A seventh round of talks to restore the JCPOA begins today in Vienna after involved nations failed to reach a deal when the sixth session finished in June. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Iran has said the US is prepared to take all necessary steps to come back into compliance, but warned Iran the “window for negotiations…will not be open forever”. The Iranian foreign ministry has said they want an “admission of culpability” from the US, the immediate lifting of all US sanctions; and a “guarantee” no future US president would unilaterally abandon the deal again.
Talks between Iran and five countries (under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) will commence in Vienna after five months.
Officials are expected to discuss the potential return of the US to the 2015 deal, which limited Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Tehran has breached key commitments of the accord since previous US leader Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018 and reinstated US sanctions.
Mr Biden has said he is willing to lift these sanctions if Iran reverses the breaches – but Tehran is calling on the US to act first.
Western leaders and diplomats have said time is running out to negotiate a solution because Iran has ramped up its uranium enrichment programme.
The programme is a clear pathway to creating a nuclear bomb, which has stoked fears of nuclear war around the globe.
Iran has however maintained its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.
Talks between the JCPOA, including China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK, began in Austria in April.
The US send representatives to participate in these talks indirectly.
Joe Biden began his first time as President in January 2021, but since that time the US leader has tried and failed to resolve nuclear talks with Iran.
In mid-February, Iran threatened to block International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) snap inspections if the US did not lift sanctions by February 21.
The Government in Tehran said it did not plan to end all inspections, just those mandated under the Additional Protocol.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said: “ All these steps are reversible if the other party changes its path and honours its obligations.,”
The IAEA and Iran agreed to a compromise regarding the inspections – the nation agreeing to provide the nuclear watchdog less access to its declared and undeclared nuclear sites.
Under the deal, the nuclear watchdog could not access cameras installed at declared nuclear sites but Iran will be required to save all surveillance footage for three months.
If the USA lifts sanctions, Tehran agreed to hand over tapes to the IAEA, but if it did not, the nation said it would “delete forever” the footage.
IAEA director-general Raphael Grossi called it a “temporary solution” that “salvages the situation.”
Iran suspended compliance with the Additional Protocol, a voluntary agreement which grants inspectors “snap” inspections.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the step and all other breaches are “reversible” if Mr Biden’s administration lifted sanctions.
However, Mr Biden failed to reach a solution with Tehran and therefore the nation continued to test nuclear weapons and said it would begin enriching uranium to 60 percent, the highest level of enrichment which has been publicly acknowledged.
The announcement, made on April 13, represents a major breach of the 2015 nuclear deal and indicated Tehran’s closeness to having weapons-grade uranium.
The USA and Iran began indirect talks in Vienna over returning to the JCPOA.
The White House said that it was “concerned” about the “provocative” announcement. Britain, France and Germany said that the move was “dangerous” and “contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions.”
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Negotiations have continued sporadically in Vienna for months without significant progress.
During that time, Mr Biden failed to reach a final deal – forcing Iran and the IAEA to extend a deal to capture surveillance footage at declared nuclear sites by one month on May 24.
The agreement expired on June 24, less than a week after Iran’s presidential election on June 18.
The extension was designed to give more time for negotiations in Vienna to bring Iran and the United States back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran’s ambassador to the UN Kazem Gharibabadi said: “I recommend that they use this opportunity, which has been provided in good faith by Iran, and lift all the sanctions in a practical and verifiable manner.”
On June 24, the monitoring deal expired and neither the IAEA or Iran said if the deal would be extended or surveillance footage saved.
Mr Gharibabadi tweeted keeping the recordings was a “political decision” by Iran to facilitate talks in Vienna on June 25.
The UN nuclear watchdog demanded an “immediate response” from Iran on whether it would retain data collected at declared nuclear sites.
But Iran failed to respond to the UN’s questions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the expiration of the IAEA’s monitoring agreement could complicate efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
He told reporters: “The concern has been communicated to Iran and needs to be resolved.”
Iran stepped up its uranium metal produced in July, with the nation revealing its intention to enrich it to 20 percent, to produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.
The US called the move “another unfortunate step backwards”, while the UK, France and Germany labelled it a “serious violation” of the JCPOA.
Ebrahim Raisi was elected as the new Iranian President in June 2021 and on August 4, he pledged his support to “any diplomatic initiative” to lift US sanctions which have hit Iran’s economy hard since 2018.
He promised the Iranian nuclear programme is “fully peaceful” and said these weapons have “no place in our defence doctrine”.
However, he added: “All the parameters of national power will be strengthened”.
Less than 10 days later, the IAEA reported Iran had produced 200g of uranium metal-enriched up to 20 percent.
The US State Department condemned Iran’s increased production of uranium metal.
State spokesman Ned Price said: “Iran has no credible need to produce uranium metal, which has direct relevance to nuclear weapons development.”
He said further breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal would not provide Iran negotiating leverage and would only lead to further isolation.
Mr Blinken was asked about a deadline to resume talks on September 9.
He refused to put a date on it but said “we are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the JCPOA does not reproduce the benefits that the agreement achieved”.
The IAEA and Iran reached a special agreement designed to permit Agency inspectors to access remote monitoring equipment to service the units and install new data storage.
Five days later, at an IAEA Board of Governors’ meeting, US Charge d’Affairs to the UN Missions in Vienna, Louis Bono, said the USA welcomed this joint agreement between Iran and the IAEA, and that “the onus must be on Tehran to do its part.”
The Iranian President criticised US sanctions on Iran in his first address to the United Nations on September 21 and said sanctions are a “new way of war” with the rest of the world.
Mr Biden countered these comments saying the US remained committed to restoring the JCPOA and “preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.”
Iran late revealed talks in Vienna would resume within the “next few weeks”.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian suggested the US release $10 billion in Tehran’s frozen funds as a gesture of goodwill on October 2.
Later that month, US special envoy Rob Malley warned efforts to restore the JCPOA were at a “critical phase”.
US national security advisor Jake Sullivan announced President Biden would meet with his UK, French and German counterparts at the G20 summit in Rome to co-ordinate a “united” policy on Iran and the JCPOA on October 29.
The Biden administration stepped up pressure on Iran by imposing new sanctions on members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and on two companies involved in the supply of lethal drones to insurgent groups at the same time.
At the meeting between the USA, UK, France and Germany, officials told reporters the discussion was a “substantive strategic conversation about the way forward” with respect to restoring the JCPOA.
Mr Blinken said the US was “absolutely in lockstep” with these nations in regards to restoring the JCPOA.
Mr Biden also vowed to ensure the US returns to the JCPOA so long as Iran does, adding Washington would only abandon its efforts to restore compliance if Tehran reneged on the deal.
The European Union confirmed earlier this month, talks would resume on November 29, with Mr Malley saying he hoped talks would be returned to “in good faith”.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Iran is prepared to comply with the deal, but only if the US does not demand any additional concessions.