A tweet from Russia’s lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks Tuesday found progress in discussion in Vienna over Tehran’s atomic program and US sanctions.
“The working group on nuclear issues held a useful meeting,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Moscow’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, tweeted. “We observe indisputable progress. Sanctions lifting is being actively discussed in informal settings.”
‘Informal’ may refer to talks involving the United States, which takes part indirectly in Vienna, where the latest round began Monday after a pause of ten days. The United States left the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), in 2018 and is outside its formal structures.
E3: Negotiation ‘Urgent’
A more downbeat assessment came from the three western European JCPOA signatories – France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The ‘E3’ issued a statement Tuesday afternoon suggesting a point was being reached “where Iran’s nuclear escalation will have eliminated substance of JCPOA.”
The statement said that while technical progress had been made in the previous round of talks, there was only “some weeks” rather than months to agree on how to restore the JCPOA. The E3 said it was “not setting [an] artificial deadline for talks.”
The E3 argued that Iran’s expansion of its nuclear program since 2019, breaking JCPOA limits in its level of enrichment and the technology it used, was making the 2015 deal redundant.
"We are clear that we are nearing the point where Iran's escalation…will have completely hollowed out” the JCPOA, the statement said. “The negotiation is urgent − and our teams are here to work swiftly and in good faith towards getting a deal."
Possibly in response to the E3 statement, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported that technical experts from Iran and other JCPOA parties had been working in Vienna on “mechanisms to verify lifting sanctions against Iran and to minimize the possibility of [another] US withdrawal from the JCPOA [if renewed]."
"The Vienna talks are headed in a good direction," Iranian Minister Amir-Abdollahian said in comments to reporters broadcast by state media. "We believe that if other parties continue the round of talks which just started with good faith, reaching a good agreement for all parties is possible."
Israeli prime minister Neftali Bennett that any nuclear agreement with Iran should be tougher than the JCPOA, which limited Iranian uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent, well below the 60 percent Iran is now achieving.
"We are not the bear who said 'No,'" Bennett told Israel's Army Radio, referring to a character from children's literature. Israel, which holds a considerable nuclear arsenal, has consistently opposed the JCPOA, arguing restrictions on Iran should be tighter, and is widely held responsible for a series of attacks on Iran’s atomic facilities.
"For sure there can be a good agreement,” Bennet said. “For sure. We know the parameters. Is that expected to happen now in the current dynamics? No. Because there needs to be a much firmer position."
Bennett declined to comment specifically on reports that Israel is developing further capacity for attacking Iran, including allocating $1.5 billion. He said he preferred to "speak little and do a lot."