JCPOA members are resuming Iran nuclear talks

Photo: EPA Officials from the six countries still party to the nuclear deal during preparatory talks in the beginning of April

World powers resumed talks Saturday focused on bringing the United States back into their landmark nuclear deal with Iran. The US will not have a representative at the table when the diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia and Britain meet in Vienna because former President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the country out of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2018.

Trump also restored and augmented sanctions to try to force Iran into renegotiating the pact with more concessions.

US President Joe Biden wants to rejoin the deal, however, and a US delegation in Vienna is taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as go-betweens. Ahead of the main talks, Russia’s top representative Mikhail Ulyanov confirmed JCPOA members met on the side with officials from the US delegation but that the Iranian delegation was not ready to meet with US diplomats.

“JCPOA participants held today informal consultations with the US delegation at the Vienna talks on full restoration of the nuclear deal,” Ulyanov tweeted. “Without Iran who is still not ready to meet with US diplomats.”

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. The reimposition of US sanctions has left the Islamic Republic’s economy reeling. Tehran has therefore responded by steadily increasing its violations of the restrictions of the deal, such as increasing the purity of uranium it enriches and its stockpiles, in a thus-far unsuccessful effort to pressure the other countries to provide relief.

Iran, the five other members of the deal, and the United States have spent most of April in the Austrian capital discussing ways to restore the accord. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed on 20 April that work is underway on a document outlining steps that Iran and the United States must take to return to compliance. Negotiators aim to have a concrete proposal by mid-May, Reuters reported.

For its part, the Biden administration is considering a rollback of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions in a bid to get Iran to come back into compliance with the terms of the nuclear agreement, according to information from current and former US officials and others familiar with the matter given to AP earlier this week.

The United States, however, appears hesitant to sweep away all sanctions reimposed since 2018, which Iran has demanded as a condition for face-to-face discussions.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who is also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, told The Wall Street Journal on 15 April, “Our position is quite clear…. As far as we are concerned every sanction imposed or reimposed or relabeled by the Trump administration are JCPOA-related and should be lifted.”

But he hinted during the interview that Tehran may be open to compromise, saying, “Of course, there are different ways to see that, and that’s why we negotiate.”

Outside the talks in Vienna, other challenges remain.

An attack suspected to have been carried out by Israel recently struck Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, causing an unknown amount of damage. Tehran retaliated by beginning to enrich a small amount of uranium up to 60% purity, its highest level ever.

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