Urgency conveyed to Vienna talks on rescue of Iran’s nuclear deal

UK foreign secretary calls gathering ‘last chance for Iran to come to the negotiating table’

A sense of urgency has been imparted to talks in Vienna to rescue the 2015 agreement limiting Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of western sanctions .

Speaking on Sunday at a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Liverpool, British foreign secretary Liz Truss said the ongoing talks in Vienna were "the last chance for Iran to come to the negotiating table" with a serious proposal.

Her statement followed US secretary of State Antony Blinkin's comment that contacts with Britain, France and Germany, had been "productive", suggesting those countries would support the US position.

The 2015 deal has been stalled since 2018 when the Trump administration withdrew the US from the accord and reimposed punitive sanctions on Iran.


Hardline leadership

Disaster in the current talks appears to have been averted by Russian intervention with Iran's new hardline leadership under President Ebrahim Raisi, whose negotiators last week presented proposals which that have set back progress achieved since negotiations began in April.

Moscow, reportedly, told Tehran that talks would end if they did not resume where suspended in June for Iran's presidential election and there was no progress in the ongoing round. Thereafter, Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov announced that talks "will proceed from drafts elaborated" at that time.

While this satisfies the US and its allies, Mr Ulyanov also said “Iranian ideas” tabled by Tehran’s new negotiating team “must be properly discussed and thoroughly considered”.

This, apparently, satisfied Mr Raisi, who stated, “We are serious in the negotiations and if the other side is also serious about the removal of the US sanctions, we will achieve a good agreement.”

Ahead of this round, US envoy Robert Malley said, "We're fully committed to a mutual return to compliance with the [deal]\. We think there's still time to do it if Iran comes back and says they're prepared to roll up their sleeves and do it, too."


The sides differ over sanctions. Iran calls for lifting all 1,500 sanctions the US imposed since withdrawing from the deal in exchange for Iran’s return to full compliance. The US pledges to lift sanctions consistent with the nuclear deal but not those imposed due to Iran’s regional activities and ballistic missile development.

While proffering the carrot of a partial lifting of sanctions, the US brandishes a stick. It continues to ramp up sanctions and has warned Emirati banks and businesses dealing with Iran that they face “extreme risk” if breaches continue.

On Friday, secretary of defence Lloyd Austin said the US was "prepared to turn to other options" following a meeting in Washington with Israeli defence minister Benny Ganz, who advocates armed action against Iran if the Vienna talks fail.

The deal's remaining signatories – Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – negotiate directly under the chairmanship of EU diplomat Enrique Mora, while the US team participates indirectly through mediators.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times