Iran nuclear talks fail at Munich Security Conference – POLITICO
VIENNA — The Munich Security Conference, the exclusive annual gathering of powerful policymakers, may add one more event to its agenda this weekend: the Iran nuclear talks.
As officials signal a deal could be close, European nuclear negotiators are expected to travel to Munich this weekend to continue talks at the conference on reviving the Iran nuclear deal, which has limited Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in return for broad sanctions relief. Also attending will be Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and senior US officials such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Meanwhile, other delegations will remain in Vienna, where talks have been going on for months. There, diplomats will continue formal talks, unwilling to risk any interruptions as negotiators reach the precipice of a potential deal.
Enrique Mora, the senior EU official tasked with coordinating and overseeing the talks, will continue to work on what officials hope will be the final text of a deal. He will be joined in Vienna by Iran’s chief negotiator, senior Russian and Chinese negotiators, as well as US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley, according to a senior Western official with direct knowledge of the matter.
Growing fears around a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine hang over an ongoing deal. So far, however, tensions have not spilled over into the nuclear talks, the senior official said – Malley and his Russian counterpart have met regularly in a professional atmosphere. Whether that tone persists if Moscow launches an assault is another matter, increasing the pressure on negotiators to strike a deal quickly.
A second senior Western official said it would be “dangerous” to break off talks now, given that officials are “closer to a deal”. The official put the odds of reaching an agreement at 30%.
With Russian diplomats not attending the Munich conference this year, many observers will be keeping tabs on how the Iranian and US delegations manage to avoid each other in the narrow and often crowded hallways of the Bayerischer Hof, the five-star hotel stars hosting the event. .
Iran has so far flatly refused face-to-face meetings with the United States during the talks, forcing EU diplomats in Vienna to shuttle diplomacy between the two delegations. But the United States on Thursday played down the possibility of a meeting between Blinken and Amirabdollahian, his Iranian counterpart, in Munich.
The Munich conference comes shortly after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers that a renewed deal with Iran was just days away.
“We have reached a tipping point now. It’s not a matter of weeks; it’s a matter of days,” he said. “Political decisions are needed from the Iranians. Either they trigger a serious crisis in the next few days, or they accept the agreement which respects the interests of all parties.
Iran does not dispute that the talks have reached a final stage. The country’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani noted this week that “we are closer than ever to an agreement; nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, however.
US, European and Russian negotiators have all warned in recent months that Iran is only weeks away from having enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon. Accordingly, they say time is running out for a successful conclusion of the talks.
Yet in Vienna, the atmosphere outside Palais Coburg, the site of the Vienna talks, is eerily calm, with no signs that the talks could be heading towards a decision point.
Inside the luxury hotel, however, it is more evident that 10 months of on-and-off negotiations are beginning to weigh on the delegates. A person familiar with the situation said negotiators can be spotted trying to relieve stress and fatigue with an infusion of cake, or slipping away to smoke on the small balcony overlooking the interior courtyard of the hotel. ‘hotel.
Negotiators in Vienna say a draft deal is on the table, but they also warn that a number of difficult issues remain unresolved, including Iran’s demand for legal guarantees that the United States United will not abandon the agreement in the future.
Former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018, leaving the deal on life support. And while the Biden administration has pledged to meet its obligations under the deal, it has said it cannot give guarantees to future administrations.
Iran has appealed to the US Congress, calling on it to provide a “political statement” in support of a revived Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, as the accord is officially known.
The original JCPOA was not a treaty and therefore was not automatically subject to Congressional approval. But, amid bipartisan frustration over how the deal was going, Congress passed legislation giving it a say in future nuclear deals with Iran. Some lawmakers now argue that even a deal back to the JCPOA should require a vote from Congress — a position the Biden administration rejects.
If Congress had a say in it, it’s unlikely to approve the deal, even symbolically, given strong Republican opposition to a deal — let alone some opponents within Biden’s Democratic Party.
Still, some details of a draft roadmap for a mutual return to the original 2015 agreement are beginning to emerge.
The second senior Western official said the United States could take the first step, potentially releasing the first part of about $100 billion in Iranian funds frozen in foreign bank accounts – as first reported Reuters – or through another partial sanctions relief. Iran would then begin preparations to ship uranium from Iran to Russia, reduce enrichment levels and begin dismantling some nuclear centrifuges.
Recent talks between Iran and South Korea to discuss the release of around $7 billion in Iranian funds are a sign that preparations are underway for this step.
But the sequencing could also be designed so that the two countries can say they are moving in parallel – a process that unfolded in 2015, when the original agreement was struck.
The original JCPOA included the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – plus Germany. The European Union played the role of mediator and coordinator of the talks.
Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful and that it has no intention of producing an atomic bomb.
Nahal Toosi contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.