Iran says ‘good progress’ made in nuclear talks this week as sides take short break

Western powers have said time is running out on reviving 2015 deal, and IAEA chief has warned original deal no longer sufficient given Iran’s advances

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, arrives at the Coburg Palais in Vienna for nuclear talks, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, arrives at the Coburg Palais in Vienna for nuclear talks, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

Negotiators trying to save the 2015 landmark Iran nuclear deal were due to take stock in Vienna on Friday ahead of a brief pause in the negotiations.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said that “good progress” had been made in recent days. He did not provide further details.

The diplomats were scheduled to meet from 2:00 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) in a luxury hotel in downtown Vienna, according to the EU, which is chairing the talks.

The talks — aimed at bringing the US back into the agreement and Iran to roll back its nuclear activities — started in April this year, but then stopped for several months as the Islamic republic elected a new hardline government.

The talks finally resumed in late November.

“We have made good progress this week. We will convene a joint commission today and will continue talks after a break of a few days,” Bagheri said on Twitter, referring to the meeting’s formal name.

EU and US diplomats have been more guarded in their comments so far.

Western powers have warned time is running out to revive a 2015 deal under which Iran pledged to reduce its nuclear capabilities in exchange for sanctions relief.

The deal has been on life support since 2018, when former president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Germany, Britain and France, all signatories of the nuclear deal along with Russia and China, said that “the diplomatic door is firmly open for Iran to do a deal now.”

“Iran has to choose between the collapse of the JCPOA and a fair and comprehensive deal, for the benefit of the Iranian people and nation,” the statement added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was preparing “alternatives” in case efforts to revive the deal collapse.

“We continue in this hour, on this day, to pursue diplomacy because it remains at this moment the best option, but we are actively engaging with allies and partners on alternatives,” he said.

Iran claims it only wants to develop a civilian capability but Western powers say its stockpile of enriched uranium goes well beyond that, and could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.

US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to return to the agreement and Iranian officials maintain they are serious about committing to the talks.

But Tehran has been accused of backsliding on progress made earlier this year and playing for time.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned last weekend that the resumed talks were the Islamic Republic’s “last chance to come to the negotiating table with a serious resolution.”

On Wednesday Tehran and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said they had reached an agreement on replacing monitoring cameras at a nuclear facility near the Iranian city of Karaj the facility which makes centrifuges.

The IAEA had been seeking to replace the devices which Iran says were damaged in a June attack it blames on Israel.

Earlier this year Iran began restricting some IAEA inspection activity as part of steps it has taken away from the 2015 nuclear deal.

But Iran also said the IAEA will not be able to examine camera footage until after sanctions are lifted.

“When they are full, the memory cards will be removed and placed under the joint control of Iran and the Agency,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. “In other words, the Agency will not have any access to the information before sanctions are lifted.”

The IAEA chief warned this week that the advances made by Iran since the deal’s collapse meant there would have to be change to the original agreement.

“The reality is that we are dealing with a very different Iran,” he said. “2022 is so different from 2015 that there will have to be adjustments that take into consideration these new realities so our inspectors can inspect whatever the countries agree at the political table.”

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