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EU, declaring final text done, adjourns Iran talks: ‘Now it's for capitals to consider'
In parallel talks, the P5+1 negotiated an updated proposal for resolving the IAEA Iran safeguards issue so that it could be closed if Iran answers Agency questions.
The European Union adjourned four days of talks on restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna today saying the final text is done, and it is now up to the capitals to decide.
“So that’s it. Now the ball is in the different capitals’ court, and we will see,” a senior European Union official, speaking not for attribution, told journalists after the conclusion of talks in Vienna today (August 8). “We will see what happens.”
“Now it's for capitals to consider this text,” the EU official said.
“The text is tabled,” another European official said today as he left Vienna to return to his interrupted vacation.
In parallel to the consultations on restoring the nuclear pact, representatives of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (“P5+1”) also met to negotiate an updated proposal on how to resolve a politically sensitive matter for Iran concerning questions about past undeclared nuclear material so that the matter could be closed if Iran answers the International Atomic Energy Agency’s questions, officials said.
The EU official said that over the past four days of talks in Vienna, there were final tweaks and technical improvements made to only four or five paragraphs of a 35-page draft text that has been negotiated “ad nauseam” over the course of the past year and a half. If accepted, the text lays out how Iran would return to full compliance and the United States would return to the nuclear pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that then-U.S. President Trump quit in 2018. Now, there is nothing left to do but for the capitals to decide yes or no.
“What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter today. “However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals.”
“If these answers are positive, then we can sign this deal,” Borrell said.
The EU official said it would be up to Borrell to decide on next steps and a timetable. But he said countries would essentially be asked to give a yes or no answer.
“This proposal is a package proposal, and you cannot say I agree with page 20 and disagree with page 50,” the EU official said. “You have to say yes or no. If they say yes, wonderful, we will go for a joint commission ministerial level certification day. I cannot anticipate it they say no, because we will be in an entirely different scenario.”
The EU official said he didn’t know yet if Borrell would ask the parties to provide their answer within a certain number of days. “I expect very few weeks,” he said. “Very, very few weeks.”
Borrell and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian held a phone call later Monday.
“Amirabdollahian said the Iranian delegation sat at the negotiating table with determination and seriousness to reach a deal and presented constructive ideas to resolve the remaining issues,” an Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs readout of the call said. “The foreign minister also said all parties are expected to show determination and seriousness to come up with a final text of a draft agreement.
The U.S. delegation, led by US Iran envoy Rob Malley, did not offer public comments from Vienna. But the State Department said that the United States was prepared to quickly conclude a deal based on the EU proposals.
“Over the past few days, the EU Coordinator engaged in further consultations to help clarify and fine tune any remaining questions regarding that text,” a State Department spokesperson said by email today. “Those consultations were completed today and we’ll now await the EU’s next steps.”
“For our part, our position is clear: we stand ready to quickly conclude a deal on the basis of the EU’s proposals,” the State Department official continued.
“I will not speculate on Iran’s position,” the official said. “They repeatedly say they are prepared for a return to mutual implementation of the JCPOA. As the EU Coordinator has made clear, this text is the only possible basis on which to do so. Let’s see if their actions match their words.”
Parallel P5+1 Proposal on Resolving IAEA Safeguards Probe
Representatives of the US, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China also held parallel talks in recent days to negotiate an updated proposal on how to resolve the IAEA Iran safeguards issue which Iran has wanted closed, western officials said.
It was notable that Iran’s delegation to Vienna over the past days, led by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri-Kani, included the longtime spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Behrouz Kamalvandi; and Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Reza Najafi, who previously served as Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA from 2008 to 2011. Both were involved at points in the experts-level talks during the intensive negotiations leading to the reaching of the JCPOA. (The Iran delegation to Vienna the past week also included Iran’s new ambassador to the IAEA Mohsen Naziri Asl, who previously served as Iran’s ambassador to the UN office in Geneva.)
The issue can be resolved, a European official said Sunday. “The Iranians have just to cooperate and answer questions.”
The issue is politically sensitive for Iran, involving IAEA questions about undeclared nuclear particles at sites that pre-date 2003, but which apparently were brought to the IAEA’s attention around 2018 as the result of an Israeli intelligence operation.
Iran provided answers to the IAEA in March on the matter, but the IAEA said the “information provided…did not address all” of its questions, and it assessed some of the information provided to be inconsistent with other information it had.
“This negotiation [on the safeguards issue] has been between the P5+1 and they have been in permanent contact with Iran basically to produce a statement that they agreed in March, but it has to be updated for different reasons,” the EU official told journalists in Vienna today.
“I have no precise information on what is the situation of this statement,” the EU official said. “But yes, it deals with safeguards.”
“According to one senior Western official, the deal will see the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors pass a resolution closing the probe into the nuclear material, if Tehran provides answers on the origin of the uranium traces that are deemed credible by the IAEA,” Politico’s Stephanie Liechtenstein reported.
We will see what happens
Despite the sense that differences were further narrowed, an expert close to the talks said he was concerned that the parties apparently could not get it over the finish line in Vienna. (And there were a couple signs that the Iranian side might have been expecting the talks to go on beyond today, and were caught slightly off guard by the abrupt end of the talks today.)
“I am afraid the fact that they decided to break the talks instead of pushing over the finish line is indicative of the fact that there still is not the requisite flexibility needed to finalize the negotiations,” Ali Vaez, director of the Iran program at the International Crisis Group, told me.
“My sense is that what the Iranians are trying to get was P5+1 commitment that the IAEA probe will be closed after the Iranians respond to the IAEA questions, which did not happen back in March, despite the fact that they responded to the IAEA questions,” Vaez said.
“This is an Iranian paranoia,” Vaez said. “They believe that by allowing this issue to fester, once they give away most of their leverage by rolling back their nuclear program, six months down the road, [hostile parties] will use a new pretext to launch a new investigation and impose more sanctions.”
But Vaez said he believes Iran concerns about the issue were misplaced. “Even in a worst case scenario, which is a referral to the UN Security Council, the consequences are quite minimal,” he said. “There is no ‘snapback’ mechanism for safeguards, and Russia and China would veto such a measure.”
“If they believe the U.S. is looking for a pretext to undermine sanctions relief, it has plenty of other pretexts,” he said. “If the Iranians believe that this issue is a liability, it is much better off resolving it once and for all” by being more forthcoming in the information they give the IAEA.
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