Iran’s top nuclear negotiator returns to Vienna as talks heat up


Iran’s top diplomat in months-long talks to restore its shattered nuclear deal with world powers returned to Vienna on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA.

Ali Bagheri Kani made a sudden trip back to Tehran earlier this week. Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA described the trip as “as part of usual consultations during the talks,” while others saw it as a sign of mounting pressure on Tehran as negotiations appear to be drawing to a close.

The European Union’s chief negotiator seemed to imply that whether the talks succeeded or failed now depended on the Islamic Republic.

“There are no more discussions at the expert level. No ‘formal meetings’ either,” Enrique Mora wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, responding to comments from an Iranian analyst. “It’s time to make political decisions in the next few days to end the #ViennaTalks. The rest is noise.”

Mora’s comments echo those of the British and French negotiators at the Vienna talks, who have tried to find a way to revive the deal. The US unilaterally abandoned the deal under then-President Donald Trump in 2018, and Iran has since expanded its nuclear activities, including enrichment.

The comments seemed to buck a constant Iranian refrain in recent weeks of talks that tried to blame America for any delay. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday he believes “we are close” to reaching an agreement, although there are “some very challenging remaining issues”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart in Moscow. on March 5, 2022. (Sergei Ilnitesky/Pool/AFP)

The latest wrinkle, however, is a demand by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday that Blinken should offer written guarantees of Moscow’s ability to continue trade with Iran as it faces sanctions over its war with Ukraine.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian spoke to Lavrov on the phone on Monday, during which the threat of sanctions was apparently discussed, his office said in a statement.

“We are against war and the imposition of sanctions, and it is clear that cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and any country, including Russia, should not be affected by the atmosphere of sanctions,” Amirabdollahian said in the statement.

The 2015 nuclear deal required Iran to stockpile advanced centrifuges under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, while maintaining its enrichment at 3.67% purity and its stockpile of just 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium.

On February 19, the IAEA said Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium were nearly 3,200 kilograms (7,055 pounds). Some have been enriched to 60% purity – a short technical step from 90% weapons grade.

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