A claim by Josep Borrell, European foreign policy chief, that EU envoy Enrique Mora had “unblocked” Iran nuclear talks sits uneasily with Washington’s expectations.
Borrell said in Germany Friday that Mora’s trip to Tehransince Tuesday had been “positive enough” after the envoy called his meetings in Iran “better than expected.” Mora has chaired year-long nuclear talks in Vienna.
A US State Department spokesman told Iran International late Thursday that Washington welcomed Mora’s “efforts to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion” but said that the US continued to believe that “Iran needs to make a decision,” and that with talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) paused since March, the spokesman insisted Tehran need to make a clear choice.
“We are not negotiatingin public, but if Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they will need to address concerns of ours beyond the JCPOA,” the spokesman said. “Conversely, if they do not want to use these talks to resolve other bilateral issues beyond the JCPOA, then we are confident that we can very quickly reach an understanding on the JCPOA...”
A State Department spokesperson was quoted by Barron's on Friday as thanking Mora for his efforts but adding, "That said, at this point a deal remains far from certain."
The Vienna talks have struggled to agree which US sanctions – including those introduced since Washington left the JCPOA in 2018 – violate the agreement, and exactly how Iran should return its nuclear program, expanded since 2019, to JCPOA limits. A major disagreement reportedly remains the US listing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ while Iran has also refused to drop calls for retribution for the US killing IRGC general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020.
IRGC Issue ‘Beyond The JCPOA’
The State Department spokesman told Iran International Thursday that Washington considered Iran’s request to delist the IRGC as one of several “bilateral issues beyond the JCPOA.” Hence, said the spokesman, “if Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they will need to address concerns of ours beyond the JCPOA.”
Iran has given no sign it is drawing back from its insistence that the US is preventing JCPOA revival by insisting on measures incompatible with the agreement including – Tehran says – the IRGC listing.
In a tweet Friday, Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian described Mora’s visit as “another opportunity to focus on initiatives to resolve the remaining issues” while adding that “a good and reliable outcome” was “within reach if the US makes is decisions & adheres to its commitments.”
Echoing Mora’s guarded optimism, a German Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Friday there was “a proposal on the table that is very fair for all sides." But in suggesting Iran needed to “refrain from demands that go beyond the JCPOA” in order to bring “an early conclusion to these talks” the spokesman apparently reflected the US position.
Has the EU squared the circle? In announcing a positive outcome to this week’s contacts, Borrell and Mora may be suggesting Tehran has agreed to continue engagement– possibly through a new process – rather than shifting its position.