Discussions to try to save the international Iran nuclear deal got off to a good start in Vienna on Tuesday, the United States being indirectly invited for the first time since Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House.
“The meeting of the joint commission was fruitful,” announced Russian Ambassador to international organizations Mikhail Ulyanov after a nearly two-hour interview with the signatories of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ): Iran, Germany, France, United Kingdom, China, Russia, all under the aegis of the EU. “The restoration” of the agreement, concluded in 2015 in Vienna and undermined by the withdrawal in 2018 of the United States, “will not happen immediately. It will take time, ”he added. “But the most important […]is that the practical work to achieve this goal has begun. ”
Positive signals from Washington
Two groups of experts will tackle the task “for 15 days, a month, we do not know”, according to a European diplomat interviewed by AFP, while the joint committee will meet again Wednesday afternoon. These discussions, closed to the press, take place in a luxury hotel in the Austrian capital, a stone’s throw from another large hotel where the American delegation is staying.
The United States, whose envoy Rob Malley arrived at midday in Vienna, is regularly informed of the progress through the Europeans, Tehran refusing any direct contact. “We must make the most of this diplomatic space to get the JCPOA back on track”, underlined, also on Twitter, the Deputy Secretary General of the Service of External Actions of the EU, Enrique Mora.
Washington had sent positive signals a little earlier by saying it was ready to “lift the sanctions which are in contradiction with the agreement”, according to remarks by American envoy Rob Malley to the PBS television channel.
“Realistic and promising position”
Iran hailed, through the voice of government spokesman Ali Rabii, a “realistic and promising position”, which “could be the beginning of the correction of the bad process which had put diplomacy in the impasse”. As soon as these punitive measures which are suffocating its economy are lifted, Iran has promised to renew its nuclear commitments, from which it has gradually freed itself since the United States withdrew from the agreement.
Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally denounced in 2018 this pact concluded in Vienna three years earlier, which aims to ensure that Tehran does not seek to acquire the atomic bomb. But Joe Biden has said he wants to reinstate him, and since his arrival at the White House in January, the various parties are active behind the scenes.
“We have concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program […], on their activities in the region. We want to talk about all of this. But we have much more interest in discussing it once we have put aside the current nuclear issue, ”Rob Malley told National Public Radio (NPR).
The opening of these discussions is “an important milestone, showing that both the United States and Iran are serious about breaking inertia,” commented on Twitter Ali Vaez, of the conflict prevention organization International Crisis Group.
For Kelsey Davenport, director of non-proliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, “this shuttle diplomacy is certainly not ideal, but the EU is well placed to break the deadlock and coordinate measures. necessary to restore the agreement ”. This expert calls for “a first daring gesture on both sides to inject momentum into the process and demonstrate everyone’s political will”.
Washington could, for example, unblock “access to foreign financial transactions and facilitate humanitarian aid”, while Tehran could in return stop the enrichment of uranium at 20%. Kelsey Davenport, however, warns against “all those who want to torpedo the agreement” in each of the two enemy countries, calling on the negotiators to “act quickly”.