Jun 2, 2021 - World

Little progress in Vienna talks as Iran's election approaches

Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchin Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty

With the Iranian presidential elections looming, very little progress has been made so far in the fifth round of indirect talks in Vienna between the U.S. and Iran, two sources briefed on the talks tell me.

Why it matters: The Iranian elections on June 18 are likely to strengthen the conservative camp, with Ebrahim Raisi — the leader of Iran's judiciary and a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — the favorite to win.

Driving the news: U.S. officials expressed cautious optimism last week heading into the fifth round of talks.

  • But little progress has been made in recent days on key issues like Iran’s development of advanced centrifuges that can dramatically shorten the "breakout time" to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

What they're saying: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani continued to express optimism in a speech on Wednesday, saying the main issues had been agreed upon. 

  • Iran’s chief negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, has sounded less optimistic this week than during previous rounds, though he said on Wednesday that the parties had reached a point where "all believe that the differences are not unresolvable."
  • Enrique Mora, who heads the EU delegation in Vienna, told reporters at the end of the fifth round of talks that he hoped a deal could be reached in the next round of talks next week.
  • “We are in a moment of taking the hard decisions. We will go for consultation in the capitals and come back next week with fresh ideas. We are on a good track," Mora said. “I think the sixth round could be the last round."

A senior European diplomat told me the fifth round of negotiations has been intense and productive, but "it has also been increasingly difficult as we hone in on the most difficult issues of the negotiation."

“We continued to make progress and important parts of a future deal have now been fleshed out, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. We have of course worked based on the principle of nothing is agreed to all is agreed. We understand that time is on nobody’s side. Decision time is coming up."
— Senior European diplomat
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