Ending the impasse, the European Union has begun talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The EU chair on Monday said that it felt ‘extremely positive' while admitting that ‘difficult issues' have yet to be tackled. The talks in Vienna are the first since Iran paused them in June after the election of ultraconservative new President Ebrahim Raisi. Diplomats at the time had said they were “close” to an agreement.
Iran earlier ignored appeals from Western countries to restart the talks for several months, all the while strengthening the capabilities of its nuclear programme. In August, Raisi said Iran was again open to talks.
Monday's meeting started just after 3 pm in the Palais Coburg hotel where the 2015 agreement — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — was clinched, and lasted a little more than two hours. Along with Iran, diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia were present during the occasion.
Enrique Mora, the EU official chairing the talks, said there was “a sense of urgency in bringing the JCPOA back to life” and added that he felt “extremely positive.” However, he admitted that “there are still difficult issues ahead.”
Meanwhile, the United States is taking part in the talks indirectly and has said that Iran's recent actions do not “augur well” for the prospects of reviving the deal. Iran's foreign ministry said in a statement that Monday's meeting had taken place in a “professional and serious atmosphere”.
The head of Iran's delegation Ali Bagheri had “underlined the necessity to make sanctions lifting an absolute priority for the talks”, it said.
Earlier the JCPOA offered a lifting of some of the array of economic sanctions Iran had been under in return for strict curbs on its nuclear programme. But the deal started to unravel in 2018 when then-US President Donald Trump pulled out and began reinstating sanctions on Iran.
Ordinary Iranians are hoping the talks may lead to some of those crippling sanctions being lifted. The year after Trump's move, Iran retaliated by starting to exceed the limits on its nuclear activity laid down in the deal.
In recent months, Iran has started enriching uranium to unprecedented levels and has also restricted the activities of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN watchdog charged with monitoring Iran's nuclear facilities.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said, “no progress” was made on issues he raised during a visit to Tehran last week. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has, however, urged the country's allies “to not give in to Iran's nuclear blackmail,” adding: “Such a murderous regime should not be rewarded.”