Iran Demands U.S. Identify Sanctions to Be Lifted to End Impasse

The U.S. needs to explicitly state what sanctions it’s willing to lift to unblock talks to revive the stricken 2015 nuclear accord, Iran’s lead negotiator said on Thursday, with diplomacy struggling to bridge deep differences after three rounds of meetings in a little over a week.

Iran in response would state the steps it’s prepared to take to scale back its nuclear activity, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said on the sidelines of the latest round of negotiations with world powers in Vienna.

“They have to lift” the sanctions on us, Araghchi told state-run Press TV. “Without the list, I don’t think we can make any progress.” Russia said talks would resume on Friday.

The negotiations are trying to restore the beleaguered landmark agreement and map out a path for both Washington and Tehran, which escalated its enrichment work in response to sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, to return to full compliance.

But rather than tensions easing, the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program deepened Sunday when an unclaimed strike on a key enrichment facility at Natanz prompted Tehran to double down on its atomic activity and start purifying uranium to 60%, close to weapons grade. Iran blamed Israel for the attack, the latest in a series of clashes between the regional foes that’s roiling the Persian Gulf region.

Araghchi didn’t elaborate but Iran has called on the U.S. to lift all sanctions imposed on its economy since January 2017, when then-President Donald Trump entered office, and not just those that he reimposed after exiting the nuclear deal the following year.

The failure of Britain, France and Germany to condemn the Natanz attack had shaken Iranian trust in the three European nations coordinating the talks, he said. Saboteurs interrupted production at Iran’s Natanz fuel enrichment plant, prompting Tehran to announce it would begin producing highly-enriched uranium.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned that time was running out over the issues that have repeatedly threatened to tip Iran into open conflict with some of its neighbors.

Most recently, Tehran and Israel have blamed each other for tit-for-tat attacks on ships plying major maritime routes for oil, while Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen have claimed drone and missile attacks on Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities, the latest early on Thursday.

The Israeli government opposes the 2015 nuclear deal and doesn’t want the U.S. to lift sanctions on Tehran without a new deal that addresses its ballistic missiles and regional proxy forces that have fought Israel.

Iran Demands U.S. Identify Sanctions to Be Lifted to End Impasse

Thursday’s talks unfolded inside the Grand Hotel, the former headquarters of the IAEA located on Vienna’s ornate Ringstrasse. Protesters chanted slogans against the Iranian leadership on the outside, even as the Austrian capital remained under strict Covid-19 lockdown.

The meeting was convened by EU deputy foreign policy chief Enrique Mora, with diplomats shuttling messages back and forth between U.S. counterparts set up across the street. Iran has objected to U.S. presence at the meeting until Washington rejoins the nuclear deal as a formal participant.

Sides are bogged down over how to synchronize the removal of U.S. sanctions, with the need for Iran to eliminate nuclear materials and capacity it developed in response.

“We’re committed to pursuing that process, but the real question is whether Iran is, and we’ll find out,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a briefing at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Wednesday.

He called Iran’s decision to begin enriching to higher levels “provocative,” and added that “the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard to the nuclear talks.”

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