Iran responds to ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal, after urging US ‘flexibility’

Tehran mainly looking for more talks on outstanding issues related to sanctions and guarantees on economic aspects, Politico reports

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani (L) leaves after talks at the Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on August 4, 2022. (Alex HALADA / AFP)
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani (L) leaves after talks at the Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on August 4, 2022. (Alex HALADA / AFP)

Iran has responded to the European Union’s “final” draft text to revive its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, according to a European official, after Tehran urged the United States to be flexible in resolving three outstanding issues.

Speaking to Reuters, the official provided no details on the substance of Iran’s response to the draft on the landmark deal, which aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

The deal has been moribund since the 2018 withdrawal of the United States under then-president Donald Trump. The major powers have been awaiting Tehran’s response to a proposal submitted on July 26 by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

According to a Politico report citing a senior Western official, the Iranian response was received Monday evening Brussels time and focused on remaining questions related to sanctions and “guarantees around economic engagement.”

The report said Iran’s response suggested it is looking to continue negotiations on some issues and fell short of providing a final reply rejecting the proposal. The official told Politico that Tehran’s response did not sound “too inflammatory.”

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency offered no details on the substance of its response, but suggested that Tehran still wouldn’t take the European Union-mediated proposal, despite warnings there would be no more negotiations.

“The differences are on three issues, in which the United States has expressed its verbal flexibility in two cases, but it should be included in the text,” the IRNA report said. “The third issue is related to guaranteeing the continuation of (the deal), which depends on the realism of the United States.”

Earlier in the day, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said there were “three issues that if resolved, we can reach an agreement in the coming days,” without elaborating.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian listens to a question during a joint press briefing with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Tehran, Iran, June 23, 2022 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

“We have told them that our red lines should be respected … We have shown enough flexibility … We do not want to reach a deal that after 40 days, two months, or three months fails to be materialized on the ground,” he added.

The Iranian foreign minister said “the coming days are very important” and urged the US to show flexibility “to resolve the remaining issues.”

One main sticking point in the latest negotiations was Iran’s demand for its paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be removed from the US list of terrorist organizations — a designation imposed by Trump in 2019. Washington has refused to do so.

Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, and Russia, as well as the United States indirectly, resumed talks on the nuclear accord earlier in August after a months-long hiatus. The EU-coordinated negotiations to revive the so-called JCPOA deal began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March.

Earlier, Amirabdollahian said the US had verbally accepted two demands from Iran, as quoted by state news agency IRNA, without specifying what these were.

“We will send our final proposals in writing by midnight,” he added before Iran did so. “If our opinion is accepted, we are ready to conclude and announce the accord at a meeting of foreign ministers.”

Earlier Monday Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told journalists that Tehran’s minimum negotiating points must be respected in order to revive the troubled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“We are close to an agreement, but on the condition that Iran’s red lines are respected and the main interests of the country are provided.” He did not provide further details.

In this photo released on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani speaks in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

Kanaani’s remarks echo the views expressed by an unidentified Iranian diplomat who told the official news agency IRNA on Friday that the proposal for a deal submitted last week by the European Union was “acceptable provided that they provide assurances to Iran on various points, related to sanctions and safeguards.”

Negotiators from Iran, the US, and the EU resumed indirect talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal on Thursday after a months-long standstill in negotiations. The final text was submitted to the parties to the talks in a last gasp bid to salvage the deal.

European diplomats expressed optimism in the following days that the deal would be accepted. However, Israeli officials dismissed these hopes in comments to the Ynet news site and Haaretz daily on Tuesday, claiming the Iranians would not sign onto a deal that is not a “significant improvement” for them from the 2015 pact.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a press statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, February 27, 2022. (Stephanie Lecocq,Pool Photo via AP, File)

Iran signed the JCPOA in 2015 with the US, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China. The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

In 2018, Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the accord and said he would negotiate a stronger deal, but that didn’t happen. Iran began breaking the deal’s terms a year later.

Israel believes Iran wishes to build a nuclear bomb. It has reportedly carried out sabotage operations within the Islamic Republic to delay the development of a weapon.

Iran has denied any nefarious intentions and claims its program is designed for peaceful purposes, though it has recently been enriching uranium to levels that international leaders say have no civil use.

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