May 26, 2021 - World

As Iran nuclear talks resume, U.S. hopes for a deal rise

Iran's chief negotiator Abbas Araghchi outside Vienna's Grand Hotel, where the talks are being held. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty

Last week's round of indirect nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran in Vienna was the first in which progress was made on both negotiating tracks, sanctions relief and nuclear measures, U.S. officials say.

Breaking it down: The working group focusing on sanctions relief required of the U.S. to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal had made steady progress in the first three rounds. But the other, focusing on the nuclear measures required of Iran, stalled due to Iran's hardline positions and the question of what happens to Iran's new advanced centrifuges, U.S. officials contend.

  • That led the Biden administration to make clear both privately and publicly that there would be no deal if Iran didn't roll back its nuclear program sufficiently to put its "breakout time" — the time needed to enrich enough uranium for a weapon — at least one year out.
  • But the U.S. side felt Iran showed more flexibility in the fourth round of talks and was reassured that Iran agreed to extend nuclear inspections for another month, avoiding a showdown that could have seriously damaged the chances of a deal.

Driving the news: Iran's chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, told reporters in Vienna on Tuesday that he hopes this will be the final round of talks before an agreement is reached. "You can have such hope, but you have to be a little bit cautious," he said.

  • A U.S. official told me a deal is achievable and shouldn't take months to reach, but it will require more nuclear concessions from Iran.
  • “The latest round of talks was constructive and saw meaningful progress. But much work still needs to be done," Rob Malley, who leads the U.S. delegation, tweeted before catching his flight to Vienna.

What to watch: Diplomats involved in the talks are bracing for a possible lull in negotiations ahead of the Iranian presidential elections on June 18.

  • The final list of candidates approved by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was published on Tuesday. Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, who is closer to the Reformist camp, was excluded, leaving conservative judiciary chief Ibrahim Raisi as the leading candidate.
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