Rouhani: 60%-70% of issues resolved in Vienna nuclear talks

But EU and US say long road ahead to rescue 2015 deal; top Israeli security officials to head to Washington to lobby for improvements to the pact

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, January 27, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, January 27, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

High-level talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran have already resolved 60-70 percent of the key issues, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quoted by state media as saying Tuesday.

The “negotiations have achieved 60-70 percent progress,” Rouhani said, according to the IRNA news agency.

“If the Americans act honestly, we will reach a conclusion in little time,” he added.

The US, however, said though the talks have been “businesslike” and “positive,” there was “a long road ahead.”

“I think it’s fair to say we have more road ahead of us than in the rearview mirror,” US State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “There have been no breakthroughs but we’ve always said that this would be a process, even if it were going well.”

The EU chief negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal talks also said that “much more hard work” was needed to rescue the 2015 landmark agreement.

EU diplomat Enrique Mora hailed “progress made over the last two weeks” but said “ongoing challenges” remained to put the accord — which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief — back on track.

He added a third expert group had been created to address “sequencing issues” after two groups were set up to look into nuclear issues and sanctions lifting.

Deputy Secretary-General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora, right, leaves the Grand Hotel Wien where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, April 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

Two expert groups have already been brainstorming solutions to the two major issues: The rollback of American sanctions on one hand, and Iran’s return to compliance on the other.

The nuclear deal was thrown into question when the US withdrew in 2018 and sanctioned Iran, which in turn started ramping up its nuclear activities.

Iran has since steadily been violating the restrictions set by the deal, by enriching uranium far past the purity allowed and stockpiling vastly larger quantities, in a thus-far unsuccessful effort to force the other countries involved to provide economic relief that would offset the American sanctions.

US President Joe Biden wants to return Washington to the deal, and Iran has been negotiating with the five remaining powers — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — for the past two weeks on how that might take place. Diplomats from the world powers have been shuttling between the Iranian delegation and an American one, which is also in Vienna but not talking directly with the Iranian side.

Iran insists it can reverse its nuclear activities — including producing uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, far above the deal’s threshold — but only once sanctions imposed by former US president Donald Trump are removed.

Talks are set to continue next week, according to an EU statement, with participants noting a new sense of urgency.

Israel is lobbying the US to include improvements to the oversight of Iran’s nuclear program, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Tuesday night. Jerusalem is pushing for International Atomic Energy Agency officials to have greater powers in inspecting the nuclear sites, according to the report.

Mossad intelligence agency director Yossi Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat will both head to the US early next week to push the position on Jerusalem’s behalf, the report said.

Israel is said to have conceded that the deal will be renewed without addressing its concerns about Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror groups.

Russia’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mikhail Ulyanov, outside the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ for the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna on April 15, 2021, where diplomats of the EU, China, Russia and Iran hold their talks. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

On Tuesday, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to Vienna, wrote on Twitter that the parties “decided to take a break to allow the delegations to do homework and consult with the capitals.”

Ulyanov on Monday had said negotiations had entered “the drafting stage” though “practical solutions” were “still far away.”

An Iranian official said Monday that if an agreement is reached on a process to remove all of the US sanctions, Tehran may be willing to limit uranium enrichment to 20 percent in exchange for the freeing up of Iranian money that is being held in other countries due to US measures, Reuters reported, citing Iranian state media.

Challenges also remain outside of the negotiations.

An attack suspected to have been carried out by Israel recently struck Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, causing an unknown amount of damage. Tehran retaliated by beginning to enrich a small amount of uranium up to 60% purity, its highest level ever.

Speaking Tuesday, the head of the Iran’s atomic agency said that power had since been restored at Natanz and uranium enrichment activities there have been renewed.

In this image made from April 17, 2021 video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, in Iran. (IRIB via AP, File)

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was cited by IRNA as saying that “the cables damaged in the accident were speedily replaced and… the main power supply to the Natanz enrichment facility [is] now connected to the grid.”

Salehi added that “thanks to the timely measures taken, enrichment in Natanz never stopped, even when the main power cable was cut,” according to the report.

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