By Syed Zafar Mehdi
TEHRAN, Iran (AA) – Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, returned to Vienna on Wednesday after a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Tehran for last-minute consultations on the 2015 nuclear deal.
Bagheri, who has made a few brief jaunts to Tehran in recent weeks in the middle of the eighth and last round of Vienna nuclear talks, was summoned to the capital one last time, as the marathon process ends.
Anadolu Agency learned from diplomatic sources that the visit was focused on “political decisions” that the Western parties, in particular the US, need to take as the 11-month exercise enters the final leg.
European Union’s top negotiator in Vienna talks, Enrique Mora, on Monday, confirmed that “expert-level talks” and “formal meetings” had ended and it was the time for “political decisions”.
Mora’s statement, posted on Twitter, came after Bagheri dashed off to Tehran and was in response to reports that expert-level talks and formal meetings continued in the Austrian capital.
Iran, a senior diplomat said, has “communicated its position and demands” during the talks in Vienna, and is now “waiting for the other side (Washington)” to announce its decision.
He, however, hastened to add that “informal contacts and meetings” between Iran’s negotiating team and other parties in Vienna will continue until the agreement is sealed, “possibly later this week”.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Monday that “despite good progress” in the lengthy talks, resolving some issues required “the political decision of the West”.
A source told Anadolu Agency that among the key demands yet to be accepted by Washington is a guarantee that no future US administration will unilaterally walk out of the deal, as Donald Trump did in May 2018. The Biden administration, he claimed, is unwilling to promise that.
“It needs a strong political will and unflinching commitment to the multilateral accord to give that assurance, but so far they have dragged their feet over it, and some other issues,” he asserted.
Another thing that brought Bagheri to Tehran on Tuesday, Anadolu Agency learned, are clouds of uncertainty hovering over the 2015 nuclear deal following Russia’s fresh demands from the US.
Moscow has asked for a “written guarantee” from the US that Western sanctions over the military invasion of Ukraine would not derail its multi-pronged cooperation with Iran.
The demand has threatened to complicate the Vienna talks and possibly spoil the efforts made by different parties, including Russia, over the past 11 months.
The issue figured prominently in Bagheri’s consultations in Tehran on Tuesday, a source said, as they tried to make sure it does not impact Iran’s position in the talks or the outcome.
Russia’s new demand, which comes at the business end of the Vienna talks, is seen by many experts as a “pressure tactic” to force the Western countries to lift sanctions or brace for the breakdown in Vienna talks.
Iran’s top diplomat, Amir-Abdollahian, told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Monday that sanctions need to be lifted “in an effective manner”, while asserting that Iran opposes “both war and sanctions”, his office said in a statement.
‘Window of opportunity’
Meanwhile, in a statement on Tuesday, Europeans said the “window of opportunity” to conclude the deal was closing.
“We call on all sides to make the decisions necessary to close this deal now, and on Russia not to add extraneous conditions to its conclusion,” UK, France, and Germany said in a joint statement.
According to sources, the draft of the agreement is ready with a few contentious issues that need to be ironed out through political decision-making in both Tehran and Washington.
The rebranded accord will be implemented in different phases, according to sources, with Iran having enough time to “verify” the removal of sanctions before it returns to full compliance.
Interestingly, there is also speculation that Iran is willing to drop its demand for guarantees if it is allowed to keep its advanced centrifuges and other nuclear material in the country, to make its compliance with the deal reversible in case the US withdraws from the deal again.
Lawmakers in Iran, however, continue to have reservations about the deal that has taken shape in the past 11 months, with some calling it a re-hash of the previous deal.
A senior lawmaker, Mahmoud Nabavian, in a recently published video called the performance of Iran’s new negotiating team in Vienna “weak”.