State Dept. holds Iran talks in Vienna to restore failed 2015 deal

Abbas Araghchi political deputy at the Iranian foreign ministry arrives at the Grand Hotel in Vienna

Iran has steadily overstepped the accord's limits on its nuclear programme in response to Washington's unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and its reimposition of sanctions that have crippled the Islamic Republic's economy.

Diplomats saw Tuesday's meeting as a small but significant step on the road to restoring the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), under which Iran accepted severe curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of global sanctions.

Russian diplomat participating in talks to save 2015 JCPOA accord says meeting in Vienna has been "successful", though salvage efforts will take time. "The most important thing after today's meeting of the Joint Commission is that practical work towards achieving this goal has started". The U.S. first offered to meet the Iranians in February, but weeks of outreach through European allies have been rejected by the Iranian government. Tehran's moves have been calculated to pressure other signatories to do more to offset crippling U.S. sanctions reimposed under Trump.

Joe Biden's State Department has continued its policy of appeasement of Iran while touting a gradual restoration of the failed 2015 nuclear deal. The plan required Iran to scale back its nuclear program and severely downgrade its uranium reserves in exchange for sanctions relief, including lifting the arms embargo five years after the deal's adoption.

"The talks in Vienna were constructive. our next meeting will be on Friday", Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state television. While they're slated for one day, it could extend on, especially if the separate "working groups" make progress and bring in technical experts to finalize details on Iranian and US compliance.

At the meeting, participants agreed to establish two expert-level groups, one to work on the lifting of sanctions and the other to work on nuclear issues.

In the latest announced violation, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's civilian nuclear program, said officials had begun mechanical testing of an IR-9 prototype centrifuge. That centrifuge would enrich uranium 50 times faster than the IR-1 that is allowed under the accord, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

The clock is ticking on trying to get the USA back into the deal, with the goal of returning Iran to compliance, with a number of issues to consider.

World powers, Iran, U.S. launch indirect talks to revive nuclear deal
US, Iran move closer but stay apart in nuclear talks

"But we're much better off talking about all of that if we could at least put the current nuclear issue to the side and not have to worry every day about what the latest Iranian announcement will be", he said.

Under the agreement, Iran will no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the IAEA but it has promised to preserve the tapes for three months. It will then hand them over to the IAEA if it is granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the recordings, narrowing the window for a diplomatic breakthrough.

Malley's remarks came as parties to the 2015 deal - including the U.S. and Iran, as well as British, French, and German representatives - gathered in the Austrian capital for a multi-day round of talks, with the latter delegations facilitating indirect talks between the Americans and Iranians.

"And, you know, we have concerns about Iran's ballistic missile program", he added.

Though not taking part in the JCPOA talks, a USA delegation headed by the administration's special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley was also in the Austrian capital. "We don't anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough", State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday - before calling the indirect talks a "healthy step forward".

While Tehran has repeatedly rebuffed "direct and indirect negotiations" with its old foe, Washington said on Monday it expected the discussions to be hard. We've seen the result of the maximum pressure campaign.

But Press TV, an Iranian state media outlet, reported that Malley and the US delegation will "leave Vienna empty-handed if the Tuesday meeting would result in anything other than the removal of all USA sanctions", citing an "an informed source close to the Iranian negotiating team".

It has refused to meet United States negotiators at the latest talks, meaning European players will act as intermediaries. "We do what is necessary to move forward", she told reporters at a press briefing in Brussels.

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