Iran nuclear talks to resume with world powers

Iran's Chief Negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, has said the talks will revolve around the lifting of sanctions from the US. Photograph: Fernando Alvarado/EPAIran's Chief Negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, has said the talks will revolve around the lifting of sanctions from the US. Photograph: Fernando Alvarado/EPA

Iran and the world powers party to its 2015 nuclear deal have begun  long awaited talks in Vienna to restore the pact, which the United States abandoned three years ago.

Representatives of Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom convened in the Austrian capital on Monday. Messages were relayed to American representatives as Iran again refused to hold direct talks since the US is no longer a member of the accord.

After the first meeting, the European Union’s Enrique Mora, who is chairing the talks, sounded optimistic.

Mora further said that a sanctions work group that was formed during a previous round of talks in April will restart its activities from Tuesday, and the nuclear work group will reactivate a day later.

Mora also said Iran has accepted the need to build on results achieved during the first six rounds of talks, adding that Tehran also wishes to incorporate the new “political sensibilities” of the Raisi administration.

In a statement following the talks, the Iranian foreign ministry said that Iran’s top negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani emphasised to the participants that Iran is serious about reaching a “fair agreement” that would secure Iran’s legitimate interests.

The talks could liberate  Iran from hundreds of western economic sanctions or lead to a tightening of the economic noose and the intensified threat of military attacks by Israel.

The scale of Iran’s negotiating demands, ideological outlook of Iran’s new administration and western fears that Iran is covertly boosting its nuclear program has created a sense of pessimism.

Joe Biden has offered to take the US back into the nuclear deal that Donald Trump left in 2018, but Iran and the US are in dispute over the precise US sanctions that must be lifted, and how Iran would reverse the multiple steps it has taken to build its nuclear programme in breach of the deal.

After a round of bilateral talks on Sunday, the formal talks will take place at the Coburg hotel between Iran, Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany and the EU on Monday afternoon. Iran has again said it will not hold talk direct talks with the US delegation.

Russia’s ambassador to the talks said the near 30-strong Iranian negotiating team was impressive and a good sign, but warned after the five-month delay that: “The talks can’t last for ever. There is the obvious need to speed up the process”.

The bulk of the Iranian negotiating team remains unchanged even though the chief negotiator is now Ali Bagheri Kani, the deputy foreign minister and a hardliner that understands English, but not well enough to speak fluently.

Western diplomats admit they are unclear whether the new regime wants a deal or is playing for time covertly to strengthen its nuclear programme. Robert Malley, the head of the US negotiating team, said: “If that’s Iran’s approach, which is to try to use the negotiations as cover for an accelerated nuclear programme, and as I say, drag its feet at the nuclear table, we will have to respond in a way that is not our preference. Nobody should be surprised if at that point there is increased pressure on Iran”.

Lifting economic sanctions remains a popular objective inside Iran, but the current regime have done little to prepare the nation politically for the compromises that might be necessary. Omer Carmi, former visiting fellow at the Washington Institute, warns Iranian politicians are “implying to domestic audiences that Iran need not lift a finger at the negotiating table to secure sanctions relief”.

Ground covered but not resolved in the talks include the extent of sanctions relief, how to verify that sanctions have been lifted and how Iran expects European nations to respond if the US was to leave the agreement again.

Iran has long emphasised that it expects Washington to remove all sanctions that are “related to the nuclear deal”, including 1,500 individual sanctions.

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