World powers opened a fifth round of talks with Iran aimed at bringing the United States back into the landmark 2015 nuclear deal meant to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining an atomic bomb, with both sides expressing hope Tuesday that it might be the final series of negotiations.
The talks in Vienna came the day after the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, struck a last-minute agreement with Tehran for a one-month extension to a deal on surveillance cameras at Iran’s nuclear sites. The issue wasn’t directly related to the ongoing talks on the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, but if Iran had not agreed it could have seriously complicated the discussions.
The US is not directly involved in the talks, but an American delegation headed by President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, has been in the Austrian capital. Representatives from the other powers involved — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — have shuttled between the Americans and the Iranians to facilitate indirect talks.
Following a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the so-called Joint Commission, Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov, who has consistently been the most optimistic about the possibility of an agreement that would get the US to rejoin the nuclear deal, suggested a resolution was in sight, calling it “the fifth and probably final round of the Vienna talks.”
“The participants expressed readiness to do their best to resolve the remaining outstanding issues and to complete negotiations successfully as soon as possible,” he tweeted.
Iran’s delegate to the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, told Iranian state television as he headed into the session that following “good progress in the last four rounds of talks” he hoped the fifth would be the last.
“There are still important issues that need to be fixed,” he said. “We hope that we will be able to reach a final solution during these several days of negotiations.”
Malley was more non-committal as he headed back to Vienna, tweeting that the previous round had been “constructive and saw meaningful progress.” “But much work still needs to be done,” the US envoy wrote. “On our way to Vienna for a fifth round where we hope we can further advance toward a mutual return to compliance.” In 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement unilaterally, saying it was not broad enough and needed to be renegotiated. As part of a “maximum pressure” campaign, Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran in an effort to bring Tehran back to the table.