The United States will meet in Vienna next week with representatives of the nations that signed the Iran nuclear accord to try and work out an agreement that would bring the U.S. back into the deal and Iran back into compliance.
Representatives from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and the European Union will attend.
The United States says it will not lift sanctions on Iran until they return to compliance with the limits on their nuclear program. Iran says it won’t even talk about the subject until the U.S. lifts sanctions.
It’s unclear if there will be any direct discussions between the two sides next week, but negotiators and technical experts will also be present in case there are.
The Vienna meeting will aim at drawing up two separate agreements, one with the U.S. and with Iran, on steps they will take to return to the agreement and timetables for returning. After senior officials from the various countries launch the discussions, they will leave nuclear and sanctions experts to hammer out the details of the work.
The Biden administration is sending a team of experts to Vienna, though the State Department hasn’t said if Rob Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, will attend.
“This is a first step,” Mr. Malley said Friday on Twitter. “Difficult discussions ahead but on the right path.”
“There are really significant technical and really significant political constraints on both sides,” said Henry Rome, senior Iran analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington. “I think ultimately there is enough interest on both sides for making this happen, but we shouldn’t underestimate the challenge of getting to yes.”
Even getting to “Have a seat, let’s talk” will be hard. Biden has indicated that the U.S. may be willing to lift some sanctions as a sign of “good faith.” But Iran has stated flatly that the U.S. must lift all sanctions before they will even sit down to discuss re-entering the deal.
“They messaged us that maybe the best thing would be for each side to make an initial gesture that would pave the way to those talks,” a senior U.S. official said, referring to communications passed through intermediaries. “They wanted some sanctions relief and in return they would reverse some nuclear steps they had taken in contravention of the JCPOA. It was their idea, and we went along.”
Iran has a long way to go in order to reverse the nuclear steps they’ve taken since the U.S. left the deal in 2018. They are enriching uranium up to 20 percent which puts them just weeks away from 90 percent enrichment which is necessary to achieve a nuclear detonation. They have installed modern, ultra-efficient centrifuges that were banned by the agreement. They have begun to refuse snap inspections by the IAEA. And they’re apparently still hiding some of their nuclear program from the world.
Biden’s eagerness to get the U.S. back into the Iran nuclear deal is extremely worrying. The president is responding to pressure from Iran doves on the left who believe Iran’s hegemonic behavior and support for terrorism can be tempered through negotiations and dialogue. Nor are the doves convinced Iran even wants a nuclear weapon.
This kind of delusional thinking is likely to undermine efforts to rein in Iranian ambitions and prevent a full-scale war in the region between Iran and Israel.