Political decisions are needed ‘in days’ to secure Iran nuclear deal

A senior EU diplomat has said “political decisions” to secure a deal between Iran and the US to revive the 2015 nuclear accord must be made in “days”, as western powers pressure Tehran to sign a deal.

Enrique Mora, the EU envoy co-ordinating indirect talks in Vienna between the Biden administration and the Islamic republic, said there were “no longer expert-level talks” in the Austrian capital, “nor formal meetings”.

“It is time, in the next few days, for political decisions to end the #ViennaTalks. The rest is noise” Mora said on Twitter.

His comments reflect western officials’ belief that after 11 months of negotiations in Vienna, brokered by the EU, Tehran now has to decide if it wants an agreement. Officials have said they are close to a deal, but have cautioned that outstanding issues still need to be resolved.

The nuclear crisis was triggered after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal in 2018 and imposed crippling sanctions on the republic. President Joe Biden pledged to return to the accord if Tehran came back into full compliance with the agreement.

Western diplomats have repeatedly warned that time is running out to save the accord, arguing that the advances Iran has made to its nuclear programme will otherwise make it redundant. Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest-ever levels and is close to weapons-grade.

Moscow’s demand at the weekend that it needs guarantees that US sanctions imposed on Russia after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine will not affect its trade with Iran has threatened to complicate matters and added to the sense of urgency.

Russia is a signatory to the accord with France, Germany, the UK and China. After the original deal was signed in 2015, Iran transferred enriched uranium and heavy water to Russia to reduce its stockpiles in compliance with the accord.

This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency is holding a governors’ board meeting, which analysts have long considered a potential deadline for the talks.

Western members of the UN nuclear watchdog could seek an IAEA resolution to censure Iran if they believe Tehran is not willing to agree to the terms to revive the nuclear accord, analysts have said. That would then go to the UN Security Council, which would determine what action to take.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said on Sunday that the parties were close to a deal, but added that “there are a couple of very challenging remaining issues”.

“We’ll see where we get in the coming days,” Blinken told CBS talk show Face the Nation. “But it is really coming down to whether we can resolve a couple of outstanding issues. If we can, we’ll get back on the deal. If we can’t, we won’t.”

Iranian officials insist Tehran is ready to sign, but have put the onus on the US and its allies to address the republic’s outstanding concerns.

Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, said on Monday that “despite good progress” at the Vienna talks, some issues needed “the political decision of the west”.

Iranian officials have said their main concerns relate to the republic’s demand that the Biden administration offer guarantees that no future US president will unilaterally withdraw from the accord. But experts say that is virtually impossible for Washington to provide.

Tehran has also been insisting that all Trump-era sanctions are lifted, including those related to human rights and terrorism allegations, while complaining that the US is focusing on economic sanctions.

Trump imposed sanctions on dozens of senior Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi before he came to power last year, and the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader. He also designated the elite Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organisation.

Amirabdollahian told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Monday that sanctions had to be lifted “in an effective manner”.

Separately, he sought to reassure Iranian MPs that Lavrov’s comments on Saturday about Moscow wanting US guarantees that sanctions on Russia would not impede its trade with Iran, would not affect Tehran’s position.

“We will not allow any outside factor to affect our national interests,” he told the lawmakers.

Iran’s negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, headed back to Tehran on Monday for more consultations, Iranian media reported.

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