Feb 23, 2022 - World

Talk of imminent Iran deal is "very premature," U.S. official says

U.S. Iran envoy Rob Malley. Photo: Mazen Mahdi/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Iran are close to a return to the 2015 nuclear deal but several “difficult issues” remain unresolved, a senior Biden administration official told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: At the moment, neither side seems willing to compromise on its remaining red lines, and the official said the outcome could still be no deal at all.

The latest: Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, is expected to return to Tehran on Wednesday night for what could be final consultations about the nuclear deal.

State of play: Out of all the comments emerging from the delegations in Vienna, those from U.S. envoy Rob Malley and his team have been the most skeptical that a deal is imminent to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

  • The senior U.S. official told me that the statements from Iranian officials and some European negotiators saying a deal could be reached within days are "very premature speculations."
  • "There is very little time left to resolve the remaining issues given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances and what it means for the viability of the JCPOA. Until these issues are dealt with, there is no deal," the official said.
  • EU political director Enrique Mora, who is coordinating the Vienna talks, tweeted on Tuesday that the negotiations were near an end but "the result is still uncertain" and "key issues need to be fixed."

The other side: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Wednesday that Iran is "optimistic" but won’t cross its red lines in the Vienna talks.

  • "We hope that a few sensitive and important issues will be resolved in the negotiations with realism from the Western parties," he said.

While the Biden administration has closely guarded any details on the remaining gaps in the talks, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed some of them publicly in a speech on Monday.

  • Bennett said the U.S. had thus far rejected an Iranian demand that an International Atomic Energy Agency investigation into the potential military dimension of Iran's nuclear program be closed.
  • He also said Iran was demanding that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be taken off the U.S. blacklist of terror organizations.
  • Bennett didn't say whether the U.S. had agreed to that demand, but did say the U.S. and the European signatories had agreed to allow Iran to keep its advanced centrifuges in storage rather than destroy them.
  • "The emerging deal is likely to create a more violent and less stable Middle East," Bennett said.

A State Department spokesperson refused to comment on Bennett’s claims about the negotiations but pushed back on his criticism, claiming most Israeli security officials who were in office when Donald Trump withdrew from the deal now recognize the terrible implications.

  • “We must not make a similar mistake by rejecting another opportunity to make diplomatic progress," the spokesperson said.

Worth noting: While the Vienna talks are continuing under the shadow of the Ukraine crisis, there are no indications that two events have directly influenced one another up to now.

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