Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are unlikely to lead to a major breakthrough, analysts said, although some progress could be made.
Talks are being held in Vienna over resurrecting the 2015 deal struck between Iran and the world powers to rein in Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. The eighth round of the revived talks began this week.
“The tone of negotiators from both sides … is kind of more positive compared to previous rounds so there is maybe some hope for progress,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a fellow with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin who focuses on Iran.
Iran’s foreign minister said that an agreement in the near future is possible, while the EU said only that there should be “a positive result.”
A Russian official at the talks, which started on Monday, tweeted that there was “indisputable progress” and “result-oriented discussions.” However, the U.S. has been more cautious in its tone.
“There may have been some modest progress during the course of the last round of talks, but it is in some ways too soon to say how substantive that progress may have been. At a minimum, any progress, we believe, is falling short of Iran’s accelerating nuclear steps and is far too slow,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters. Azizi said that the biggest obstacles in reaching a deal come down to timing and guarantees.
In 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement that was made under his predecessor, Barack Obama. China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. were also part of the deal.
Iran has continued to develop its nuclear program, insisting it only wants to use nuclear technology for non-military purposes. Tehran now wants reassurance that the U.S. will not renege on a deal when there is a change in presidents. “It’s justified but it’s not realistic, of course, because there’s no actual way for any kind of agreements,” said Azizi.
There also is disagreement on when sanctions against Iran should be lifted and Tehran has been trying to make the resumption of oil exports a key focus in negotiations.
After the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, it put sanctions back on Iran, badly hitting its economy and especially the key oil sector which faced a major drop in exports.
Tehran has argued that sanctions should end before it takes action on its nuclear program, but Washington insists the sanctions should only be lifted once limits have been placed on Tehran’s nuclear program.
“The economy is in really bad shape and Iran really needs a deal in order for the sanctions to be lifted and for Iran to have normal economic interactions with the world,” Azizi said.
Iran refuses to meet directly with U.S. officials, frustrating Washington and putting the EU in a leading role in the negotiations.
“The European Union has been acting as a mediator between Iran and the United States,” said Azizi, who added that Vienna is seen as a more neutral setting than some other European capitals.
Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with Stratfor, said that there was a lot of optimism at the beginning of the year when U.S. President Joe Biden came into office but that decreased when hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi came to power and introduced tougher demands.
Domestic politics in the U.S. are also making it more difficult to arrive at an agreement. Bohl said there is bipartisan pressure on Biden to come up with a deal that will be acceptable to Israel, which has been against the agreement. Israel has argued for a tougher stance against Iran and has said it would not allow the country to have nuclear weapons.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said of Iran’s nuclear program: “Certainly we prefer to act through international cooperation, but if necessary we will defend ourselves, by ourselves,” The Associated Press reported.
The EU has warned there are “weeks, not months” to come to an agreement as Iran continues to build its nuclear program.
Despite these challenges, Bohl said there was optimism that progress will be made since neither the U.S. nor Iran wants to enter a war. “Both sides are desperate to find some sort of solution out of this crisis,” Bohl said.
“The devil then breaks down to the details. Even though strategically both sides are driven towards coming up with a compromise, it’s who compromises first and how much that’s hanging so many things up,” he said.
The story was republished with permission from The Media Line