Dec 17, 2021 - World

European negotiators warn "end of the road" is near as Iran nuclear talks pause

The scene in Vienna. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation Handout via Getty

Senior European diplomats briefed reporters on Friday that they were disappointed by Iran's decision to request a pause in the nuclear talks in Vienna amid what they described as “technical progress."

Why it matters: The U.S. and the deal's European signatories — France, Germany and the U.K — have stressed several times in the nearly three weeks since talks resumed that Iran is dragging its feet and taking maximalist positions. They insist the time for negotiations is running out.

  • “There has been some technical progress in the past 24 hours, but that just brings us a little closer to where we were in June," a European diplomat said on Friday.
  • "In just a few weeks, not months, the non-proliferation advantages achieved by the 2015 nuclear deal will be irrelevant. We are rapidly approaching the end of the road for these negotiations."

Flashback: Talks broke off in June after the election of Iran's hardline president, Embrahim Raisi. The U.S. and its European allies say Raisi's negotiators have backed off the agreements reached under the previous Iranian government.

  • The Iranians, meanwhile, contend that they're showing flexibility and claimed "significant progress" was made this week.

Between the lines: According to the European diplomats, that progress related to the format of negotiations — how talks would proceed both with regard to Iranian nuclear rollback and U.S. sanctions relief — rather than the substance. Those process issues had previously been holding up the talks.

Driving the news: On Thursday night, Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri, notified the other delegations that his team would be returning to Tehran the next day for consultations.

  • The European diplomats say they were surprised by the decision and had been planning to continue the talks.
  • Iranian sources told Iranian media that the request to break off for consultations came from the European side.

What they're saying: The diplomats said Iran's nuclear program is now more advanced than ever before and stressed that Tehran must refrain from further escalation.

  • Meanwhile, Bagheri told the Iranian press that the new bases for the talks both on sanctions relief and nuclear measures “are different from the ones finalized” in June by the previous government.

What’s next: There's no date yet for the next round of talks, though negotiations could resume after Christmas.

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