Iran and the United States are displaying little flexibility on core issues in indirect nuclear talks, raising questions about whether a compromise can be found soon to renew the 2015 deal, diplomats say.
After eight rounds of talks, the thorniest points remain the speed and scope of lifting sanctions on Tehran — including Iran’s demand for a US guarantee of no further punitive steps — and how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work.
The nuclear deal limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for it to develop nuclear arms — an ambition Tehran denies — in return for lifting international sanctions.
Former US President Donald Trump ditched the pact in 2018, saying it did not do enough to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, ballistic missile program and regional influence, and reimposed sanctions that badly damaged Iran’s economy.
After waiting for a year, Iran responded to Trump’s pressure by gradually breaching the accord, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up output.
Following months of stop-start talks that began after Joe Biden replaced Trump in the White House, Western officials now say time is running out to resurrect the pact. But Iranian officials deny they are under time pressure, arguing the economy can survive thanks to oil sales to China.
A former Iranian official said Iran’s rulers “are certain that their uncompromising, maximalist approach will give results”.
France said on Tuesday that despite some progress at the end of December, Iran and world powers were still far away from reviving the deal.
The US State Department said on Jan. 4 the issues “at the heart of the negotiations” were sanctions relief and the nuclear steps that Iran would take to return the accord.
Iran insists on immediate removal of all Trump-era sanctions in a verifiable process. Washington has said it would remove curbs inconsistent with the 2015 pact if Iran resumed compliance with the deal, implying it would leave in place others such as those imposed under terrorism or human rights measures.