Iran Casts Doubt on Reviving Nuclear Deal Before Its Election

Iran cast doubt on the chances of reviving a nuclear accord with world powers before Iranians elect a new president next week who’s likely to be less willing to make concessions.

Diplomats convened a sixth and possibly final round of negotiations in Vienna on Saturday. At stake is the 2015 agreement that capped Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Then-President Donald Trump jettisoned the accord three years ago and unilaterally reimposed punishing penalties, prompting Iran to dramatically increase its production of nuclear fuel.

”I don’t think we can reach a final conclusion this week,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said on Iranian state television. “I believe we need to return to capital cities at least one more time. So I don’t think we’ll reach a conclusion in this round of talks...I can’t even predict how many days this round of talks will last.”

A deal would remove U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and could help calm the Middle East, after the standoff between Tehran and the Trump administration fueled regional conflicts and coincided with a spate of unclaimed attacks on shipping.

Plenary talks between China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the U.K. convened before technical groups break off to negotiate over sanctions and nuclear activities. Enrique Mora, the European Union’s deputy foreign policy chief who’s coordinating sessions, is charged with shuttling messages and instructions between delegates and American envoy Robert Malley as long as the U.S. formally remains outside the accord.

Hours before arriving in Vienna for talks, Araghchi accused the Biden administration on Twitter of continuing to “immiserate” Iranians by levying sanctions amid a pandemic.

Russia’s envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said questions remain about whether a final document can be achieved.

European diplomats have warned for weeks that resurrecting the deal could become more complicated if an agreement isn’t struck before Iran’s presidential election on June 18.

Araghchi said the outcome of Iran’s election will have “no bearing” on the talks in Austria.

Asked if one week is enough time to reach a deal, assuming there’s a will on both sides to do so, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Thursday that “big issues” continue to divide the sides.

“We are moving at a pace that is consistent with our desire to see Iran’s nuclear program once again restricted and to see Iran, once again, subject to a permanent and verifiable ban on ever obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Iran Casts Doubt on Reviving Nuclear Deal Before Its Election

Previous deadlines for mid-May and early June were missed after sides remained deadlocked over the scope and timing of sanctions relief, as well as the possibility of follow-on talks about regional security.

An Iranian government spokesman said this week that the country’s approach toward restoring the deal won’t change after President Hassan Rouhani, who championed the accord, leaves office in August. But he’s widely expected to be succeeded by conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who’s generally seen as hostile to engagement with the U.S.

Mora told delegates after adjourning the last round of negotiations that both the U.S. and Iran needed to make “hard decisions” that could ruffle domestic political constituencies.

‘Galloping Forward’

Members of both parties in the U.S. Congress remain opposed to the accord, making it harder for the Biden administration to lift non-nuclear-related sanctions -- as demanded by Iranian lawmakers -- before Tehran rolls back the advances in its enrichment program.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that Iran’s nuclear program is “galloping forward” in the absence of an agreement. Iran, home to the world’s No. 2 natural gas and No. 4 oil reserves, began enriching uranium close to the levels needed for nuclear weapons in April and its stockpile of fuel has been growing.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult,” said International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi this week, whose inspectors will face greater restrictions on access to Iranian nuclear sites once a temporary monitoring pact expires on June 24.

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