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Iranian negotiatorAbbas Araghchi arrives at the Grand Hotel Wien for the nuclear talks. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration wants to finalize a deal with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal in the six weeks remaining before a new Iranian president is inaugurated, a U.S. official tells Axios.

Key quote: The official said it would be "concerning" if talks dragged on into early August, when Iran's transition is due to take place. "If we don't have a deal before a new government is formed, I think that would raise serious questions about how achievable it's going to be," the official said.

Driving the news: Conservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, a close ally to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is the clear favorite to win Friday's presidential election in Iran. No prominent members of the reformist camp were permitted to run, meaning the more moderate President Hassan Rouhani will almost certainly hand power to a hardliner.

  • Analysts and some diplomats involved in the negotiations have long said it would be easier to reach a deal with the outgoing administration than with a newly inaugurated government, particularly one led by Raisi.
  • Six rounds of talks have been held so far in Vienna, with the U.S. not in the room but negotiating indirectly through EU intermediaries.

State of play: Iran's top negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, said this week that while a deal wouldn't be possible in the current round of talks, Iran had no interest in "wasting time" and the elections wouldn't be a factor.

  • Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said earlier this week that a deal was perhaps "a couple of weeks" away. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also stressed that "playing for time is in no one's interest."
  • But Rafael Grossi, director of the UN's nuclear watchdog, told La Repubblica newspaper this week: "Everyone knows that, at this point, it will be necessary to wait for the new Iranian government."

What they're saying: The U.S. official said such a timeline would be "concerning" not so much because a conservative government would be taking power, but because the longer the negotiations continue without a breakthrough, the lower the chances of success will be.

  • "We don't have infinite time to get this done. So I think we'll know — I don't want to give a timeline — but we'll know it when time has run up and we've concluded that it can't reached within a reasonable time," the official said.
  • "I'm not predicting that," the official added, noting that Iran was "engaged seriously" and a deal could be reached within a few weeks. But the U.S. does not intend to continue negotiations for months and months, "and I think the Iranians would say the same."
  • "Our whole view of this, informed by what we're being told by the Iranians, is that the elections are not a factor, that the decision-making will continue before and after the elections and so things will not be interrupted as a result of the election," the official said.

The bottom line: "We'll negotiate the same way we've been negotiating so far. What happens after his inauguration, that's a different matter, but hopefully we'll get a deal before then. If not we'll have to consider."

Worth noting: The official declined to specify the biggest remaining obstacles to a deal, but said progress was being made both in determining the sanctions relief the U.S. must provide to return to the deal, and the nuclear steps Iran must take to get back in compliance.

  • In each round of talks, "the rhythm varies" in terms of which of those tracks proves more difficult, the official said.

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel held secret talks on Iran "plan B"

Bennett and Biden. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/Pool/Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel held secret talks on Iran last week to discuss a possible “plan B” if nuclear talks are not resumed, two senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time a top-secret U.S.-Israel strategic working group on Iran has convened since the new Israeli government took office in June.

Updated 7 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 9 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

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