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Fraught Iran nuclear talks set to resume in Vienna

Talks aimed at rescuing the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting US sanctions resume in Vienna this week with both sides sticking to hard-line positions and little hope of a breakthrough.

Following last week’s unproductive seventh round of talks, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “the new Iranian administration did not come to Vienna with constructive proposals”.

Unnamed European diplomats from Britain, France and Germany accused Tehran of “walking back almost all of the difficult compromises crafted after many months of hard work” by demanding “major changes” to the text negotiated during six earlier rounds of talks. The process paused in June due to Iran’s presidential election.

The new Iranian government headed by hard-line president Ebrahim Raisi presented three separate papers. Iran’s deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told al-Jazeera that the first called for lifting all sanctions imposed following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 deal; the second defined Iran’s path to compliance; and the third specified verification of the removal of sanctions and guarantees that the US will not again abort the accord. He said these proposals show than Iran is “serious about reaching an agreement”.

The Biden administration has pledged to lift more than 1,000 sanctions connected to the deal but seeks to maintain hundreds over Iran’s infringement of human rights, interventions in the region and ballistic missile programme until these issues can be resolved through separate negotiations.

To step up pressure on Iran to make concessions, US secretary of state Antony Blinkin has said Washington would consider “other options” if negotiations fail.

Israeli attacks

Anonymous EU and US experts told NBC news these would include, on the diplomatic front, pursuing an interim agreement and pressing China to cease purchasing half a million barrels of oil daily from Iran; or, on the military front, sabotaging or bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities or backing Israeli attacks on Iran.

Iran has exerted counter-pressure on the US to recommit to the deal and end sanctions by exceeding limits set on uranium enrichment and stockpiles set by the 2015 accord and curtailing inspections by UN experts.

Having consistently rejected the deal, Israel has repeatedly warned of military action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons while the Biden administration has urged restraint by Israel, which has been blamed for striking at, and sabotaging, Iranian nuclear facilities.

Ex-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak wrote an article published by Ynet News saying Israel’s policy of opposition has “been nothing but a failure” and argued that ex-US president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal “provided an opportunity [for Iran] to boost its nuclear research”.

In his view, Iran seeks to have nuclear weapons, not to use them against the US, Israel or any other neighbouring nation [but] in order to ensure the future of the regime and its independence to act.

Iran contends its nuclear programme is for peaceful uses and not to build weapons.

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