With signs that the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna are a bit more serious than two weeks ago, pundits are queuing to proclaim a softening in Tehran’s stance.
Iran's lead negotiator, Ali Bagheri-Kani told state television Sunday the atmosphere in Vienna was "very serious and based on mutual respect with the approach that [all] sides want to reach an agreement." He said Iranian negotiators remained committed to the framework of the 2015 deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Bagheri-Kani denied that Iran had withdrawn from any earlier stances. He made no mention of three issues raised by Tehran when talks resumed two weeks ago: compensation for the billions of dollars in damages caused by United States ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions after the US left the JCPOA in 2018, guarantees that the US would not again quit the agreement, and procedures for verifying the lifting of sanctions
Iran's state media today has focused more on the European JCPOA signatories − France, Germany and the United Kingdom members in its criticism and less on the US. "The stance of the European countries is even greedier than the American side," the Tasnim news agency Sunday quoted a “source close to Iranian negotiators” as saying. The US takes part in the Vienna talks indirectly.
The official news agency (IRNA) also quoted an “informed source” in an unattributed commentary Monday headlined "Negotiators Beat Western Media Sabotage Attempts.” This highlighted negative reports in western media, after the first week of resumed talks, based on briefings from European officials rubbishing written proposals put forward by Tehran.
"Iran seriously seeks an agreement," the commentary insisted, with the source saying the media briefings had been aimed at pressing Iran into accepting demands beyond the JCPOA. There has been speculation since the talks began in April that the US wanted to extend the length of the JCPOA or add an Iranian commitment to future talks on regional security or to unilateral curbs on its missile defense.
Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian envoy to the talks who had described Iran's most recent approach to the talks as "unfortunate," told Iran International Sunday that the atmosphere last week was more constructive. "No demarches, no breaks, just normal business-like dialogue," he noted.
In a tweet Sunday Ulyanov said all JCPOA participants – China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom plus the United States – had met Sunday evening without Iran to discuss the way ahead. The meeting followed an earlier trilateral meeting of Russia, China, and Iran. Ulyanov also wrote Sunday that for the first time during the seventh round of the talks, which started November 29, a working group on implementation, tasked with sequencing respective steps by Iran and the US to revive the JCPOA, had met.
Some Iranian pundits have also spoken of a softening in the negotiating team's position, possibly due to a greater understanding of the positions of China and Russia.
"It appears that from inside the country [top authorities] have ordered the negotiation team that an agreement must be reached in Vienna," the reformist daily Arman-e Melli quoted Jalal Sadatian, a former ambassador to London, in an editorial headlined “Mandate for Agreement Issued.”
Sadatian suggested this might have followed a failure to gain Chinese support for a tougher stance, and from the US and E3 drawing closer. "It appears that Iran has realized that its maximum demands cannot be met and has therefore accepted to work on the basis of what was previously agreed [in June],” he said.
Talks involving the previous administration led by President Hassan Rouhani went three months − ending in June pending the Iranian presidential election − without reaching agreement.
Others have suggested Iranian negotiators were responding to senior ayatollahs. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Qom, the main concentration of Iranian Shiite seminaries and senior clerics, just ahead of the latest round of talks. While warning Iranian negotiators to “count their fingers” after dealing with the Western powers, Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli told Amir-Abdollahian that Iran should negotiate and couldn’t “live in isolation.”