The third round of EU-brokered talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is set to reconvene on Thursday in Vienna for discussions on a route to bring the US and Iran back into compliance.
A deadline for achieving a roadmap has been set for mid-May as Iran's agreement with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitors to inspect its nuclear facilities expires at the end of the month and Iran's presidential election takes place on June 18th.
Whatever the outcome of the election, further negotiations would wait until a new government is formed.
Under the deal signed in 2015, Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear activities in return for an easing of Western sanctions.
Delegates from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran, the deal's remaining signatories, will formulate proposals for transmission to the team from the US, which withdrew in 2018 and imposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to renege on its commitments.
‘Unity of purpose’
Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said the discussions so far had shown participants were "guided by the unity of purpose which is full restoration of the nuclear deal in its original form". This was in preference to a wider deal, initially demanded by Washington.
Agreement must be reached on sequencing US re-entry with sanctions relief and Iran’s return to the terms of the deal.
As last week's talks ended, Europe and the US reported serious differences persist, although progress has been made.
Iran can return to compliance by halting uranium enrichment above 3.67 per cent purity, disposing of excess enriched uranium, storing advanced equipment and allowing IAEA inspectors to resume work at certain sites.
Sanctions remain contentious. Tehran argues the US must lift all measures imposed by former president Donald Trump, while the Biden administration is prepared to end sanctions that pertain to the nuclear deal but not to Iran's ballistic missile programme, intervention in Arab affairs,and human rights abuses.
As the third round of talks began, there were two new developments, the first possibly negative, the second potentially positive.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif stated in a leaked interview that Russia was determined to block the US return to the deal to maintain the US focus on Tehran rather than on Moscow's activities. So far, however, Russia has played a positive role in the talks. Mr Ulyanov and his Chinese counterpart Wang Qun have pressed the sides to "expedite" the process of reaching an agreement.
In the second development, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the kingdom sought good relations with Iran following Iraqi-mediated talks between Riyadh and Tehran. "We do not want Iran's situation to be difficult. On the contrary, we want it to prosper and grow," he said.
Riyadh has long adopted a hardline stance towards Tehran and urged Washington not to revert to the nuclear deal until Iran’s regional and armament activities are curbed.