(Bloomberg) — The rift between Iran and the US has widened since the latest round of nuclear talks in Vienna, European Union diplomats said as the latest negotiations got underway.
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According to two EU officials familiar with talks resumed in the Austrian capital on Thursday, at least two new nuclear-related issues have surfaced in recent months, extending the list of hurdles to six or seven. They asked not to be identified when discussing private deliberations.
While the remaining hurdles could technically be cleared within 72 hours, that would require high-level political decisions in both Tehran and Washington, capitals where the appetite for compromise seems quenched, the diplomats said.
The bleak outlook suggests limited prospects for a deal that could alleviate the global energy crisis. The original 2015 agreement was intended to limit the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear activities and boost its economy, and any upturn would likely allow for more energy production and exports by Iran, which has the world’s No. 2 natural gas and No. has 4 oil reserves.
The EU is in its 15th month of mediation talks between US special envoy Robert Malley and his Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri Kani. Tehran has refused to engage in direct talks since the Trump administration tore the deal and re-imposed sanctions four years ago.
Iran responded by ramping up its nuclear activities and limiting international oversight. It has amassed enough enriched uranium to manufacture multiple weapons if the nation’s leaders choose to militarize its nuclear work. While Iran has always said its program is completely peaceful, world powers have pursued the 2015 agreement to verify the claim.
The EU diplomats said Iran’s growing stock of uranium enriched to 60% purity – a level that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors say is practically indistinguishable from bomb-grade – has added complications. Tehran’s insistence that the IAEA resolve its investigation into decades-old nuclear activities has also emerged as a key issue.
European diplomats still said there were enough sparks to justify reconvening the talks. Iran has yielded to previous demands that the US lift sanctions against its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as its insistence that the US guarantee it will not break the deal again.
Instead, the officials said the parties have made progress on specific reparations that would guarantee Iran economic returns even if a new US administration or Congressional decision were to again quash the deal.
“The scope for additional key compromises has been exhausted,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell wrote in the TSWT last week. “I have now tabled a text that goes into detail on the lifting of sanctions and the necessary nuclear steps.”
According to the diplomats, politics can prevent both parties from adopting the EU proposals. Iran knows that giving up its nuclear gains means sacrificing bargaining power built up over the years. In the US — where both sides have strong opposition to the nuclear pact — a deal with Iran could prove difficult for President Joe Biden, whose Democrats already risk losing control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.
Even if current talks fail again, EU officials say the deal with Iran is unlikely to be officially declared dead. That’s in no one’s best interest, they said, suggesting that a longer period of time in limbo may be the most likely outcome.
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