© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flies in front of the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, May 23, 2021. REUTERS / Leonhard Foeger / File Photo
By John Irish, François Murphy and Parisa Hafezi
PARIS (Reuters) – World powers and Iran return to Vienna on Monday for last-ditch rescue effort from a 2015 nuclear deal, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activity booms in an apparent attempt to gain influence against the West.
Diplomats say time is running out to resuscitate the pact, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying other world powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
Six rounds of indirect talks took place between April and June. The new round begins after an interruption triggered by the election of a new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, a die-hard cleric.
Tehran’s new negotiating team has made demands that US and EU diplomats deem unrealistic. They insist that all US and European sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear program, be dropped,
At the same time, Tehran’s conflicts with the UN atomic watchdog, which oversees the nuclear program, have escalated. Iran has continued its enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors were treated brutally and denied access to reinstall surveillance cameras at a site it deems essential to revive the deal with the powers global.
“They are doing it technically enough that they can change their fundamental relationship with the West so that they can have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Two European diplomats said it seemed like Iran was playing just to buy time to accumulate more equipment and know-how.
Western diplomats said they would head to Monday’s talks on the assumption that they would pick up where they left off in June. They warned that if Iran maintains its maximalist positions and does not restore cooperation with the IAEA, then they will have to quickly reconsider their options.
Iran’s main negotiator and the foreign minister both reiterated on Friday that the full lifting of sanctions would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position Iran continues to occupy on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one of the European diplomats.
Several diplomats have said Iran is now between four and six weeks before the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they have warned it still has about two years before they could turn it into a weapon.
If the talks fail, it is likely that the United States and its allies will first confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.
However, they will also want to try to keep Russia, which has political influence over Iran, and China, which offers Tehran economic respite through oil purchases, by their side as they initially seek diplomatic options. alternatives.
According to diplomats, a scenario suggested by Washington is to negotiate an interim agreement of indefinite duration with Tehran until a permanent agreement is reached. However, they say it would take time and there is no certainty that Iran has any appetite for it.
“Iran can calculate that its unconstrained nuclear advances and production of unsupervised centrifuges will put more pressure on the West to quickly give way to talks,” Eurasia analyst Henry Rome said. in a note.
“But it will likely have the opposite effect, signaling that the new Iranian team has no interest in solving the nuclear problem and speeding up the shift to a more coercive policy next year.” ”