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Iran’s nuclear envoy: We’re closer to deal than ever, but US must make decisions

As diplomats at talks in Vienna on renewing 2015 pact take a break, Iranian Deputy FM Araghchi says closing gaps to finalize an agreement will be difficult

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi leaves the 'Grand Hotel Vienna' where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi leaves the 'Grand Hotel Vienna' where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

Negotiators trying to save the Iran nuclear deal met Sunday to take stock at the end of the latest round of talks, a day after an ultraconservative won the presidential election in the Islamic Republic.

The meeting was part of regular discussions held since early April, aimed at bringing the US back to the 2015 landmark agreement and Iran back into compliance with the pact’s terms on curbing its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran’s envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, said that after the day’s meeting in Vienna, negotiators will take a break to return to their capitals, ending the sixth round of talks.

“We are now closer to an agreement than ever. But it is not an easy task to close the distance currently between us and an agreement,” Araghchi told Iran’s national television. “At this point, it is clear which fields, which actions are possible and which are not. Therefore, it is time for all sides, especially our counterparts, to be able to make their final decision.”

He added that he could not say how many days the latest break will last.

Araghchi also said that “bridging the gaps requires decisions that mainly [the US] has to take. I hope in the next round we will travel this short distance — although it is a difficult one.”

The European Union’s representative at the talks, Enrique Mora, said the six world powers attending would hold consultations in their capitals.

Mora told reporters that “we are closer to a deal, but we are not still there.”

“We have made progress on a number of technical issues,” Mora added. “We have now more clarity on technical documents — all of them quite complex — and that clarity allows us to have also a great idea of what the political problems are.”

Mora said progress had been made and that the International Atomic Energy Agency had reached an agreement with Iran on extending an arrangement, set to expire on June 24, for its inspectors to monitor Iranian nuclear sites.

Mora reported that parties to the talks had a better picture of what will be needed to close a deal when they reconvene. He did not say when the talks would resume.

Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian envoy at the EU-chaired talks, told reporters that nobody knew when the talks would restart.

Ulyanov said the diplomats “took stock of the significant progress made at the Vienna talks, including at the sixth round, and decided to make a break to allow participants to consult with their capitals in preparation for what is supposed to be the final round of negotiations.”

“There are a few controversial points which require political decisions. Apparently diplomatic efforts to find common language have been almost fully exhausted. So the time has come for political decisions,” Ulyanov added.

Ebrahim Raisi, points during a campaign rally in Eslamshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran, June 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

In a written statement after the talks Sunday, the E3 European senior diplomats urged speedy decision-making in the different capitals involved in the talks.

“Delegations will now travel to capitals in order to consult with their leadership,” the diplomats wrote without giving their names as is customary. “We urge all sides to return to Vienna and be ready to conclude a deal. The time for decision is fast approaching.”

Negotiators have said the Iranian presidential election is not expected to influence the talks, though newly elected president Ebrahim Raisi’s views are widely seen as a break from the more moderate stances of former president Hassan Rouhani.

Israel’s newly installed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described Raisi’s victory as a “wake-up” call for parties to a nuclear deal with Tehran.

“Raisi’s election is, I would say, the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement, and to understand who they are doing business with,” Bennett told a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

On Saturday, Russian representative Ulyanov said the Vienna meeting would “decide on the way ahead.”

“An agreement on restoration of the nuclear deal is within reach but is not finalized yet,” he wrote on Twitter.

Israel has always opposed the nuclear agreement, which it says could enable the Islamic Republic to develop nuclear arms. A change of government a week ago — which saw long-serving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ousted from office — has not changed the country’s policy on the matter.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 20, 2021. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

In an initial reaction to Raisi’s election win, the Foreign Ministry said late Saturday that the international community should be alarmed because of his commitment to a “rapidly advancing military nuclear program.”

It also described Raisi as Iran’s “most extremist president to date.”

Parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, China, Germany, France, Russia and Iran — have been meeting in Vienna with indirect US participation to restore the deal, which promised Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curtailing its nuclear program.

The deal was thrown into disarray in 2018 when former US president Donald Trump withdrew and reimposed sanctions, leading Iran, in turn, to step up its nuclear activities from 2019 onwards.

Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, but as it dropped its commitments to the deal it began enriching uranium to levels that the International Atomic Energy Agency said are only sought by countries aiming to build a weapon.

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