US negotiator: “We definitely made progress” in “most productive” Iran talks, but still key gaps

“Progress towards reaching an understanding of what the contours of a deal would look like,” senior US diplomat.

A senior US diplomat said today the latest round of international Iran talks in Vienna was the most productive yet, and negotiators had made real progress, but cautioned that significant differences remain and some of the hardest issues were left for the end.

“We definitely made progress,” the senior US diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told me in an interview today. “This was the most productive of our rounds.”

“But there are still significant differences and significant work to be done,” he continued. “And the closer we come to the final round, the harder the remaining issues are to resolve.”

The U.S. diplomat said the fourth round of international talks in Vienna, which went on for ten days and wrapped up on Wednesday (May 19), produced enough progress on a draft roadmap to begin to see “the contours” of a possible deal on the US and Iran returning to full compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear pact. But he said reaching a deal is not a certainty, nor when it might be reached.

“There was more progress towards reaching an understanding of what the contours of a deal would look like,” the diplomat said.

“We made more progress than in prior rounds….[but] whether and when we reach a deal is another question,” he said. “Logically, we should be able to get there:  Both sides claim they want to resume come compliance; both have negotiated seriously; and both are guided by a pre-existing deal.”

“But there are still important difference regarding what mutual compliance means and, by definition, the issues that remain at the end are the toughest to resolve,” he continued.

He said the timing for reaching a possible deal was unclear. Adding to the uncertainty is what impact the Iranian presidential elections, scheduled for June 18, might have on the politically sensitive talks.

“Elections have a way of getting in the way of diplomacy,” he said. “The potential impact of the elections is uncertain, though our approach is to forge ahead and try to reach a deal. We will leave it to Iran to decide how their politics will play.”

He said a deal seemed possible, but not inevitable.

“While there is a genuine opportunity for a mutual return to compliance, there is no guarantee of success,” he said. “And while there is no reason it should take long, it could well drag on.”

The parties are due to resume talks in Vienna on Tuesday (May 25).