Washington said Wednesday it was “close” to a deal with Iran on reviving a 2015 pact that saw Western powers provide sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme, the latest sign of advancement following prolonged deadlock.
Days after Russian demands seemed to jeopardize talks in Vienna over restoring the pact, this week has seen multiple positive signals that an accord may at last be within reach, including the release of two British Iranians Wednesday after years of detention in Iran, and word that outstanding issues have narrowed to just two.
The negotiations began last April between Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia, with the United States taking part indirectly.
Now a successful resolution appears more viable than at any point in years.
“We are close to a possible deal, but we’re not there yet,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. “We do think the remaining issues can be bridged.”
Speaking to reporters, Price declined to confirm Tehran’s claim that there were just a pair of final issues to be sorted out, down from four, before agreeing to restore the six-party Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which aimed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
But he said the issues are surmountable, although the 11-month-old talks “are at a very delicate stage.”
“There is little time remaining given the nuclear advancements that Tehran has made” toward developing nuclear weapons that would undermine any agreement, he said.
The EU diplomat chairing the Vienna talks, Enrique Mora, told reporters last week that delegations were down to negotiating the footnotes of the text, but progress stalled when Moscow demanded guarantees that Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine would not affect its trade with Iran.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated Tuesday that Russia had received “written guarantees” from Washington.
The agreement placed unprecedented curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme and subjected Tehran to an international inspections regime verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, in a now futile effort to bring Iran back to negotiations for what his administration maintained would be a more wide-ranging agreement.
Trump re-imposed US sanctions lifted under the 2015 pact and imposed new economic penalties.
Rather than pursue negotiations, Tehran chose to take steps away from its nuclear-related commitments in retaliation for Trump’s actions.
Sources: France 24, TRT World