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News > U.S.

Iranian Nuke Pact Remains Uncertain After Seven Rounds of Talks

  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations, Vienna, Austria,  2021.

    Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations, Vienna, Austria, 2021. | Photo: Twitter/ @The_NewArab

Published 23 December 2021

The Biden administration imposed new sanctions on two Iranian government agencies and several officials on Dec. 7 as the nuclear talks were underway in Vienna.

Following seven rounds of talks held since April this year, Iran and Western parties to the 2015 nuclear deal have yet to find a way to break the impasse on salvaging the pact, which Washington unilaterally quit in 2018. 


Iran Denies Direct Talks With US in Vienna Nuke Talks

Although uncertainty is the only certainty right now in Vienna, the host city of the talks, the parties' willingness to continue dialogue still bodes well for future negotiations.


Since April, Iran, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia have held seven rounds of talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S. has been taking part in the talks indirectly. No significant progress has been made so far. When the seventh round of talks ended on Friday, Iran and the Western parties accused each other of foot-dragging in the negotiations.

Six rounds of negotiations on reviving the 2015 deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), were already held in Vienna between April and June, before they were interrupted by Iran's presidential election. Ahead of the Iranian election, an atmosphere of optimism prevailed in the Vienna talks. Then Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in early June that the main issues between Tehran and Washington had been settled.

Similarly, according to European diplomats, in the first six rounds of talks, "we have 70 percent to 80 percent of the work done, but some of the most difficult issues are what remain."

But new uncertainty appeared when the Vienna talks resumed on Nov. 29 with the participation of a new Iranian negotiating team following a five-month hiatus. Britain, France and Germany, known as the E3, wanted Iran to agree to continue talks from where they left off in June, but Iran's new negotiators insisted that what had been agreed upon in the previous talks were not legally binding.

During the 7th round of talks, the new Iranian delegation put forward two draft proposals, which were dismissed as "unrealistic" by the E3 and the United States, accusing Iran of backtracking on "the diplomatic progress made" through demanding major changes. Iran demanded the United States lift all sanctions and guarantee that it will not quit the nuclear pact again despite future leadership changes in Washington.

"We made no demand beyond the JCPOA, and at the same time will not accept any obligations beyond the JCPOA," said Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, referring to Tehran's refusal to negotiate a new deal that will cover its missile and other weapons development programs. 


After the Vienna talks adjourned on Friday, the E3 diplomats called it "a disappointing pause," warning that there are only weeks instead of months before the JCPOA's core non-proliferation benefits will be lost.

"We are rapidly reaching the end of the road for this negotiation," they said in a statement.
In a more frustrating tone, Washington warned Iran against attempting to "drag out this process while continuing to move forward inexorably in building up its nuclear program."

However, the pace of reaching an agreement depends on the will of the opposite side, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said, adding that "if the other side accepts the rational views and positions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the new round of talks can be the last one, and we can achieve a deal in the shortest possible time." 

He criticized the E3 countries for failing to present a more constructive proposal during the talks, saying that "they previously announced that they have proposals and initiatives on some topics, including the issue of guarantees, but we received no proposal or initiative from them during this round of talks." Neither has the United States made any tangible proposals for the talks, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, adding that this partially explained why Iran questions Washington's real intentions.


Despite the war of words, progress, though limited, has been made in the nuclear talks. The E3 diplomats revealed after the 7th round that "there has been some technical progress in the last 24 hours, but this only takes us back nearer to where the talks stood in June."

Enrique Mora, deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service, said the parties held in-depth discussions during the latest round of talks on a variety of sensitive issues like the political positions, the new political sensitivities of the new administration in Tehran. "We have incorporated some of the most relevant elements of the new Iranian positions... to the documents that we will still work on," he added.

Analysts are cautiously optimistic about the future of the Iranian nuclear deal talks. Hassan Hanizadeh, an Iranian international affairs analyst, said that in spite of all the difficulties, "so far the negotiation process seems to have been positive," and an acceptable outcome to the Vienna talks is possible.

Liu Lanyu, an Iran expert at the Institute for International and Area Studies of China's Tsinghua University, said that despite their differences, both Iran and the United States have the willingness to reach a final deal on reviving the 2015 nuclear pact. Iran hopes to lift the U.S. sanctions through negotiations to ease domestic pressure, while the United States wants to accelerate its withdrawal from the Middle East by resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. 

Fan Hongda, a professor at the International Studies University in China, said the United States needs to "face future negotiations with a more positive attitude." Only compromises, instead of sanctions and pressure, can lead to an agreement.

Ironically, the Joe Biden administration imposed fresh sanctions on two Iranian government agencies and several officials for so-called human rights abuses on Dec. 7 as the nuclear talks were underway in Vienna. The U.S. move triggered angry reaction from Iran, which warned that such sanctions would not create leverage in the talks to bring about a breakthrough.

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