US: Too early to say if Iranians intend to be constructive at nuclear talks

European diplomats warn that Tehran is losing ‘precious time,’ deal could become an ’empty shell’; top Iranian negotiator accuses Europeans of playing blame game

Snow falls on the Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 09, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)
Snow falls on the Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 09, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)

It is too soon to say if Iran has a more positive attitude as it comes back to nuclear talks aimed at saving a landmark nuclear deal, US State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters Monday.

In a video briefing, Porter was asked about remarks from Iran’s top negotiator at the talks, Ali Bagheri Kani, who said over the weekend that progress had been made that could pave the way for more serious negotiations.

“It’s just too soon to tell whether Iran has returned to a more constructive approach at this moment,” she said.

On Tuesday Bagheri Kani responded to accusations from Britain, France, and German diplomats at the talks that Tehran was stalling on any real advance in the negotiations.

“Some actors persist in their blame game habit, instead of real diplomacy,” Bagheri Kani tweeted. “We proposed our ideas early, and worked constructively and flexibly to narrow gaps; diplomacy is a 2-way street.”

“If there’s real will” then the path to a “quick good deal will be paved,” he wrote.

After a five-month pause, talks resumed on salvaging the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on November 29.

The 2015 agreement aimed to prevent Iran from developing an atomic bomb, a goal Tehran has always denied it seeks. The deal ensured sanctions relief in return for tight curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, which was put under extensive UN monitoring.

Diplomats from Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, the remaining signatory countries to the JCPOA agreement, are attending the current talks.

Senior diplomats from the western European countries at the talks said Iran’s positions over its nuclear development program are “inconsistent” with the terms of the deal to limit it.

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)

“We have had many hours of engagement, and all delegations have pressed Iran to be reasonable,” said the diplomats, from Britain, France and Germany, known as the E3.

“As of this moment, we still have not been able to get down to real negotiations,” they added in a joint statement. “We are losing precious time dealing with new Iranian positions inconsistent with the JCPOA or that go beyond it.”

“Time is running out. Without swift progress, in light of Iran’s fast-forwarding of its nuclear program, the JCPOA will very soon become an empty shell,” they said.

Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord in 2018 and US President Joe Biden wants to negotiate Washington’s return, with US diplomats participating at one remove from the main talks.

Iran wants Washington to lift a raft of sanctions, and is asking as well for guarantees.

Iran sees progress

On Sunday, Iran’s chief negotiator at the talks reported progress on drawing up an agenda.

“The two parties are at the point of agreeing on the matters which should be on the agenda,” Bagheri told the official IRNA news agency. “It’s a positive and important evolution since, at the start, they weren’t even in agreement on the issues to negotiate.”

Iranian officials maintain they are serious about committing to the talks.

But the Western countries have accused Tehran of backtracking on the position it held earlier this year.

Last week, Biden warned that the United States was preparing “additional measures” against Iran as expectations grow that the talks are set to fail.

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