Agreement on restoring Iran’s nuclear deal ‘within reach’

Negotiators hope next round of talks in Vienna will lead to US lifting sanctions and Iran returning to full compliance.

Iran's top negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, leaves the hotel in Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks are taking place [Lisa Leutner/AP]

Tehran, Iran – At the end of two more weeks of negotiations, representatives of world powers party to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal appear more certain that work to restore the landmark accord will soon succeed.

The fourth round of talks in Vienna began earlier in May, three years after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), imposing strict sanctions on Iran.

Following a Joint Commission meeting on Wednesday between Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union at the Grand Hotel – with the US still in another hotel – negotiators expressed optimism.

“The JCPOA participants at their meeting today noted that ‘good’ or ‘significant’ progress was made and that an agreement is ‘within reach’,” tweeted Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s top negotiator.

EU coordinator Enrique Mora shared a similar sentiment, saying “an agreement is shaping up” and a common understanding has been reached on measures required to lift US sanctions and scale back steps Iran has taken since 2019 to advance its nuclear programme.

After leaving the hotel, Mora told reporters: “I am quite sure that there will be a final agreement not far from now.”

Negotiators will now head back to their countries to discuss progress, and will be back in the Austrian capital early next week to conduct what is hoped to be the final round of negotiations to restore the nuclear deal.

However, not all of the many hurdles on the way of bringing the JCPOA back have been removed.

Hours before the meeting on Wednesday began, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s top negotiator, said good progress has been made but several key issues require further assessment before the next round of talks.

“We hope to reach a conclusion on those issues as well in the coming weeks after we come back for the next round of negotiations,” he said.

Two upcoming dates have put pressure on the talks: the May 21 deadline of a three-month agreement Iran signed with the global nuclear watchdog in February, and Iran’s presidential elections on June 18.

The agreement was signed by Iran’s moderate government with the International Atomic Energy Agency despite vehement opposition by the hardline parliament. It stated that Iran would keep the camera tapes of its nuclear sites pending the full lifting of US sanctions, or else they will be deleted, leaving a monitoring gap.

Earlier this month, Araghchi suggested Iran is open to renewing the agreement if necessary.

Iranian lawmakers continue to try to exert influence over the talks, and several representatives have signalled they oppose the renewal of the IAEA agreement.

On Tuesday, some 200 lawmakers signed a statement that said if “100 percent of the sanctions are not lifted, no sanctions have been lifted”.

President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday promised the Iranian people that “the end of the Vienna negotiations would be the victory of the people”.

In response to hardliners who claim the JCPOA is a failure of the government, the president emphasised that each step of the nuclear deal, and efforts to restore it, have been implemented by “order” and under “guidance” of Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei.

This is while a large number of candidates have signed up for the upcoming presidential elections – that will see Rouhani replaced after serving two terms – and the constitutional vetting body known as the Guardian Council has until May 27 to consider how many are qualified to run.

Conservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi is considered to be the frontrunner.

Source: Al Jazeera