Sticking Points in Vienna Talks Outlined

As of this week, all issues will have to be negotiated in parallel, a senior western diplomat said
Sticking Points in Vienna Talks Outlined
Sticking Points in Vienna Talks Outlined

Negotiations on the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal have entered their eighth round as key sticking points still remain to be addressed. 
The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, limited Iran’s nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international sanctions, but the United States pulled out in 2018 and reimposed the restrictions, prompting Tehran to reciprocate by rowing back on its commitments. 
Talks began in the Austrian capital Vienna in April to work out how both sides can resume compliance. 
Working groups have been formed to lay out Iran’s nuclear steps, US removal of sanctions, and the sequence of measures.  
Tehran also demands verification of sanctions lifting, as well as assurances that the US would not violate the agreement again. 
Although Iran maintains that it would negotiate for as long as needed to uphold the rights of the nation, western countries have been warning about the loss of “precious time”.
Diplomats from France, Germany and Britain noted last week that while they did not want to set “an artificial deadline for talks,” there remained “weeks, not months” to restore the accord. 
A spokesperson for the US State Department said Iran needed to “add real urgency in Vienna,” which is hosting the talks. 
A senior western diplomat has said, according to Politico, that as of this week, “all issues will have to be negotiated in parallel,” given the dwindling timeline. 



On Iran’s Part

Talks on the nuclear file are highly technical, as steps have to be specified that will bring Iran’s nuclear program back to where it was in 2015. On some issues, there are solutions in sight. On others, it is more complicated.
For example, one way of getting rid of Iran’s excess nuclear material would be to ship it to Russia. This would take time but is feasible and has been done in the past.
What is far more difficult and still not agreed on is how to deal with Iran’s many advanced centrifuges.
Under the JCPOA, Iran was allowed to enrich uranium to 3.67% with a limited number of its first-generation centrifuges at the underground Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant. 
It has now installed hundreds of advanced centrifuges at both of its main plants in Fordow and Natanz and has been enriching uranium to 60%. 
Some countries want Iran to destroy its advanced uranium enriching machines, but Iran prefers to store them away, according to western diplomats. One compromise could be to get rid of the infrastructure, such as cables and other electronic installations needed to get advanced centrifuges up and running. 
One key aspect in this discussion is the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency which was tasked with verifying Iran’s compliance when the deal was struck.  
As part of its countermeasures, Iran has curbed IAEA access to its sites in recent months and is withholding camera footage until a possible restoration of the JCPOA.  
For any deal to be approved, Iran will have to restore full access for inspectors and to the memory cards of cameras installed inside nuclear facilities. 



On US Part

While verification of the nuclear side of the deal is done by the IAEA, there is no corresponding entity looking at sanctions. Negotiators, therefore, have to agree on how this can be done. This is one stumbling block that will have to be solved quickly. 
One option would be for the US Office of Foreign Asset Control to issue guidance on how to do business with Iran and to publish the repealing of relevant executive orders. Another tool could be the conclusion of contracts on oil exports or the opening of foreign bank accounts.
Since the US unilaterally exited the deal, it is Washington that will probably have to take a “meaningful first step,” as one senior western diplomat put it.
Tehran has insisted publicly on many occasions that it wants Washington, “which is not trustworthy”, to provide a legal guarantee that the US will not pull out of the deal again if it is restored.
But US President Joe Biden will not be able to provide such a legal guarantee. Biden is already struggling with a deeply divided Congress, with even some Democrats skeptical of diplomacy with Iran.
There could be other ways, however, such as allowing for the continuation of contracts for some time even after the theoretical reimposition of sanctions by a future US administration.
The Biden administration could also provide a political pledge that it will stick to the agreement. This would also be important for companies that want to do business with Iran as they need to have sufficient confidence about Washington’s intentions.

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