Iran’s outgoing foreign minister said there was a “good possibility” for a deal in the Vienna talks before the end of the current administration’s tenure.
Iranian outgoing Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has expressed optimism about ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at saving his country’s nuclear deal with world powers, suggesting a deal may be possible even before the newly elected president. Ebrahim Raisi will take office in August.
“There is a good possibility that we will reach an agreement before the end of our mandate,” Zarif told Al Jazeera’s Semi Zeidan during a session of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum on Saturday, the same day as Raisi, a conservative, was declared on winner of the Iranian presidential election.
The 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
However, former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions against the Iranian economy as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. In response, Iran withdrew from key nuclear commitments, leaving the JCPOA hanging by a tightrope.
Since April, Iran and the other signatories – Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – have been trying to find common ground to keep the deal alive.
“Talks are continuing as we speak,” Zarif said in Antalya, Turkey. “The text is getting sharper and sharper. The brackets are being removed, ”he added with a smile, without giving further details.
Zarif’s optimistic tone contrasted somewhat with the caution expressed on Friday by Russian envoy to the Vienna talks, Mikhail Ulyanov.
“Some difficult and time-consuming issues are still unresolved,” Ulyanov said, noting that progress has been made in recent days.
France’s foreign ministry also said on Wednesday that there were still significant disagreements.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated the United States’ view on Thursday that the Vienna talks had progressed since their start in April, but that challenges remained, saying that he could not set a “deadline” for the end of the current cycle.
Hopes of saving the JCPOA rose after Joe Biden was elevated to the White House in January. The US president wants to resurrect the deal and even extend its terms, and several rounds of indirect US-Iran negotiations have taken place.
The talks are not straightforward as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings, but the United States has had discussions with many participants.
“Most of our problems are cognitive,” Zarif said at the forum. “The problem is, the United States has to recognize that it was they who left the agreement with a goal, and that goal was not met.
“Now he’s coming back to the deal, so he can’t dictate the goals he couldn’t achieve through economic warfare on the negotiating table. I think it’s a cognitive transformation that the US administration needs to make. And I think we’re getting there, but not yet. “
Commenting on Friday’s elections in Iran, Zarif said the electoral procedures that brought Raisi to the presidency must be respected.
“From now on, each of us will have to work in a certain way, whether we disagree with him or agree with him, like his politics or dislike his politics, he is now elected by the people, ”he said. .
Raisi, although he sided with hard-line supporters who fiercely opposed the nuclear deal, campaigned on the promise of sanctions relief and said he would honor any pledges by the state taken over by the previous administration, including the JCPOA.
He said, however, that he planned to form a “strong” government to steer the deal in the right direction.