Iran demands US to identify lifting of sanctions to end nuclear deal impasse

Negotiations in Vienna continue, now focusing on the key and complex steps needed to lift sanctions on Iran
Atalayar_Philippe Errera, Director General de Asuntos Políticos y de Seguridad de Francia

AFP/ JOE KLAMAR  -   Philippe Errera, French Director General for Political and Security Affairs leaves the meeting at the Grand Hotel Wien for the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna on 15 April 2021

Negotiators in Vienna on the Iranian nuclear deal, whether Western or Iranian, agree that the course of the talks will be far from smooth, and this was confirmed by numerous statements from some of the participants. The United States must explicitly state what sanctions it is willing to lift to unlock talks and revive the battered 2015 nuclear deal, Iran's chief negotiator said on Thursday, as diplomacy struggles to bridge deep differences after three rounds of meetings in just over a week.

In response, Iran will declare the steps it is willing to take to curtail its nuclear activity, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Arachi said on the sidelines of the latest round of negotiations with world powers in Vienna. "They have to lift" sanctions against us, Arachi told Press TV. "Without the list, I don't think we can make any progress." 

Atalayar_El embajador de la Misión Permanente de la República Popular China ante las Naciones Unidas, Wang Qun
AFP/ JOE KLAMAR - Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations Wang Qun (L) leaves his meeting at the Grand Hotel Wien for the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna on 15 April 2021

Chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Arachi said "a lot of difficulties await those talks". He also added in a press interview, "Everyone agrees on the need for serious and practical work to prepare a list of sanctions that the US should lift and measures that Iran should take."

The technical committee meetings are expected to conclude on Friday, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia's permanent representative to international organisations in Vienna, announced (although no official confirmation has been issued). The Russian ambassador also added that a meeting will be held today between the heads of the delegations of the countries present plus one with the US delegation (without Iran).

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AFP/ JIM WATSON - U.S. President Joe Biden

The meetings have been composed of the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, the Deputy Secretary General of the EU's External Action Service, the Spanish diplomat Enrique Mora, and will be attended by representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran. The European bloc plays a key role as mediator, with the aim of preserving an agreement that it considers fundamental for world stability and security. In Vienna, the political work is coordinated by Mora, who in recent days has intensified contacts with all parties to the agreement, as well as with Washington.

When the US signed the original agreement in 2015, it made a critical distinction between the lifting of pre-existing sanctions in the nuclear field and the other sanctions it would maintain in relation to Iranian actions related to terrorism, the ballistic missile programme, human rights and cyber violations or crimes.

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AP/ Planet Labs via AP - Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday 14 April 2021

Washington's position has become clear, on the one hand, by adhering to some of the sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump. However, these have nothing to do with nuclear weapons and will therefore not be lifted during these negotiations. As an example, the previous US administration imposed sanctions on Iranian-backed infiltrators and hackers last September, as well as three judges and three deputy directors of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran involved in Iran's ballistic missile programme.

Perhaps the step that has further complicated the situation and exacerbated the difficulty of lifting some sanctions is the confusion inherited from the Trump administration, which conflated nuclear and non-nuclear by changing their names or describing many of those nuclear-related sanctions as linked to terrorism. So, the former president imposed sanctions not only on the Revolutionary Guard, but also on the Central Bank, the Ministry of Petroleum and the National Iranian Oil Company. As for the reason or motive that moved Trump in this direction, his claim was that these institutions transferred funds to Hezbollah, militias and other similar armed organisations.

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AFP/AFP - The process of uranium enrichment using a centrifuge

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the complex penalties being negotiated, which amount to 1,500 still awaiting study and classification. Therefore, coming up with an agreed list of post-2016 sanctions that both sides consider to be nuclear-related is complex and enters a long road of diplomatic and technical talks.

Iran's recent decision to increase uranium enrichment is nothing more than another pressure measure to speed up negotiations and provoke the United States to take the first step by lifting the sanctions imposed on the Persian country. While the talks continue, the situation in the Middle East is becoming more complicated, especially with regard to the increasingly tense relationship between Israel and Iran, which is perpetrating continuous attacks such as the one on the Natanz power plant or the latest one against an Israeli ship that the Jewish state blames on the Islamic Republic