An adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team said on Saturday that some progress was made in Vienna, but issues remain and chances for an agreement is 50-50.
According to the Iranian government’s news website IRNA, Mohammad Marandi told the Arabic Al Mayadeen television, “I don’t know if we will reach an agreement, but the chance is 50 percent.” He stressed that the remaining issues are between Iran and the United States and “there are no differences with Europe or Russia.”
Earlier, the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said that experts were discussing nuclear ‘safeguards’ issues during negotiations in Vienna.
Alighting from a car outside the Palais Coburg hotel, Behrouz Kamalvandi, responding to a question from Iran International, said “the flow [in talks] is not bad.” The spokesman’s comments were carried on the official Iranian news agency IRNA, which also cited an unnamed Iranian diplomat saying Friday that negotiations were now in their “decisive hours.”
Kamalvandi’s remarks relate to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) enquiries into uranium traces found at sites not declared as nuclear-related. Iranian state media Saturday emphasized that Tehran demands the IAEA to drop the enquiries as part of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
The issue, which could derail the European-brokered talks in the Austrian capital aimed at restoring the JCPOA, shows intricate interplay between ‘political’ and ‘technical’ factors.
From a ‘technical’ viewpoint, IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi has expressed dissatisfaction with Iran’s explanations of potential military dimensions suggested by the uranium traces, which relate to sites used before 2003. Grossi has conducted enquiries as part of Iran’s ‘safeguards’ commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – which are separate from the JCPOA.
But Iranian state media Saturday quoted Mohammad Jamshidi, deputy head of President Ebrahim Raisi’s office, saying Raisi had in telephone calls with the presidents of China, France, and Russia expressed a “firm position…that a final agreement [on reviving the JCPOA] could be reached only when safeguards claims were resolved and closed.”
This appeared to refer to the uranium traces Marandi Thursday called the IAEA probe a “wrecking ball” for the talks. Iran argues the IAEA in 2015 concluded its investigations of past nuclear work, and reopened the file – discovering the uranium traces – only in response to allegations made by Israel.
While France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States have argued that IAEA ‘technical’ work on safeguards is independent of the JCPOA, they successfully moved a resolution at the IAEA governing board in June censuring Iran over failing to satisfy the agency.
The Vienna talks reportedly focus on a text circulated in late July by Josep Borrell, the European Union foreign policy chief, to bridge gaps between the United States and Iran over how the JCPOA can be revived. It is unclear how specific are proposals in Borrell’s text and how far he outlines a process.
European officials have presented a tough face to reporters gathered outside the Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna, insisting that the current talks will not be “reopening” negotiations, and urging Tehran not to make “unrealistic demands.”
Iran’s foreign ministry Saturday framed the talks as Iran responding positively to Borrell’s text. It quoted Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian telling Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, by telephone that “the US should show a pragmatic response to Iran’s constructive proposals [in response to Borrell].” It has been widely reported that Iran has suggested it could drop its demand that the US remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of ‘foreign terrorist organizations,’ which was earlier seen as a likely deal-blocker.
Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s IAEA ambassador, tweeted Saturday evening that despite “a few remaining differences the negotiators have all the chances to fulfil their task successfully.”