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Iran nuclear negotiator: Vienna talks must wait for new president to take office

US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement; Ebrahim Raisi is likely to take an even tougher approach with the West

Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, leaves the 'Grand Hotel Wien' where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on May 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)
Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, leaves the 'Grand Hotel Wien' where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on May 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

Iran’s deputy foreign minister said on Saturday that negotiations in Vienna over restoring the 2015 deal limiting the country’s nuclear program will not resume until hardline President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is sworn in next month.

“We’re in a transition period as a democratic transfer of power is underway in our capital,” Abbas Araghchi wrote on Twitter. “Vienna talks must thus obviously await our new administration.”

Araghchi, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, also said the Vienna talks shouldn’t be linked to a prisoner exchange with the United States and United Kingdom.

“US & UK need to understand this and stop linking a humanitarian exchange—ready to be implemented—with the JCPOA,” he said. “TEN PRISONERS on all sides may be released TOMORROW if US & UK fulfill their part of deal.”

Araghchi’s comments confirmed a Reuters report on Wednesday, according to which Tehran had notified European mediators that it would not resume indirect negotiations until after Raisi has taken office.

“They are not prepared to come back before the new government,” a diplomatic source told Reuters.

“We are now talking probably not before mid-August,” the source said.

Iran and the US have been holding indirect talks in Vienna since April over their joint return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its nuclear program.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, which led the Islamic Republic to step up uranium enrichment to its highest-ever levels in violation of the accord.

The sixth round of talks adjourned in late June, and while the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the negotiation table, US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement.

Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, and Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora leave the ‚Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP/Lisa Leutner)

Analysts have speculated that an agreement between the US and Iran would be more likely during the ongoing lame-duck period, while outgoing President Hassan Rouhani is still in power and before the inauguration of Raisi — a longtime proponent of his country’s nuclear program. It was Rouhani’s administration that negotiated the multilateral agreement with former US president Barak Obama in 2015.

On Wednesday, Rouhani said he hoped Raisi’s administration “will be able to finish the job” in Vienna.

“There is no difference if the current or next administration will be successful, but we are very sorry that nearly six months of opportunity has been lost,” he said.

The outgoing president also warned that his country could enrich uranium at weapons-grade levels of 90% if it chose, though it still wanted to save its tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

But the comments, carried by the state-run IRNA news agency, came as he also criticized Iran’s wider theocracy for not allowing his government to reach a deal soon to restore the 2015 atomic accord.

Rouhani’s powers have waned as the public soured on his government amid an economy suffering under US sanctions. But his remarks signaled Iran could take a more belligerent approach with the West under Raisi.

The 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran gain relief from those crushing sanctions, limited Tehran’s program to enriching only up to 3.67% — enough to power a civilian nuclear reactor. It now enriches a small amount of uranium up to 60%, a short step from weapons-grade levels.

Rouhani also complained that hardliners had blocked his efforts to reach a deal in Vienna.

AP contributed to this report

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