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‘Political decisions are needed’: EU says Iran nuclear talks put on pause

European Union coordinator for negotiations in Vienna says participants going home for consultations; France says talks ‘difficult’ but some signs they could succeed

People walk past Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)
People walk past Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)

The latest round of talks to salvage the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna have been put on pause, the European Union coordinator Enrique Mora said Friday, calling for “political decisions” to break the deadlock.

“Participants will go back to capital(s) for consultations and instructions to come back next week. Political decisions are needed now,” Mora tweeted.

The deal — sealed in 2015 by Iran, the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — gave Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

However, after the US pulled out of the accord and reimposed sanctions in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, Iran began dramatically stepping up its nuclear activities.

Talks aiming to rescue the faltering accord began in the Austrian capital in April 2021 and — after a five-month suspension — resumed in November.

The EU has played the role of mediator, while Washington has been taking part indirectly in the negotiations.

On Monday Iran for the first time said it was open to direct negotiations with the US, which quickly declared itself ready to hold talks “urgently.”

The potential turning point came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in mid-January that it was a “decisive moment” in the negotiations, warning there were only “a few weeks left” to save a deal.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in the briefing room of the State Department in Washington, January 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

A senior White House official said Thursday that the US and Iran were “in the ballpark of a possible [nuclear] deal” in Vienna, while also clarifying that Washington is “very prepared” for the “pretty likely” scenario that there won’t be an agreement.

On Wednesday, the White House said that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata that the Biden administration was already “preparing alternative options” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon if the Vienna talks fail.

A French presidential official said on Friday that the negotiations were difficult but there were some signs the talks could succeed.

“The negotiations remain difficult as we need to clarify the question of guarantees [on lifting sanctions] and the framework of control over the Iranian nuclear program,” said the French presidential official, who asked not to be named.

“Nevertheless there are some indications that the negotiations could succeed,” added the official, saying French President Emmanuel Macron could hold telephone talks with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in the coming days.

The comments marked a more positive tone from Paris after Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that “the negotiations cannot go on so slowly.”

Former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said the US decision to leave the deal in 2018 was “a strategic mistake” in an interview published Thursday.

He said the Israeli security establishment had been kept in the dark about the move before it happened, and that the US withdrawal granted Iran “legitimacy” to push forward its nuclear program in violation of the pact.

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