The seventh round of talks, the first under
Iran’s new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, ended 10 days ago after adding
some new Iranian demands to a working text. Western powers said progress was
too slow and negotiators had “weeks not months” left before the 2015
deal becomes meaningless.
Little remains of that deal, which lifted
sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its atomic activities.
Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of it in 2018, re-imposing US
sanctions, and Iran later breached many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions and
kept pushing well beyond them.
“If we work hard in the days and weeks
ahead we should have a positive result…. It’s going to be very difficult,
it’s going to be very hard. Difficult political decisions have to be taken both
in Tehran and in Washington,” the talks’ coordinator, European Union envoy
Enrique Mora, told a news conference.
He was speaking shortly after a meeting of the
remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany
and the European Union – formally kicked off the round on Monday evening.
“There is a sense of urgency in all
delegations that this negotiation has to be finished in a relatively reasonable
period of time. Again, I wouldn’t put limits but we are talking about weeks,
not about months,” Mora said.
Iran refuses to meet directly with US
officials, meaning that other parties must shuttle between the two sides. The
United States has repeatedly expressed frustration at this format, saying it
slows down the process, and Western officials still suspect Iran is simply
playing for time.
The 2015 deal extended the time Iran would
need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to
at least a year from around two to three months. Most experts say that time is
now less than before the deal, though Iran says it only wants to master nuclear
technology for civil uses.
END OF THE ROAD
“The most important issue for us is to
reach a point where, firstly, Iranian oil can be sold easily and without
hindrance,” Iranian media quoted Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian
Mora, however, said both the lifting of
sanctions and Iran’s nuclear restrictions would be discussed.
Iran insists all US sanctions must be lifted
before steps are taken on the nuclear side, while Western negotiators say
nuclear and sanctions steps must be balanced.
US sanctions have slashed Iran’s oil exports,
its main revenue source. Tehran does not disclose data, but assessments based
on shipping and other sources suggest a fall from about 2.8 million barrels per
day (bpd) in 2018 to as low as 200,000 bpd. One survey put exports at 600,000
bpd in June.
Mora said he decided to reconvene the talks
during many officials’ holidays between Christmas and the New Year so as not to
lose time, but he added that talks would stop for three days as of Friday
“because the facilities will not be available”, referring to the
luxury hotel hosting most meetings.
When the seventh round wrapped up,
incorporating some Iranian demands, negotiators from France, Britain and
Germany said in a statement: “This only takes us back nearer to where the
talks stood in June”, when the previous round ended.
“We are rapidly reaching the end of the
road for this negotiation,” they added.