VIENNA — Further talks between Iran and global powers took place Sunday to try to negotiate and restore a landmark 2015 agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that was later abandoned by the Trump administration.
It was the first official meeting since Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election last week.
Several diplomats involved in the talks said they made progress recently and that the results they negotiated need to be approved by the respective governments. However, there was also concern that the election of Iran’s incoming President Ebrahim Raisi could further complicate a possible return to the agreement.
Senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia and Britain met at a hotel in the Austrian capital for the final meeting of the sixth round of talks in Vienna.
Top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov wrote in a tweet late Saturday that the members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “will decide on the way ahead at the Vienna talks. An agreement on restoration of the nuclear deal is within reach but is not finalized yet.”
Iran’s deputy foreign minister for political affairs said Sunday that almost all JCPOA agreement documents had been readily negotiated and that the diplomats involved would shortly return to their home countries — not only for further consultations with their governments but also for final decision-making.
“We are now in a situation that we think almost all the agreement documents are ready,” Seyyed Abbas Araghchi said in Vienna ahead of the meeting, according to semi-official Iranian news agency Mehr.
“Of the main issues that remain disputed, some have been resolved and some remain, but it has taken on a very precise form and it is quite clear what the dimensions of these disputes are,” he added.
The U.S. does not have a representative at the table in Vienna because former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the country out of the deal in 2018. Trump also restored and augmented sanctions to try to force Iran into renegotiating the pact with more concessions.
However, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled willingness to rejoin the deal under terms that would broadly see the United States scale back sanctions and Iran return to its 2015 nuclear commitments. A U.S. delegation in Vienna is taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as go-betweens.
Sunday’s meeting was overshadowed by the election of Raisi in Iran, which puts hard-liners firmly in control of the government at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.
In Jerusalem, new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Sunday that Raisi’s election as Iranian president was “the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they’re doing business with.
“These guys are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions,” he said.
Israel has long stated that it opposes arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear program and said it would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he hoped the election of the new Iranian president would not be an obstacle to reaching a deal in Vienna.
“We are very close. We have been working for two months,” Borrell told reporters during a visit in the Lebanese capital Beirut. “We have invested a lot of political capital on that. So I hope that the results of the elections is not going to be the last obstacle that will ruin the negotiation process.”
Raisi is the first Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office, over his involvement in the 1988 mass executions, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.
Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Amir Vahdat contributed reporting from Tehran, Iran; Ilan Ben Zion from Jerusalem; and Sarah El Deeb from Beirut.