VIENNA: Britain, France and Germany urged Iran on Friday "not to make unrealistic demands" in the talks to salvage a 2015 deal aimed at reining in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Officials from world powers and Iran were meeting in the Austrian capital for the first time since March, when negotiations -- which began in 2021 to reintegrate the United States into the agreement -- stalled.
"Today’s talks in Vienna do not mark a new round of negotiations. These are technical discussions," the three countries -- known as the E3 group -- said in a statement. "The text is on the table. There will be no re-opening of negotiations. Iran must now decide to conclude the deal while this is still possible. We urge Iran not to make unrealistic demands outside the scope of the JCPoA", or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the statement said.
Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United States signed the JCPOA in July 2015. But following the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under former president Donald Trump and the re-imposition of US sanctions, Tehran has backtracked on its obligations to curtail its atomic activities, such as uranium enrichment.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has found that Iran subsequently exceeded the agreed enrichment rate of 3.67 percent, rising to 20 percent in early 2021. It then crossed an unprecedented 60-percent threshold, getting closer to the 90 percent needed to make a bomb.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi on Tuesday warned Iran’s programme was "moving ahead very, very fast" and "growing in ambition and capacity". But Tehran argues that the issues "are political in nature and should not be used as a pretext for abuse against Iran in the future".
"Now, the hours in Vienna are decisive and the Iranian side must be given assurances as soon as possible," an Iranian diplomat told the Iranian state news agency, IRNA.The JCPOA aims to guarantee the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for a gradual lifting of sanctions.But following the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under former president Donald Trump and the re-imposition of US sanctions, Tehran has backtracked on its obligations.
Iran subsequently exceeded the JCPOA’s uranium enrichment rate of 3.67 percent, rising to 20 percent in early 2021. It then crossed an unprecedented 60-percent threshold, getting closer to the 90 percent needed to make a bomb.
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, on Tuesday warned Iran’s programme was "moving ahead very, very fast" and "growing in ambition and capacity".
Ahead of Thursday’s talks, officials expressed cautious optimism, while cautioning that the parties remained far apart on key issues. These include sanctions, Iranian demands for guarantees and the end of a probe by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The head of the US delegation, Rob Malley, and the head of Tehran’s representatives, Ali Bagheri, said on Twitter ahead of the talks that they were coming in good faith but put the onus on each other.
Analysts said reviving the JCPOA remained the best option. "The last thing the United States needs is a nuclear crisis with Iran that could easily escalate to a broader regional conflict," Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a statement.
Ellie Geranmayeh, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), said that "at the end of the day, Tehran and Washington know the alternatives to a JCPOA collapse are terrible".
"This is unlikely to be a meeting that resolves the outstanding issues", but "it could create the breakthrough necessary to push the talks towards a finishing line rather than a collapse", she said.