Nuclear Talks Drag On After Iran Elects Hardline President

World powers and Iran failed after a sixth round of negotiations in Vienna to revive a nuclear deal that would lift U.S. sanctions on the oil-rich Islamic Republic in exchange for it scaling back its atomic activities.

A day after hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner of Iran’s presidential election, diplomats adjourned their sixth round of meetings with significant gaps remaining to mend the six-year-old accord. It’s the third time since talks began in April that negotiators have missed self-imposed deadlines to rejuvenate the agreement.

“My expectation is that in the next round, delegations will come back from capitals with clearer instructions, clearer ideas to finally close the deal,” said European Union deputy foreign policy chief Enrique Mora, who twice predicted the next round of talks would be the last, most recently on June 2.

Nuclear Talks Drag On After Iran Elects Hardline President

While Raisi’s win isn’t expected to derail efforts to return the U.S. to the accord, Tehran’s change in administration has complicated diplomacy. The president-elect is himself subject to sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in 2019, and Iran insists they must be removed as part of an agreement to revive the pact.

Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s lead negotiator in the talks, told state TV on Saturday that all the documents were ready to finalize an agreement with the U.S. and other world powers, even as “principal issues” remain.

On Sunday, he said one of the most serious matters discussed in the latest round was Iran’s need for a guarantee from the U.S. that future governments won’t exit the deal again -- as former President Donald Trump did in 2018 -- or reimpose sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the White House expects Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to ultimately make the decision on whether Iran returns to compliance with the accord. The U.S. retains the option of imposing devastating sanctions, he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Whether the president is person A or person B is less relevant than whether their entire system is prepared to make verifiable commitments to constrain their nuclear program,” Sullivan said in a separate interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Failure to clinch a deal this week means that the focus shifts to June 24. That’s when a temporary monitoring pact expires with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. Iran and IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi are already in talks and the agreement is expected to be prolonged, Mora said.

The talks aim to bring the U.S. back to the 2015 Obama-era pact that Trump repeatedly scorned before finally abandoning. A resuscitated accord would lift sanctions on Iran’s struggling economy and allow it to return to global oil markets, in return for limiting its contentious nuclear work.

“We have made progress in a number of technical issues,” Mora said. “We have more clarity in technical documents, some of them quite complex” but there is a “delicate balance” that has yet to be stabilized, he said.

Sanctions on Iran’s energy sector and a U.S. ban on purchases of its oil have cost its economy more than $100 billion in the three years since Washington withdrew from the agreement, the Islamic Republic’s Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, said on Sunday.

Negotiators had originally sought to seal a deal before Friday’s election but now want to ensure work is concluded before outgoing President Hassan Rouhani hands power to Raisi in August. The feud over the agreement, which includes China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. as well as the U.S., has pushed the region close to war and Tehran to enrich uranium near the level required for a bomb.

“The election of a hardliner delays the expectation of a rapid return of Iranian oil to the market,” Sara Vakhshouri, president of SVB Energy International LLC, said Sunday at the daily energy forum hosted by the Dubai-based consultancy Gulf Intelligence.

Nuclear Talks Drag On After Iran Elects Hardline President

Ultraconservative judiciary chief Raisi, who’s hostile toward the West, has said he would preserve the nuclear deal that Rouhani helped seal yet suggested he doesn’t want to make it Iran’s central foreign policy concern. In comments Saturday after results showed him on course to win the election, he suggested he would work for continuity with Rouhani’s team.

Iran’s policy toward the agreement is ultimately decided by the Supreme Leader. Raisi -- who was sanctioned in 2019 by the Trump administration over his role in a deadly 2009 crackdown on protesters alleging vote fraud -- is seen as a favorite to eventually succeed him.

Naftali Bennett, sworn in as Israel’s prime minister a week ago, said earlier on Sunday that Raisi’s election was “a sign for world powers to wake up,” and understand “what kind of regime they are choosing to strengthen” by considering a return to the nuclear agreement.

“He is a man notorious among the Iranian people and around the world for his role in death committees that have executed opponents of the regime,” Bennett said in a statement.

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