The first formal negotiations between Western powers and the new Iranian regime on how to restore the 2015 nuclear deal were suspended on Friday, with Europe warning that Iran had reversed all previous diplomatic progress and was rapidly advancing its nuclear program.
It now looks like negotiations will collapse next week if Iran does not change its demands, potentially risking an attack on Iran from Israel.
EU chief negotiator Enrique Mora said negotiations would resume next week, but warned that time was not unlimited.
Diplomats representing the three European powers at the talks – Britain, France and Germany – said they were disappointed and concerned about the stalemate.
They said: “Tehran is going back almost all the difficult compromises that have been made after many months of hard work,” adding that major changes were required. “Over five months ago, Iran suspended the talks. Since then, Iran has rapidly advanced its nuclear program. This week, it has drawn back on the diplomatic progress that has been made. “
They said it was “unclear how these new gaps can be closed within a realistic timeframe based on Iranian drafts. We have asked the coordinator to meet again soon.”
They said the purpose of the suspension was to “allow delegations to return to the capitals to assess the situation and seek instructions” before meeting again next week “to see if gaps can be closed or not”.
The statement added: “Our governments remain fully committed to a diplomatic way forward. But time is running out.”
Iran’s new government, elected in June, presented revised documents on the sanctions the United States would be required to lift, as well as new proposals on what Iran would be required to do to return to full compliance with the agreement.
A third document on benchmarks – including levels of oil exports and foreign exchange transactions – that had to be met before Iran would assess that sanctions had been effectively lifted has been published but not formally presented.
EU diplomats said the proposals required the United States to lift some sanctions imposed by Joe Biden, which were clearly unrelated to the nuclear deal, thus representing a tightening of Iranian demands agreed in the previous six rounds of talks with the former set of Iranian traders.
The West is likely to return to negotiations next Wednesday, but has the option of referring Iran to the UN Security Council for breaching its obligations under the 2015 agreement. It is possible that Iran would respond to such a reference by withdrawing from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and refusing to rejoin unless Israel is obliged to accede.
Iran acknowledged that progress was slow, adding that its proposals could not be rejected as they were in line with the 2015 agreement.
Israel, which is not participating in the negotiations, said its Western allies had to realize that Iran was stalled while continuing to develop its nuclear program.
Persistent efforts to reopen negotiations on how the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear inspectorate, could reach agreement on the operation of its cameras at nuclear facilities, have made little progress, which has increased the sense of gloom.
Negotiations in Vienna are taking place between Iran, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. A US negotiating team is in Vienna, but is not allowed to participate in the negotiations from Iran on the basis that Donald Trump left the agreement in 2018.
Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, said: “We are negotiating a comprehensive agreement. We are negotiating a comprehensive agreement that will pave the way for the return of a country that has left the agreement. We are seeking the abolition of unfair illegal US sanctions. “
Mohammed Morandi, described as a member of the Iranian negotiating team but in fact acting as a spokesman for the Western media, accused Biden of criticizing Trump’s policy of maximum pressure on Iran, but of continuing the same policy against Iran since he took office.
In addition to the direct talks in Vienna, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in an attempt to break the stalemate, but he admitted that the Vienna negotiations had not been successful.