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Iran nuclear talks at ‘stalemate,’ says top US official who negotiated the 2015 deal

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman says Tehran’s demands are ‘unacceptable,’ but Biden will continue to pursue diplomatic efforts ‘as long as it makes sense to do so’

File: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Seoul, South Korea, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
File: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Seoul, South Korea, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, a chief negotiator for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, said Friday that the latest round of talks had reached a stalemate.

“We’re at a stalemate in the sense that Iran, in the latest round of negotiations, have given us back a pretty tough response, one that’s unacceptable to us,” Sherman told The Washington Post.

“We’ve sent back a message about what we believe is necessary and what are critical elements here. And this is in Iran’s court,” she said.

On Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made similar remarks about the ongoing negotiations to bring Iran and the US back into the deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

“I am afraid that with the political situation in the US, and so many directions without being conclusive, now we are going to stay in a kind of stalemate,” Borrell told AFP.

Borrell has coordinated efforts over the past year and a half to try to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was badly damaged when then-US president Donald Trump had America withdraw from it in 2018.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Brussels on August 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Iran has responded by publicly rolling back its adherence to its commitments, greatly increasing its stock of enriched uranium and turning off monitoring cameras operated by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Working with the then-US deputy secretary of state, Antony Blinken, Sherman was a key architect of the 2015 deal.

Sherman said Friday that US President Joe Biden would “continue to look for ways to move forward as long as we believe that it makes sense to do so.”

“We are planning for any eventuality. Whether the deal happens or the deal doesn’t happen, the president still believes it is in our interest to pursue the deal, and we’ll continue to do so as long as that is the case,” she said.

“The president of the United States, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, believe that Iran must never get a nuclear weapon. We believe that returning to the JCPOA is the best way to ensure that, but we will be prepared for every eventuality if the deal does not come to pass,” Sherman added.

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot/Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

Last month, Borrell put a text in front of all parties that he described at the time as “final” and which he said Wednesday was “the best equilibrium point between the positions of everybody.”

But Iran is sticking to a demand that the IAEA draw a line under a probe launched when the agency found traces of nuclear material at three undeclared sites.

And the US political situation has changed as Biden faces midterm Congressional elections in November that make deals with Iran harder to reach.

Borrell said that, over the past couple of months, “the proposals were converging but unhappily, after the summer, the last proposals are not converging — they are diverging.”

The European parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, France and Germany — last week said they had “serious doubts” about Iran’s sincerity in wanting the pact restored.

An inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency sets up surveillance equipment, at the Uranium Conversion Facility of Iran, just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, Aug. 8, 2005 (AP Photo/Mehdi Ghasemi, ISNA, File )

Iran called the joint declaration “unconstructive” and “regrettable.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid visited Berlin this week, where he said he gave German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “sensitive and relevant intelligence information” on Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel has pressured its Western allies against signing the new agreement, and a senior Israeli official said Sunday that Jerusalem does not believe that Iran and world powers will return to the nuclear deal before the November midterm elections in the US.

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