Talks between Iran and US on Tehran’s nuclear programme end without breakthrough

Both sides blame the other for a lack of political will to finalise a draft text tabled in March during negotiations in Vienna

EU-mediated talks between Iran and the US in Qatar have ended without achieving a breakthrough in deadlocked negotiations over reviving the moribund 2015 agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions.

After consultations with both sides, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell launched this week’s fruitless talks in Doha. Despite the setback, EU go-between Enrique Mora, declared: “We will keep working with even greater urgency to bring back on track a key deal for non-proliferation and regional stability.”

Each side blamed the other for lack of political will to finalise the draft text tabled in March during negotiations in Vienna. A US state department spokesman said Iran did not “respond positively to the EU’s initiative” and raised issues “wholly unrelated” to the nuclear deal. Iran continues to demand US revocation of its terrorist designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Revolutionary Guard Tasnim news agency quoted unidentified Iranian sources as saying the US insists on a proposed text “that excludes any guarantees for Iran’s economic benefit”.

Iran seeks verification of sanctions removal and assurances that a post-Biden administration would not follow the example of ex-president Donald Trump who abandoned the deal in 2018 and imposed 1,500 sanctions on Iran. Tehran responded a year later by gradually breaching limits on uranium enrichment and reducing UN monitoring of its nuclear activities but has pledged to return to full compliance once the US re-enters the deal and lifts sanctions.

Both sides appear determined to continue talking. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said that Mr Mora and Iran’s negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani “will remain in touch regarding the continuation of talks and the next stage”.

Ahead of the Doha round, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said: “We think a mutual return to the [deal] is in the interests of the US and our partners. And there is a deal available on the table to Iran, and it’s up to Iran to decide whether or not it wants to take it.”

While Tehran is unlikely to drop its demand for guarantees, US president Joe Biden faces opposition to recommit from anti-Iran legislators and lobbyists. Iran complains he continues to pile on sanctions. US experts have expressed concern that he could wait until after November’s mid-term congressional elections to return to the deal, by which time it could expire.

Iran, the EU and US are under pressure to revive the deal. Iran has sustained widespread protests over low salaries and rising prices in recent months and seeks oil revenues and sanctions relief to rebuild its economy. Confident that negotiations will resume, the Iranian team’s adviser Mohammed Mirandi told Al-Mayadeen website that the EU and US face “an energy crisis” caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine and “need” Iranian oil.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times