Iranians accused of being involved in human rights violations or terrorism. Other JCPOA-related sanctions focus primarily on Iran’s banking and oil sectors.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who led the Iranian delegation, reiterated during the Joint Commission meeting that lifting all US sanctions was the most important step to revive the deal. He told Iranian PressTV that Iran would not agree to a “phased plan”. Instead, Iran wants the United States to take “one last step” to lift the sanctions.
“Today’s public meeting appeared to go as planned and all parties are on the same wavelength that reviving the JCPOA is the goal,” said Henry Rome, senior analyst on Iran at the Eurasia Group in Washington. “The way forward will be zigzags and zags and not be as straightforward or quick as many assume, but the general trajectory towards the rebirth of the JCPOA this year seems clear.”
Speaking from Tehran, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Iran was neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the outcome of the meeting. “We are convinced that we are on the right track, and if America’s will, seriousness and honesty are proven, this could be a good sign for a better future for this agreement and, ultimately, for its fullness. implementation, ”he said.
The choreography of the talks, in the hands of the Austrian host government, is particularly difficult. Coronavirus testing equipment was available in several locations at both hotels. And, according to officials, it was also decided to remove a few paintings inside the Grand Hotel and cover some nude statues, in an effort not to offend the Iranian delegation.
The talks take place ahead of an Iranian presidential election in June, in which outgoing President Hassan Rouhani can no longer run. A harder leader would make progress on the diplomatic front more difficult. But Malley said the United States “will negotiate with whoever is in power in Iran.”
“We cannot ignore the reality of an election, but neither can we let it dictate our pace,” he said.