As the US State Department expressed caution on Tuesday on the progress of nuclear talks in Vienna, Iranian officials and media said a deal could be close.
“At a minimum, any progress … falls short of Iran’s accelerated nuclear measures and is far too slow,” spokesman Ned Price said. during a press briefing Tuesday. “This cannot continue or it will soon be too late to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA.”
Responding to remarks by Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s chief negotiator in the Vienna talks, detecting “indisputable progress”, Price told reporters, the United States did not see “sufficient urgency” from Iran: “The last two rounds [of the Vienna talks] also began with new nuclear provocations and were then characterized, in some cases, by vague, unrealistic and unconstructive positions on the part of Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian meanwhile said the talks were moving “in the right direction” with a “conceivable” agreement, given good will and seriousness, on restoring 2015 nuclear agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Wang Qun, China’s chief negotiator in Vienna, shared the Iranian and Russian assessment. Wan told Chinese state television (CCTV) on Tuesday that continued talks between Christmas and New Year reflected a sense of urgency that had translated into “positive results”.
In an interview with Foreign Policy magazinepublished on Wednesday, Ulyanov said that China and Russia had (in the words of the magazine) “persuaded Iran to abandon some of its maximalist positions, including its insistence that the talks focus only on sanctions, and no on the nuclear issue”.
Foreign Policy added that Ulianov said Iran had (again, in the magazine’s words) “agreed to start negotiations based on a draft drawn up by the previous Iranian government.” [of President Hassan Rouhani] last spring. Iran’s new negotiating team, appointed by President Ebrahim Raisi after he took office in August, said the talks in Vienna were based on written proposals they submitted in early December.
Ulyanov played down repeated warnings from the United States, Europeans and Israelis about Iran stockpiling enough enriched uranium for a bomb. “Even if they produce a significant amount of nuclear material, so what?” he asked for foreign policy. “It can’t be used without a warhead, and the Iranians don’t have warheads.”
Over the past three weeks, Iran’s extremist media, former critics of the Rouhani administration, cast a positive spin on the outlook in Vienna, while media generally supportive of Rouhani and the JCPOA have been cautious or pessimistic.
Javanese newspaper, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, argued that the talks have swung in favor of Iran since the new team went to Vienna. On Wednesday, Javan carried the headline “Possibility of agreement before February”.
“Vienna is ready to finalize a common compromise on a failed agreement [JCPOA]”, wrote Javan, adding that at least two of the negotiators of the 4 + 1 group – France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany – expressed optimism about the possibility and the conclusion of an agreement.”And Tehran also maintains a similar outlook.”