Three months after the last meeting to negotiate the revival of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, it remains unclear when talks will resume in Vienna, or who might represent the new Iranian government.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to expand the quantity and quality of its uranium enrichment, leading some experts to conclude that it is now closer to possessing enough fissile material for a bomb, just as the administration of US President Joe Biden expected Tehran to be able to do so within two or three months.
At the same time, a controversy erupted a few days ago between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency over monitoring its nuclear activities, originally agreed upon in the 2015 agreement, according to a report by the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the US administration continued to warn that negotiation time is running out, without mentioning how much time remains or what it will do if it expires.
‘It’s hard to go back’
“We don’t have a timetable,” a senior State Department official told the Washington Post on Wednesday, adding, “We are ready to get back to the table, although at some point, it won’t be possible, because Iran’s nuclear progress will become irreversible.” It will not be possible to turn back.
Another official told the newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity, that “when we reach this point or stage, we will have to assess where we are and how we are going forward.”
This came as the Iranian government announced that Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian intends to hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Britain, Germany and France on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly.
Abbas Araqchi (archive – AFP)
Iran confirms the resumption of negotiations
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters in New York on Tuesday that everyone had been informed that the Vienna talks would resume “in the next few weeks.”
In a pre-recorded address to the General Assembly broadcast later yesterday, President Ebrahim Raisi said that Iran “considers the talks useful, the end result of which is the lifting of all repressive sanctions”, but he did not indicate when the Vienna negotiations would resume.
In parallel, the US State Department revealed that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had no plans to meet Abdullahian at the United Nations.
From the Natanz facility (archive – AFP)
Who will lead the negotiations in Iran?
In a sign that Iran may not be in a hurry, the government began replacing the negotiators who headed its team in Vienna. Long-time Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi was replaced as deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri, a relative of Khamenei.
But it is not even clear if the new government plans to leave the negotiations in the hands of the Foreign Ministry, or transfer them to the National Security Council, entirely under Khamenei’s control, according to the newspaper.
US and European officials are concerned that Iran may fall back on what was achieved during the first six rounds of talks.
Negotiators believe they have reached tentative agreements on the list of sanctions to be lifted and a possible series of actions each side will take to return to compliance.