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US, Iran Both Eager for a Deal, Waiting for Other Side To Blink
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani speaks to the press in front of the Palais Coburg, venue of negotiations aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, Dec. 27, 2021. (Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images)

US, Iran Both Eager for a Deal, Waiting for Other Side To Blink

State Department claims ‘moderate progress’ in Vienna nuclear talks

No substantial progress was made this week in the eighth round of talks in Vienna over restoring the Iran nuclear deal, but for the first time, the Islamic Republic’s chief negotiator appeared optimistic that an agreement will be forged.

However, the Biden Administration has been warning for weeks that it is running out of patience, while Iran has said that all US sanctions must first be lifted for substantial headway to be made on the 2015 nuclear pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Besides the so-called E3 countries (the UK, France and Germany), Iran, China and Russia are also taking part in the talks, while the United States is participating indirectly.

This week the US State Department said there had been “moderate progress” in the talks, but other American officials have expressed frustration with Iran’s negotiation approach, warning Washington may slap the Islamic Republic with a new set of sanctions.

The more serious the other side is in being prepared to lift sanctions and accept Iran’s mechanisms for lifting sanctions, especially on verification and guarantee issues, the sooner we can reach an agreement

But Iran is sounding a different tone, with chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani saying last week that the talks are moving forward.

“The more serious the other side is in being prepared to lift sanctions and accept Iran’s mechanisms for lifting sanctions, especially on verification and guarantee issues, the sooner we can reach an agreement,” Bagheri Kani said.

Many say the fact that the US and Iran are not talking directly is complicating the already difficult negotiations.

The landmark agreement of 2015 provided sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for promised limits on its nuclear program. Iran blames Washington for the current situation, saying Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from the deal is what forced it to abandon some of the restrictions.

There are many players involved in the talks, both directly and indirectly.

The US has been trying feverishly to assure its Middle Eastern allies that it will not sign an agreement that will fail to block Iran’s ability to enrich uranium for military purposes.

Washington has dispatched emissaries one after another to Israel, Saudi Arabia and other regional allies to declare it has heeded their concerns and that it will only sign an agreement that guarantees Tehran will never obtain nuclear weapons.

However, there is an abundance of doubters mainly in Israel, with officials there repeatedly threatening to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. But an Israeli strike would most likely damage the talks in Vienna and draw a violent Iranian response.

The US is meanwhile preoccupied with several domestic and international crises, and it is eager to close this file so that President Joe Biden can shift his attention to other issues that are threatening his chances for re-election.

Iran announced last April that it had begun enriching uranium to 60% purity, well beyond the 3.67% threshold set by the agreement. Uranium enriched to 90% purity is considered weapons-grade.

The Islamic Republic says that it has concerns of its own.

Tehran is demanding to verify US sanctions have genuinely been lifted before it moves forward.

It is also concerned that foreign companies will be hesitant to invest in Iran because of fears that a future Republican US president could reimpose sanctions and pull out of the agreement again.

US sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy, which contracted an estimated 4.99% in 2020, having steadily shrunk since 2017.

The International Monetary Fund sees Iran’s gross domestic product growing 3% in 2021.

Sanctions have slashed Tehran’s oil exports, its main source of income. The IMF expects the Islamic Republic’s oil exports to continue falling in 2021.

All parties in Vienna are keen to bring an end to the talks and sign another historic deal, but Washington and Tehran are both waiting for the other side to blink before inking an agreement.

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