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Iran nuclear talks resumed in Vienna this week. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The nuclear negotiators for the E3 – France, Germany and the U.K. – told Iranian negotiators in coordination with the U.S. that the opening proposals they presented in Vienna nuclear talks this week were unserious and unacceptable, an E3 diplomat briefed on the talks said.

Why it matters: The readout of the first round of talks show gaps between Iran and its Western counterparts that at the moment seem very wide and hard to bridge.

The big picture: Iranian negotiators, led this week by deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani, presented two new drafts in Vienna for an agreement on sanctions relief and measures Iran needs to take in order to roll back its nuclear program in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • The E3 diplomat said the draft on sanctions relief was extreme and maximalist, with the Iranians increasing their sanctions relief demands in comparison to the draft agreement achieved with the previous Rouhani government last June.
  • The second draft on Iranian nuclear measures was also very hardline. The E3 diplomat said the Iranians removed all of the previously agreed compromise language on steps they will take to roll back their nuclear program. In practice, the Iranians agree to fewer limitations on their nuclear program.

The latest: Talks in Vienna broke on Friday afternoon after a meeting of the nuclear deal joint commission, which includes Iran, the EU, France, Germany, the U.K., Russia and China.

  • Senior E3 diplomats said after the joint commission meeting that they were "disappointed and concerned" about the changes Iran proposed to the draft text, which was negotiated during six rounds of the talks prior to the Iranian elections in June.
  • “Iran is backtracking on almost all of the difficult compromises reached in months of tough negotiations and is demanding substantial changes to the text," the E3 diplomats said.

The E3 diplomats said that because Iran had suspended talks for five months — during which it has accelerated its nuclear program — it's hard to know whether the new gaps in the negotiations can be closed in a realistic timeframe.

  • The diplomats said the delegations must go back to their capitals for consultations in order to assess next steps.
  • "Our governments remain fully committed to a diplomatic path. However, the window for that is getting smaller," the E3 diplomats said.

The other side: Noor News, a website close to Iran's Supreme National Security Council, reported on Thursday night: "In contrast to the two proposals Iran put on the table of negotiations, the West did not take any initiative, causing the process of negotiations to slow down."

  • Iran Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdolahian and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell spoke on the phone on Friday. Iranian media reported Abdolahian told Borrell "the West needs to offer a real initiative to end the sanctions on Iran."

Go deeper

Jan 13, 2022 - World

Russian officials to brief Putin on "very disappointing" security talks

Putin with Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu. Photo: Russian Defence Ministry\TASS via Getty Images

Russian diplomats panned this week's security talks with the U.S., NATO and other European countries after the final set of negotiations on Thursday, telling reporters that Vladimir Putin will be briefed on the "really disappointing" state of affairs before deciding "next steps."

Why it matters: The diplomats wouldn't say what Russia would do if NATO declined to provide legal guarantees that it will not expand east or admit Ukraine as a member. But officials have warned all week that Russia will not hesitate to "eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security" if diplomacy fails.

Jan 12, 2022 - World

China hosts string of Gulf officials in sign of growing influence

Wang Yi (right) greets Faisal bin Farhan on Jan. 10. Photo: Ji Chunpeng/Xinhua via Getty

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain and the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council are all visiting China this week for talks on boosting trade and security cooperation.

Why it matters: The flurry of visits by Gulf officials is part of China’s push for deeper involvement in the Middle East. For Beijing, the Gulf in particular is key to its energy supply and increasingly to its geopolitical influence.

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. braces for Russian escalation as talks hit “dead end”

OSCE Chairman-in-Office Zbigniew Rau said Thursday "the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever." Photo: Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The crisis over Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine entered a dangerous and unpredictable new phase in both Vienna and Washington on Thursday.

Driving the news: Russian diplomats said this week's round of security talks from Geneva and Brussels to Vienna have resulted in a "dead end," and it's time for them to return to Moscow to brief President Vladimir Putin on the "very disappointing" state of affairs before deciding the path forward.