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Diplomats: Iran Nuclear Talks Make Progress In Vienna
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Diplomats: Iran Nuclear Talks Make Progress In Vienna


VIENNA (AP) — Top diplomats said Sunday that more progress had been made in talks between Iran and world powers to try to restore a landmark 2015 agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that had been abandoned by the Trump administration, and that it was now up to the governments involved in the negotiations to make political decisions.

It was the first official meeting since Iran's hard-line judiciary chief was elected president by a landslide last week.

Some diplomats are concerned that Iran's election of Ebrahim Raisi as president may complicate a possible return to the nuclear agreement.

Enrique Mora, the European Union official who presided over the final meeting of the sixth round of talks between Russia, China, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Iran, told reporters that “we are closer to a deal, but we are not there yet.”

“We have made progress on a number of technical issues,” Mora continued, “and we now have more clarity on technical documents — all of which are quite complex — and that clarity allows us to have a good idea of what the political issues are.”

He didn't say anything else.

The members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “took stock of the significant progress made at the Vienna talks, including at the sixth round, and decided to take a break to allow participants to consult with their capitals in preparation for what is supposed to be the final round of negotiations,” according to top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov.

“There are a few contentious issues that necessitate political decisions, and it appears that diplomatic efforts to find common ground have nearly been exhausted, so the time has come for political decisions,” Ulyanov added.

The nations involved in the negotiations have been attempting to resolve the major outstanding issues on how to re-enter the United States into the landmark agreement, which then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally exited in 2018. Trump has also restored and augmented sanctions in an attempt to force Iran to re-enter the pact with more concessions.

Ulyanov stated that after returning to their respective governments to report on the results of the talks, the diplomats would return to Vienna for the final round of talks in about 10 days, with negotiations expected to be completed by mid-July.

“I believe we have every chance of reaching an agreement by mid-July, unless something extraordinary and negative happens,” he said.

The E3 European senior diplomats urged quick decision-making in the capitals involved in the talks in a written statement issued following the talks on Sunday.

“Delegations will now travel to capitals to consult with their leadership,” the diplomats wrote without naming themselves. “We urge all sides to return to Vienna and be ready to conclude a deal; the time for decision is rapidly approaching.”

According to the semi-official Iranian news agency Mehr, Iran's deputy foreign minister for political affairs stated on the eve of the meeting, "we believe almost all of the agreement documents are ready."

“Of the major issues that remain disputed, some have been resolved and some remain, but it has taken on a very precise form and it is quite clear what the dimensions of these disputes are,” Seyyed Abbas Araghchi explained.

The United States did not send a representative to Vienna, but President Joe Biden's administration has indicated a willingness to rejoin the Iran deal under terms that would broadly see the United States scale back sanctions and Iran return to its 2015 nuclear commitments.

The meeting on Sunday was overshadowed by the election of Raisi in Iran, which puts hardliners firmly in control of the government at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high between Iran and both the United States and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well.

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Raisi is the first Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government even before taking office, for his role in the 1988 mass executions, as well as his time as the head of Iran's internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world's top executioners.

In Jerusalem, new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned on Sunday that Raisi's election as Iranian president was "the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear deal and understanding who they're doing business with."

“These are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction capable of killing not thousands, but millions,” he said.

Israel has long stated its opposition to arch-enemy Iran's nuclear program and stated that it would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, despite Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Josep Borrell, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said on Sunday that he hoped the election of Iran's new president would not prevent a deal in Vienna from being reached.

“We are very close; we have been working for two months,” Borrell told reporters during a visit to Beirut, Lebanon’s capital. “So I hope that the results of the elections will not be the last obstacle that will ruin the negotiation process.”

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Grieshaber reported from Berlin, while Amir Vahdat from Tehran, Iran, Ilan Ben Zion from Jerusalem, and Sarah El Deeb from Beirut contributed reporting.

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