Iran and US approach text on nuclear deal, but hurdles remain


Negotiations between Iran and the US to revive the 2015 nuclear deal are nearing completion, the European Union’s chief negotiator said at the talks Sunday night, but it remained unclear whether Tehran will accept the final deal.

The text of an agreement could be finalized in the coming hours, said Enrique Mora of the EU, the coordinator of the talks. However, Iran has yet to decide whether it will set aside its demand that the nuclear deal can only be revived if a multi-year United Nations nuclear agency investigation into its nuclear program ends.

“We were negotiating some technical questions that were open in the text,” Mora told reporters in Vienna. “We are making progress and I expect that we will conclude these negotiations shortly.”

The final text would have to be approved by Iran, the US and the other participants in the talks, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. The senior French, British and German negotiators are not currently in Vienna.

Negotiations in Vienna, which have now been going on for 16 months, are aimed at agreeing the steps Washington and Tehran should take to return to compliance with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The 2015 agreement imposed tight but temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions against Tehran. The Trump administration pulled the US out of the deal in May 2018, arguing that it would not stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran began violating the nuclear limits in the deal a year later and has since ramped up its nuclear activities.

Negotiations neared an agreement in March, but stalled for months afterwards. But talks resumed on Thursday after Iran watered down one of its remaining demands: the lifting of terror sanctions against its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The talks took place in the Palais Coburg in Vienna.


Photo:

Florian Schroetter/Associated Press

However, Iran got into talks last week, insisting that the UN’s three-year investigation into undeclared nuclear material found in the country should be halted if the nuclear deal is revived. Several Western diplomats said on Sunday that Tehran has doubled this condition in recent days of talks and that there is no agreement on the matter.

The investigation of the man-made nuclear material found in Iran is very sensitive to Tehran, which has always claimed that it has never looked for nuclear weapons. Iran has blocked the investigation and provided answers that the agency says are not credible.

However, Western officials have said Iran should cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and insisted they would not intervene to close the investigation or set a firm deadline for the agency’s work.

A Western diplomat said there would be no reference to Iran’s demand to shut down the nuclear probe in the text of the agreement being worked on.

There will be no formal negotiations on Monday due to the Iranian holy day of Ashura. However, the aim is to have the final text ready for a final decision in the coming days. It is not clear whether Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri-Kani, will first return to Tehran for talks with the Iranian leadership.

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s chief negotiator at the talks, told reporters on Sunday, “We’re talking days, not weeks” to strike a deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian also said on Sunday that the success of the nuclear talks depends on Washington’s flexibility in the talks.

“We are serious about reaching a solid and stable agreement,” he said during a meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Iran’s Foreign Ministry reported. “The outcome, of course, depends on whether the US wants an agreement to be reached and whether it will show the necessary flexibility and realism in practice.”

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

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