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Iran nuclear deal talks stall as Tehran urges US to accept terms


Marathon talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal have hit a new roadblock, with Iran accusing the US of refusing to make the necessary political decisions to entrench the agreement in international law or to broaden the scope of economic sanctions that would be lifted.

The issue has dogged the talks in Vienna between the west, Russia, Iran and China – which have been under way since February – from the outset. There is no sign that the eighth round of negotiations, once intended to be the final round, has reached the breakthrough some had been expecting.

Ali Shamkhani, the hardline secretary of Iran’s national security council, in a tweet issued in multiple languages, declared after speaking to his government’s negotiators that progress was becoming “more and more difficult”.

Expressing his frustration at the delays, he said: “The Vienna negotiations had reached a point where the outcome could be described definitively without the need for guesswork.

“A US political decision to accept the deal or refrain from accepting the requirements of a credible and lasting agreement based on the principles accepted in the nuclear agreement can replace speculation.”

The US, he said, kept proposing new initiatives essentially designed to evade their commitments.

The foreign ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh, at his weekly press conference tried to calm the atmosphere by saying he had spoken to Iran’s chief negotiator in Vienna, Ali Bagheri, and that he had been assured the position was “neither one of flowers and nightingales, nor one of rocks and thorns”. But, he added, the onus lay on the US to accept Iran’s terms.

Asked what guarantees Iran was seeking, Khatibzadeh said: “The United States is not trustworthy and therefore objective guarantees must be obtained so that international law and relations are not again mocked by the US government.”

He added that all sanctions should be lifted at the UN security council. “It does not matter what the title of the sanctions is since they were applied with a false label,” Khatibzadeh said.

He stressed that any agreement on the release of political prisoners, including US dual-nationals held in Iranian jails, was discussed only in parallel with the nuclear talks.

Prof Mohammad Marandi, an Iranian analyst in Vienna thought to be close to the government, also claimed the tensions centred on the range of sanctions that would be lifted as part of the deal. Iran is pushing for all sanctions to be lifted, but the US says some sanctions are linked to human rights and terrorists abuses, and are not linked to the nuclear deal.

Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian ambassador at the talks, adopted a less pessimistic tone. He said the discussions were at a final stage and that “significant progress” had been made. But he has tended to adopt a more positive outlook, adopting a near role of mediator between the US and Iran, one he has maintained despite tensions over Ukraine. Wang Qun, China’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna, also broke silence at the weekend to say the talks were at a concluding stage.

The 20-page draft agreement with annexes is largely written, but the outstanding issues show an absolute determination by the Iranian regime to ensure that it appears to emerge from the talks victoriously, having withstood the might of US sanctions.

Joe Biden, distracted by the Ukraine crisis, is already facing mounting political resistance from US Republican senators who insist that the president cannot evade Congress by refusing to put any new agreement to a vote. Democrats have said that if the deal was put to the Senate for approval, they did not think the necessary 60 senators would vote to reject it. The Senate is split 50:50, with vice-president Kamala Harris having the casting vote.

But the Iranian army’s recent display of new long-range solid-fuel missiles with a range of 900 miles (1,450km) will hardly make it easier for the US administration to sell the deal.

Iran has also claimed that the US negotiating team – with which it does not meet directly – is divided on how far to compromise.

The agreement is designed to bring the US, and subsequently Iran, back into the original nuclear deal signed in 2015 from which the US withdrew in 2018.

The talks have been held against a backdrop of repeated warnings from the west stretching back months that the talks can continue only for a few more weeks because Iran is coming ever closer to obtaining irreversibly the material and knowledge required to make a nuclear weapon.