The US has suddenly pulled out of talks aimed at returning to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran and six other nations, claiming Tehran isn’t “serious” about the negotiations.
“We’ve had this first round of talks since the new [Iranian] government, and what we’ve seen in the last couple of days is that Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday, adding the US would be “consulting very closely and carefully” with partners to the 2015 nuclear deal, including Russia, China, and the European Union, as well as “concerned countries” like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states.
The top US diplomat did not elaborate on why he believed Iran wasn’t serious about the talks, since Washington had signaled for months that it was eager to get back to the negotiating table and believed a deal could be reached, although US State Department spokesperson Ned Price did say in October that Washington was not “optimistic, not pessimistic,” but simply “clear-eyed” about a new round of talks.
“The first six rounds of negotiations made progress, finding creative compromise solutions to many of the hardest issues that were difficult for all sides. Iran’s approach this week was not, unfortunately, to try to resolve the remaining issues,” a State Department spokesperson said in a separate statement. The final meeting of the JCPOA commission took place in Vienna earlier on Friday.
“The new Iranian administration did not come to Vienna with constructive proposals,” the official added.
Mohammad Marandi, an adviser to Iran’s Vienna delegation, told CNN on Thursday that “the only side that from the very beginning was sitting at the table and stayed at the table was Iran.”
“If there is a lack of optimism, it is because of the actions of the United States. The current administration in Washington, the president of the United States, was critical of Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, yet when he came to power, he continued with that policy and continues with that policy today,” Marandi said of Biden.
“The United States is in clear violation of the agreement and in violation of a UN Security Council resolution, whereas the Iranians were fully implementing the nuclear deal; even after the United States left the deal the Iranians continued to abide by the deal – in full – for a full year, even though the Europeans effectively left the deal,” Marandi added. “Then, after a year, the Iranians gradually decreased their commitments and then stopped their commitments – and even that was in accordance with the deal, because Articles 26 and 36 allow Iran to stop implementing the deal when the other side is not abiding by their side of the bargain.”
Next Monday’s meeting would have been the seventh round of the negotiations, but the first since Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took office in August. A conservative and critic of the prior Rouhani administration’s approach to the talks, Raisi’s new administration conducted a thorough review of the negotiations thus far to figure out why they hadn’t yet yielded results.
The 2015 deal, signed between the US, UK, France, Germany, European Union, Russia, China, and Iran, lowered economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for them accepting strict limitations on the purity of uranium-235 they could produce and the quantity they could retain – just enough to run a handful of small electrical plants and conduct medical research. The deal was intended to assuage fears that Iran might develop a nuclear weapon, which Israelis feared might be used against them due to Tehran’s longstanding hostility to the Zionist State.
However, in 2018, then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal, claiming without evidence that Iran had been secretly violating its precepts. Trump reimposed US sanctions, and although the other JCPOA partners weren’t convinced by his administration’s claims, they nonetheless abided by US sanctions. As a consequence, Tehran began reducing its own commitments to the deal, increasing the quality and quantity of uranium it refined.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Israel had presented the US with intelligence proving Tehran was preparing to refine uranium to 90% purity of U-235 – a sufficient purity to produce a nuclear weapon. The Iranians haven’t commented on the report, but have previously admitted to producing U-235 at 60% purity. They have indicated they are prepared to return to the confines of the deal as soon as a path toward revival is reached.
Israel, which never had faith in the JCPOA, has repeatedly threatened to carry out its own strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities if the US fails to revive the deal. In October, Jerusalem approved a special $1.5 billion budget for drawing up attack plans against Iran, and its Mossad intelligence agency has undertaken a number of espionage operations against Iran’s nuclear program as well. Those have included the brazen daytime assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, one of Iran’s seniormost nuclear scientists, on a highway outside Tehran in November 2020 and a series of sabotage operations against the fuel enrichment facility at Natanz and the research facility at Karaj.