Iran nuclear talks in Vienna begin smoothly

Diplomats of the EU, China, Russia, and Iran at the start of talks at the Grand Hotel in Vienna, April 6, 2021. (Photos: AFP)
Diplomats of the EU, China, Russia, and Iran at the start of talks at the Grand Hotel in Vienna, April 6, 2021. (Photos: AFP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The first day of negotiations, on Tuesday, on restoring the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, passed smoothly, with no reports of major problems.

The meeting in Vienna on the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), went according to the plans of its host, the European Union (EU).

Indirect negotiations were held between the US and Iran, with Iran meeting with the other signatories to the JCPOA (Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia) in one hotel and the US delegation stationed in another, with representatives of the other signatories passing messages between Iran and the US.

Direct talks had been ongoing for some time, as US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan revealed last month. But Tuesday’s discussions marked the first time that such talks were conducted at least semi-publicly.

Read More: US: We’re talking with Iran through third parties

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price praised the new format on Tuesday, saying, “The utility of this setting in Vienna is that there can be real-time interaction, albeit indirect, between the United States and, in turn, the Iranians with those messages ferried back and forth by our allies and partners.”

Price also made clear that such a format was the preference of the Iranians, rather than the US. They “want to do this indirectly,” and “we are comfortable with that.”

He described Tuesday’s discussions as “a welcome” and “constructive step.” Price’s language was similar to that used by the chair of the meeting, European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora, who also described the talks as “constructive.”

Similarly, Iran’s representative, Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Aragchi, speaking on Iranian television, likewise described the talks as “constructive.”

The US and Iran both accepted the EU proposal to form two working groups. One is focused on what Iran has to do to return to compliance with the JCPOA, and the other focuses on what the US has to do.

Iran, nonetheless, maintains that the US must first lift sanctions, before it will take any action—a position that the US has categorically rejected (as one might expect.)

The talks are continuing on Wednesday and seem to have no fixed schedule. Pressed to explain how long this round of discussions would last, Price declined to give any specific end date.

Price also affirmed that Washington continued to see the restoration of the original JCPOA as a “baseline,” after which the US would push for agreements on Iran’s “malign activity” in three areas: Iran’s ballistic missiles; its support for terrorism; and its support for regional proxies.

However, it remains unclear how those objectives can be attained, once the US returns to the JCPOA and lifts sanctions.

Israel Strikes Iranian Military Ship

Israel and Iran have been involved for two years in what The New York Times described as “shadowy naval skirmishing.” Last month, an Israeli cargo ship was attacked by mines in the Gulf of Oman, and Israel attributed the attack to Iran.

On Tuesday, an Iranian military vessel in the Red Sea, the Saviz, was damaged by a mine, and the Israelis then informed the US of their action, the Times reported.

The Saviz was earlier described by the US Naval institute as “a covert military ship,” run by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, it said.

Israel is strongly opposed to a restoration of the JCPOA, which it regards as a gravely flawed agreement, which will not stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb. The timing of the strike—on the same day that the talks in Vienna began—is open to the interpretation that it was a subtle way of expressing Israel’s continuing opposition to the Iranian nuclear accord, along with an affirmation of its view that Iran remains a serious threat.

Editing by John J. Catherine