VIENNA – Officials from five world powers began a new effort Tuesday to try to bring the United States back into the foundering 2015 nuclear deal they signed with Iran.
The meeting in Vienna of envoys from Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran came as the U.S. was due to start its own indirect talks with Iran. It would be one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to return both nations to the accord, which restricted Iran's nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and international sanctions.
Following the closed meetings of the signatories to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Russia's delegate, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted initial talks were “successful.”
“The restoration of JCPOA will not happen immediately. It will take some time. How long? Nobody knows,” he wrote.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. unilaterally out of the accord, opting for what he called a maximum-pressure campaign involving restored and additional sanctions.
Since then, Iran has been steadily violating restrictions in the deal, like the amount of enriched uranium it can stockpile and the purity to which it can be enriched. Tehran's moves have been calculated to pressure the other nations in the deal to do more to offset crippling U.S. sanctions reimposed under Trump.
President Joe Biden, who was vice president under Barack Obama when the original deal was negotiated, has said he wants to bring the U.S. back into the JCPOA but that Iran must reverse its violations.
Iran argues that the U.S. violated the deal first with its withdrawal, so Washington has to take the first step by lifting sanctions.
Following the meeting in Vienna, Iranian state television quoted Iran's negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, as reiterating that message during the opening round of talks.
“Lifting U.S. sanctions is the first and the most necessary action for reviving the deal,” Araghchi was quoted as saying. “Iran is fully ready to reverse its activities and return to complete implementation of the deal immediately after it is verified sanctions are lifted.”
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something it insists it doesn't want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
In the latest announced violation, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's civilian nuclear program, said officials had begun mechanical testing of an IR-9 prototype centrifuge. That centrifuge would enrich uranium 50 times faster than the IR-1s allowed under the accord, he said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Though not taking part in the JCPOA talks, a U.S. delegation headed by the administration's special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley was also in the Austrian capital.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the delegation was there to hold talks structured around the working groups being formed by the Europeans.
Price said Monday the talks are a “healthy step forward” but added that “we don't anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough, as these discussions, we fully expect, will be difficult.”