US: ‘Meaningful progress’ at latest Iran talks

“The latest round of talks in Vienna was positive and we saw meaningful progress,”  State Department official says.

The United States, in its first reaction to the latest international talks in Vienna on restoring the Iran nuclear deal, says they made “meaningful progress,” joining the Europeans in expressing growing, albeit cautious optimism that a deal could be in reach if final differences can be bridged.

“The latest round of talks in Vienna was positive and we saw meaningful progress,” a senior State Department official said by email today.

 “Nevertheless, important differences remain, which still need to be addressed,” the statement continued.

The more positive US assessment of the fourth round of Vienna talks aligns with the growing confidence expressed by European negotiators after the talks broke yesterday (May 19).

“We have made substantial progress over the last ten days,” European Union political director Enrique Mora told journalists in Vienna yesterday. “But there are still things to be worked out, and we will reconvene next week and we will continue working.”

“I will not venture a date, because you never know, but I am quite sure that there will be a final agreement,” Mora said.

“We have made tangible progress,” E3 diplomats said yesterday. “Both on the nuclear side and the sanctions side, we are now beginning to see the contours of what the final deal could look like.”

“However, success is not guaranteed,” the E3 diplomats added. “There are still some very difficult issues ahead. We do not underestimate the challenges that lay before us.”

The US official today also added a note of caution.

 “The US position has always been that we are prepared to lift sanctions inconsistent with the JCPOA and the benefits it provided, but only in the context of a mutual return to compliance with the deal,” the official said.

An Iranian official also expressed cautious optimism about the talks, but, mirroring previous US and European statements, suggested the political decisions to achieve success needed to be taken on the US side.

“The talks in Vienna are moving forward, and we have made good progress in the fourth round,” an Iranian official, speaking not for attribution, told me by email. “The next round is crucial, and necessary decisions on some important issues need to be taken to untangle the remaining problems.”

“Lifting sanctions under whatever tags  is a key to the success of the talks,” the Iranian official continued. “Iran will definitely respond positively if we see genuine and effective lifting with proper verification. If the US shows the political will, the agreement will be at hand soon.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif today.

“Teams in Vienna made good progress in past weeks,” Borrell tweeted. “All sides now need to take necessary political decisions, so we can conclude negotiations & get back to full implementation. Crucial for @IAEAorg to continue its verification activities.”

Russia’s lead negotiator at the talks also expressed optimism that a deal on restoring the JCPOA was moving within reach.

Participants at the Joint Commission meeting Wednesday “noted that ‘good’ or ‘significant’ progress was made and that an agreement is ‘within reach,’” Russian ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted. “The Joint Commission will resume its work early next week. Hopefully the 5th round will be final.”

Negotiators are due to return to Vienna early next week, after consulting with their capitals.

Iran is also expected to reach an extension of a technical understanding with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) due to expire on May 21.