VIENNA (AP) — Negotiators from Iran and five world powers resumed negotiations Monday on restoring Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, with Iran insisting that the United States and its allies promise to allow it to export its crude oil.
The latest round of talks in Vienna, the eighth, opened 10 days after negotiations were adjourned for the Iranian negotiator to return home for consultations. The previous round, the first after a more than five-month gap caused by the arrival of a new hard-line government in Iran, was marked by tensions over new Iranian demands.
“If we work hard in the days and weeks ahead, we should have a positive result,” Enrique Mora, the European Union diplomat who chaired the talks, said after the opening session. But “it’s going to be very hard — difficult political decisions have to be taken.”
Tehran’s landmark accord with world powers — Britain, France, Germany, the U.S., Russia and China — granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
But in 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal and imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran, including against its oil sector — the lifeline of its economy. Iran’s crude exports plummeted and international oil companies scrapped deals with Tehran, weakening its economy.
The other signatories struggled to keep alive the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The United States is participating only indirectly in this year’s talks to restore the deal, which President Joe Biden has signaled he wants to rejoin.
Speaking in Tehran ahead of the talks’ resumption, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Iran wants the upcoming round of talks to focus on its sanctions-hit oil industry. The aim is to get to the “point where Iranian oil is being sold easily and without any barriers and its money arrives in Iran’s bank accounts,” he said.
Amirabdollahian said Iran wanted to “be able to enjoy full economic concessions under the nuclear deal.”
“Guarantee and verification (of the removal of sanctions) are among topics that we have focused on,” he said.
The new administration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has repeatedly demanded the removal of all economic sanctions before Iran reins in its nuclear advances.
Separately on Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said it would be “intolerable” for the West to demand anything from Tehran beyond compliance with the original deal.
Iran has steadily abandoned all of the accord’s limits since the American withdrawal and is now enriching uranium to 60% purity — a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels. It spins ever-more advanced centrifuges also barred by the deal.
Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful. But the country’s significant nuclear steps have alarmed regional foes like Israel and world powers. Diplomats have warned that time is running out to restore the deal as Iran maintains a hard line in putting the onus on the U.S. to lift sanctions.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of Israel, which fiercely opposed the 2015 deal, repeated his country’s vow that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.
“Certainly we prefer to act through international cooperation, but if necessary — we will defend ourselves, by ourselves,” he said, a veiled threat of unilateral military action against Iran’s nuclear program.
Diplomats from the three European powers have said that time is running out for a successful conclusion to the talks.
And Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted after the resumption of the talks was announced that “we need to orient ourselves towards successful completion of the talks as soon as possible, preferably by the beginning of February.”
He described Monday’s opening session as “businesslike and result-oriented.”
Mora, the talks’ chair, said the decision to resume discussions between Christmas and the new year was made because “there is a sense of urgency” and it “was not acceptable to lose, let’s say, 10 days more.”
He said he wouldn’t “speculate” on target dates for an agreement, but reiterated that “we are talking about weeks, not about months.”
Moulson reported from Berlin. Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed.