VIENNA: Iran said on Monday efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal could succeed if the United States took a political decision to meet Tehran’s demands, as months of negotiations enter what one Iranian diplomat called a “now or never” stage.
The stakes are high, since the failure of 10 months of talks would carry the risk of a fresh regional war and the imposition of additional harsh sanctions on Iran by the West.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman identified the remaining outstanding issues as: the extent to which sanctions would be rolled back, providing guarantees that the United States will not quit the pact again, and resolving questions over uranium traces found at several old but undeclared sites in Iran.
All parties involved in the talks say progress has been made toward the restoration of the pact to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, which the United States abandoned in 2018. But both Tehran and Washington have cautioned that still there are some significant differences to overcome.
“Reaching a good deal is possible ... three key issues still remain to be resolved. The U.S. and European powers have not taken political decisions on these major issues,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference.
France’s foreign ministry said on Monday that it was urgent to conclude the talks this week.
Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, who flew to Tehran last week for consultations about the final draft of the deal, will on Monday meet the European Union’s Enrique Mora, who coordinates the talks in Vienna.
Two sources close to the talks in Vienna said that Iran had submitted new demands, while continuing to insist on existing ones, including the removal of a U.S. foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) designation against Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
“Iran’s stance after Bagheri’s trip to Tehran has become even more uncompromising .... they now insist on removal of sanctions on the IRGC and want to open issues that had already been agreed,” one of the sources said.
Diplomats said the negotiations have entered a crucial stage, given Iran’s uncompromising policy in the talks and the other parties’ involvement in the crisis over Ukraine.
“It is now or never. If they cannot reach a deal this week, the talks will collapse forever,” said an Iranian diplomat in Tehran.
The Guards is a powerful faction in Iran that controls a business empire as well as elite armed forces and intelligence services. Dozens of its commanders have high-ranking positions in hardline President Ebrahim Raisi’s government.
The FTO designation of the Guards by Washington in 2019, which was the first time the United States had formally labelled part of another sovereign government as a terrorist group, has caused further problems for Iran’s sanction-hit economy.
Also Tehran insists the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) drop its claims about Tehran’s nuclear work, objecting to an assertion by the U.N. nuclear watchdog last year that Tehran had failed to fully explain the presence of uranium traces found at several undeclared sites.
“We have answered the agency’s questions. But instead of closing the politically-motivated case, they are using it to gain leverage in the talks,” said an Iranian official in Tehran.
Iran’s arch foe Israel has pushed for a tough policy if diplomacy fails to rein in Iran’s nuclear work. Tehran has warned of a “crushing” response if attacked.
In reaction to then-US President Donald Trump’s reimposition of sanctions after ditching the deal in 2018, Tehran has breached nuclear limits of the pact.