Progress, but difficult issues remain at Iran talks in Vienna, as Iran heads to polls

Among remaining hurdles, Iran seeking guarantee that U.S. won’t quit pact again

The US delegation, led by Special Envoy Rob Malley, met with the Russian delegation, led by Russian ambassador to IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov, on the sideline of the sixth round of international Iran talks in Vienna on June 17. Photo posted by Ulyanov to Twitter.
  • Sixth round of Iran talks could wrap up in the next couple days

  • Negotiators report progress, but fundamental issues remain to be resolved

  • Among the stumbling blocks, Iran seeking assurance that U.S. won’t quit pact again, that the U.S. cannot provide

  • Iran negotiator insists Iran elections Friday will not affect the Vienna negotiations

Negotiators say they continue to make progress, but difficult issues remain to be resolved, at the sixth round of international talks on restoring US and Iran full compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. Among the several still-unresolved hurdles: Iran seeking assurances that the United States will not quit the pact again, which the U.S. is not able to provide, diplomats said.

“We want to make sure that what happened when Trump pulled out of the deal will not be repeated by any other American president in the future,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and top negotiator in Vienna Abbas Araghchi was cited telling Al Jazeera television today (June 17).

It is definitely one of the stumbling blocks, a western official, speaking not for attribution, indicated today. We are trying to be creative, but there is a limit to how far we can go, he said.

This round of talks could break for further consultations in capitals as early as Friday night (June 18), or possibly continue as late as Tuesday (June 22), one diplomat in the Vienna talks suggested. Another official in Vienna suggested they were likely to take a break shortly, but it was not clear precisely when.

“Difficult issues still remain on the agenda,” Russian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter today, in a note accompanying photos of a meeting between the Russian and US delegations in Vienna today. The US delegation is led by Special Envoy Rob Malley.

The Vienna talks are making progress, Ulyanov tweeted earlier today. “Over the last couple of days we achieved more clarity with regard to one of the most controversial issues—implementation plan (who should do what and when). However, some difficult and time consuming topics still remain unresolved.”

Iran’s top negotiator at the talks also reported progress, but fundamental issues still to be resolved.

“We have made good and tangible progress on various issues in Vienna talks,” Araghchi reportedly said in the interview with Al Jazeera today. “We believe that we are closer to an agreement than ever before, but there are still some fundamental and key issues that need to be negotiated.”

Araghchi also insisted that Iranian presidential elections to be held on Friday would have no effect on the Vienna talks.

In a seeming effort to demonstrate that point, the Iranian foreign ministry announced that Araghchi himself will be voting at the Iranian embassy in Vienna on Friday, Al Arabiya journalist Raghida Bahnam reported.

“I see no concern over the victory of Ebrahim Raisi in the elections,” Araghchi reportedly said on Telegram, according to Bloomberg News. “The nuclear negotiations are within the country’s macro-political framework.”

“We have been able to achieve some progress, but challenges remain,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told journalists today. “We will continue to work on this.”

He said he did not yet have a time-frame for the talks to provide.

In the 2013 - 2015 negotiations that led to the reaching of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), when things got stuck, negotiators from the P5+1 and Iran could bring in the foreign ministers to make political decisions to help unstick them.

But that is not happening now. In part, because Iran won’t agree to direct talks with US counterparts if and until the US is back in the deal; and perhaps also because of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s perceived domestic political constraints, after hardliners denounced leaked recordings of an interview he gave to a think tank affiliated with the Iranian presidency. In the interview, Zarif reportedly criticized the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Iranian foreign policy making, and reportedly expressed resentment at not being consulted on several decisions it was involved in.

The current talks are being conducted at the political director and expert level. Political impasses primarily await further consultations with capitals to see if they can be overcome.