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Iran nuclear talks resume amid mounting pressure for results

Russian envoy says negotiations are ‘five minutes away from the finish line,’ adds that ‘a draft of the final document has been crafted’ but several points remain unresolved

Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives at the Coburg Palace, venue of the talks aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on February 8, 2022. (Alex Halada/AFP)
Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives at the Coburg Palace, venue of the talks aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on February 8, 2022. (Alex Halada/AFP)

VIENNA — Diplomats from Iran and world powers reconvened in Vienna on Tuesday to seek a deal reviving Tehran’s 2015 nuclear accord, with pressure mounting for results soon.

Negotiators from Iran and the remaining parties to the agreement — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — got back to work after a break of a little over a week to return to their capitals for consultations.

A source close to the discussions told AFP that the delegations had arrived in the Austrian capital.

AFP journalists saw Tehran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri enter Palais Coburg, a luxury hotel where the talks are taking place, for a meeting with EU official Enrique Mora, who chairs the discussions.

The United States has participated indirectly in the talks because it withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-US president Donald Trump. US President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.

The accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Under Trump, the US reimposed heavy sanctions on Iran. Tehran has responded by increasing the purity and amounts of uranium it enriches and stockpiles, in breach of the accord.

A general view of Palais Coburg, the site of a meeting where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, on Tuesday, February 8, 2022. (AP/Lisa Leutner)

Officials say that the talks are reaching their final stage, though it’s unclear how long that might take. The negotiations have dragged on for months, punctuated by a long gap last year caused by the arrival of a hard-line new government in Iran. The current eighth round started just after Christmas.

The three Western European participants have been warning for a while that time is running out for a successful conclusion of the talks. They have argued that the accord will soon become an “empty shell” in light of Iran stepping up its nuclear program.

Iran insists that its program is peaceful.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed several sanctions waivers related to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. The move reverses the Trump administration’s decision to rescind them.

Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday welcomed the sanctions relief, but called it insufficient.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Tuesday that the talks are “currently at a crucial juncture” and that all involved “should enhance the sense of urgency.”

“As the culprit in the Iranian nuclear crisis, the US should thoroughly correct its wrong policy of maximum pressure on Iran and lift all illegal sanctions on Iran and third parties,” Zhao said. “On this basis, the Iranian side should resume full compliance.”

Russian negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov said in an interview to the Russian daily Kommersant that parties were “five minutes away from the finish line.”

“A draft of the final document has been crafted. There are several points there that need more work, but that document is already on the table,” he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called it “the decisive moment” in an interview with The Washington Post published on Monday.

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