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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

Go deeper

Jun 1, 2021 - World

Israel will risk tensions with Biden to block Iran, Netanyahu says

Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday at a ceremony for the new director of Israel's Mossad spy agency that Israel must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon even at the cost of tensions with the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The U.S. is holding indirect talks with Iran on a mutual return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Netanyahu, who may be in his final days as prime minister, is a fierce critic of the deal and contends a U.S. return would take the pressure off the Iranian regime.

Jun 2, 2021 - World

Iran's largest warship sinks after catching fire

Iranian support warship Kharg in 2009. Photo: Majid Jamshidi-Hossein Zohrevand/AFP via Getty Images

Iran's largest navy ship, known as the Kharg, caught on fire on Wednesday and sunk in the Gulf of Oman, according to state media.

Details: The fire broke out at around 2:25 a.m. while the ship was near Iran's Port of Jask, a major shipping lane. No casualties were reported and the entire crew was able to escape the wreck and was taken to safety on the coast, per NPR.

Pacific Northwest soon to be ground zero for record-shattering heat

Computer model projection showing the unusually strong heat dome over the Pacific Northwest on Sunday. (PivotalWeather).

A heat wave is bringing unprecedented high temperatures to the Pacific Northwest — a region of the country typically cooled by the ocean, rather than central air conditioning. The heat will begin Friday and last into early next week.

Why it matters: The heat wave will shatter monthly and all-time temperature records in the Pacific Northwest. Some of the records could break the old milestones by several degrees.