Turning the heat on the US diplomacy, the Iranian foreign minister has blamed a weeks-long impasse in talks that have held up a return to the 2015 deal that sought to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
According to Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, the country's negotiators would not return to Vienna, the site of the year-long talks to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), until Washington settles outstanding issues.
“We will not be going to Vienna for new negotiations but to finalize the nuclear agreement,” Khatibzadeh said. “If Washington answers the outstanding questions, we can go to Vienna as soon as possible,” he said, without explaining the specific questions that remained.
“At the moment, we do not yet have a definitive answer from Washington,” he said. But in Washington, Khatibzadeh's State Department counterpart Ned Price pushed back, suggesting it was Tehran that was not giving way to make a deal possible. And Price warned that time was running out, as Iran gets closer and closer to the nuclear ‘breakout' point when it has achieved the capacity to construct a nuclear weapon.
“Anyone involved in the talks knows precisely who has made constructive proposals, who has introduced demands that are unrelated to the JCPOA, and how we reached this current moment,” Price said.
“We still believe there is an opportunity to overcome our remaining differences,” Price said. He said Iran's continuing nuclear development has put it within ‘weeks' of a breakout, which would nullify the benefits of a new agreement.
“Iran has been able to shrink that breakout time from where it started to a point where we can measure it in weeks rather than months. To us that is unacceptable as a long-term proposition,” Price said.
Tehran has been engaged in long-running negotiations in the Austrian capital to revive the JCPOA, with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia directly, and the United States indirectly. The JCPOA gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to guarantee that Tehran could not develop or acquire an atomic bomb -something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, who reimposed biting economic sanctions that prompted Iran to begin rolling back its own commitments.
Last year, newly elected President Joe Biden pledged to revive the JCPOA, blaming Trump for allowing Iran to drop its commitments to the agreement. In the past month, the negotiations -in which the United States communicated with Iran indirectly through other participants and the European Union -have brought the parties close to an agreement. But the talks halted last month.