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Top Iran nuclear negotiator returns to Vienna as talks come to a head

Ali Bagheri Kani arrives in Austrian capital following sudden trip back to Tehran, with EU envoy indicating new agreement awaiting Islamic Republic’s okay

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021. (Joe Klamar/AFP)
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

Iran’s top diplomat at months-long talks aimed at restoring its tattered nuclear deal with world powers returned on Wednesday to Vienna, Reuters reported, citing the Iranian semi-official ISNA news agency.

Ali Bagheri Kani made a sudden trip back to Tehran earlier this week. Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA described the trip as being “within the framework of the usual consultations during the talks,” while others believed it a sign of the growing pressure on Tehran as the negotiations appear to be nearing their end.

The top negotiator for the European Union seemed to suggest that whether the talks succeeded or failed now depended on the Islamic Republic.

“There are no longer ‘expert level talks.’ Nor ‘formal meetings,’” Enrique Mora wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, responding to comments by an Iranian analyst. “It is time, in the next few days, for political decisions to end the #ViennaTalks. The rest is noise.”

Mora’s comments mirror those of British and French negotiators at the Vienna talks, which have been trying to find a way to resurrect the accord. The US unilaterally abandoned the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, and Iran has been scaling up nuclear activity, including enrichment, ever since.

The comments appeared to push back against a constant Iranian refrain in the last weeks of talks that sought to blame any delay on America. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said he believed “we’re close” to reaching a deal, though there were “a couple of very challenging remaining issues.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart in Moscow. on March 5, 2022. (Sergei Ilnitesky/Pool/AFP)

The latest wrinkle, however, is a demand Saturday from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Blinken offer written guarantees over Moscow’s ability to continue trade with Iran as it faces sanctions over its war on Ukraine.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian spoke Monday by phone with Lavrov, with the sanctions threat apparently discussed, according to a statement from his office.

“We are against war and imposition of sanctions, and it is clear that cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and any country, including Russia, should not be affected by the atmosphere of sanctions,” Amirabdollahian said in the statement.

The 2015 nuclear deal saw Iran put advanced centrifuges into storage under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency, while keeping its enrichment at 3.67% purity and its stockpile at only 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium.

As of February 19, the IAEA says Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was nearly 3,200 kilograms (7,055 pounds). Some has been enriched up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

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