The Iran nuclear negotiations are set to resume in Vienna on Thursday, August 4, as officials plan to discuss the draft of an agreement proposed in July by European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell.
The first round of the Vienna talks commenced in April 2021, and negotiators were last in Vienna on March 11 when the eighth round of talks concluded. Talks briefly resumed in Doha, Qatar, at the end of June for two days, but concluded without making any progress.
Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley was cautiously optimistic when announcing that he was heading to Vienna, tweeting on August 3, “Our expectations are in check, but the United States welcomes EU efforts and is prepared for a good faith attempt to reach a deal. It will shortly be clear if Iran is prepared for the same.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed doubts about the authenticity of Iran’s interest in moving forward with the talks, noting on August 1, “It remains to be seen whether Iran is willing and able to move forward.”
On July 31, Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri-Kani wrote, “We stand ready to conclude the negotiations in a short order, should the other side be ready to do the same.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had previously told Borrell on July 27 that Iran “welcomes the continuation of diplomacy and talks” to salvage the deal.
On July 26, Borrell submitted a new talks proposal, which Blinken backed, noting on August 1 that the U.S. is “prepared to move forward on the basis of what’s been agreed.” Upon submitting the proposal, Borrell noted that “the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted.”
Borrell added, “Decisions need to be taken now to seize this unique opportunity to succeed… I see no other comprehensive or effective alternative within reach.”
A senior U.S. official suggested there is little room to negotiate beyond Borrell’s proposal, saying, “We now, unlike in the past, have a text [Borrell] says is basically as good as it’s going to get… Margins now are very tight in terms of what the scope of the talks could be about… Not going to reinvent the wheel at this point.”
After the Doha talks, U.S. officials expressed frustration with Tehran’s insistence on raising “issues wholly unrelated to the JCPOA,” such as sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and IAEA monitoring of its nuclear facilities. It remains unclear if the new draft proposed by Borrell addresses these issues, though Iran continues to raise them as of August 4.
In contrast to the U.S. acceptance of Borrell’s proposal, Bagheri-Kani stated on July 26 that Tehran has its “own ideas, both in substance & form, to conclude the negotiations.”
Iranian nuclear development continues to progress, including new announcements on the eve of the negotiations clearly meant to increase pressure on the United States to agree to Iranian demands.
On August 3, the IAEA announced that Iran had finished installing three cascades (nearly 500 centrifuges) of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Natanz facility, where it has been producing 20 and 60 percent enriched uranium.
On August 1, news platform Iran Internationalrevealed that “Iran has started pumping uranium gas into hundreds of IR-1s & IR-6 centrifuges as part of its plan to reach uranium enrichment capacity of at least 190,000 SWU [separative work units].”
That day, Mohammad Eslami, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) stated, “Iran has the technical ability to build an atomic bomb,” but clarified that “such a program is not on the agenda.”
Simultaneously, the Biden administration appears to have accepted the need to apply (thus far limited economic) pressure on Iran.
On August 1, the U.S. imposed sanctions on six companies involved in the illegal export of Iranian petroleum and petroleum and petrochemical products.
Blinken stated on August 1, “Until Iran is ready to return to full implementation of the JCPOA, we will continue to use our sanctions authorities to target exports of petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products from Iran.”
“Iran is at the table, even as it expands its nuclear program. We are at the table, even as we enforce and tighten our sanctions and diplomatic pressure,” an anonymous administration official told the Times of Israel. “So we have lost nothing by keeping the door open to a diplomatic settlement, which remains our preferred option.”
Congressmen from across the aisle continue to express concerns about the Biden administration’s pursuit of a new nuclear deal and the productivity of such a deal, if reached.
Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) stated on July 25 that he has “deep concern about how any nuclear deal with Iran can be verifiable and enforceable” if Iran refrains from turning on IAEA cameras until a deal is reached, as Iran has maintained it will do.
On July 27, a group of Republican Senators led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) submitted a letter to the Justice Department (DOJ) concerning delays to provide Argentina with information needed to investigate a Venezuelan-flagged plane with Iranians on board. Sen. Ernst expressed concern that the DOJ may have chosen to refrain from cooperating with Argentina “to prioritize the administration’s desperate and misguided pursuit of a new Iran nuclear deal.”