By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI, June 20 (Reuters) – Negotiators for Iran and six world powers will on Sunday adjourn talks on reviving their 2015 nuclear deal and return to respective capitals for consultations as remaining differences cannot be easily overcome, Tehran’s delegation chief said.
“We are now closer than ever to an agreement but the distance that exists between us and an agreement remains and bridging it is not an easy job,” Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state TV from Vienna. “We will return to Tehran tonight.”
It was unclear when formal negotiations would resume.
A hardliner, Ebrahim Raisi, won Iran’s presidential election on Friday and will take office in early August, replacing pragmatist Hassan Rouhani. But this is unlikely to disrupt Iran’s effort under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all major policy, to restore the nuclear pact and be rid of tough U.S. oil and financial sanctions.
Negotiations have been going on in Vienna since April to work out the nature and sequencing of steps Iran and the United States must take on nuclear activities and sanctions to return to full compliance with the nuclear pact.
Washington under then-President Donald Trump bolted from the deal in 2018, branding it too flawed to remove the risk of Iran developing nuclear weapons capability, and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Iran has since breached the deal’s strict limits on uranium enrichment though it has said its moves would be reversed if the United States rescinded all sanctions.
“Bridging the gaps requires decisions that mainly the other party (Washington) has to take. I hope in the next round we will travel this short distance albeit a difficult one,” Araqchi said.
ISRAEL: DON’T NEGOTIATE WITH ‘BRUTAL’ NEW GOVERNMENT
The Islamic Republic’s arch-enemy, Israel, on Sunday condemned Raisi’s election and said it would be a “regime of brutal hangmen” with which world powers should not negotiate a new nuclear accord.
“(His) election is, I would say, the last chance for world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement, and understand who they are doing business with,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.
Raisi has never publicly addressed allegations around his role in what the United States and human rights groups have called the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Bennett, a nationalist atop a cross-partisan coalition, has hewed to the opposition of conservative predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu to the nuclear deal, whose caps on projects with atomic bomb-making potential Israel deemed too lax.
Raisi, like Khamenei, has supported the nuclear talks as a route to cancelling U.S. sanctions that have laid waste to the Islamic Republic’s oil-based economy and dramatically worsened economic hardships, stirring widespread discontent.
The new government will hope to claim credit for any economic benefits arising from the revival of the accord, something the outgoing administration might clinch before Raisi takes office.
“If the deal is finalised when Rouhani is (still) president, Raisi cannot be criticised by hardline supporters for giving concessions to the West,” a government official who is close to the talks told Reuters. “Also Rouhani, not Raisi, will be blamed for any future problems regarding the deal.”
Several Iranian officials told Reuters that Iran’s negotiating team would remain intact at least for a few months under Raisi’s presidency.
“Who Raisi picks as his foreign minister will reveal the new government’s foreign policy approach,” said another official. “But the establishment’s nuclear policy is not decided by the government” but by Khamenei.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)