By Parisa Hafezi, John Irish and Francois Murphy
VIENNA, Dec 17 (Reuters) – Negotiators at indirect talks between Iran and the United States have just weeks to reach an agreement on rescuing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, European powers and the talks’ coordinator said as negotiations adjourned on Friday for at least 10 days.
The talks have made little discernible progress since they resumed more than two weeks ago for the first time since Iran‘s hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June.
The negotiations are “not going well” in that the United States does not yet have a path back into the deal, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in Washington.
Tehran’s envoys have sought changes to the outline of an agreement that had taken shape in six previous rounds of talks, leaving the negotiations largely deadlocked while Western powers warn that time is running out to rein in Iran‘s fast-advancing nuclear activities.
“We don’t have months, we rather have weeks to have an agreement,” European Union envoy Enrique Mora told a news conference after a meeting that formally ended the seventh round of talks.
He said he hoped they would resume this year, while some officials have mentioned Dec. 27 as a tentative date.
Officials said Iran had requested the break, while Western powers had planned on staying until Tuesday.
Mora and other officials said Iranian demands had been incorporated into the existing text so as to have a common basis for negotiation, but three European powers that are parties to the 2015 deal sounded less optimistic.
“There has been some technical progress in the last 24 hours, but this only takes us back nearer to where the talks stood in June,” negotiators from France, Britain and Germany, the so-called E3, said in a statement, describing the break as “a disappointing pause in negotiations”.
END OF THE ROAD
The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Tehran in return for tough restrictions on Iran‘s nuclear activities aimed at extending the time Tehran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it chose to – so-called breakout time – to at least a year from roughly two to three months.
In 2018 then-President Donald Trump, who vehemently opposed the deal, pulled the United States out of the accord and re-imposed punishing U.S. sanctions against Tehran. Iran responded by breaching many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions and pressing ahead further with its atomic activities.
Most experts now say breakout time is less than it was before the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran says its atomic aims are entirely peaceful.
“We hope that Iran is in a position to resume the talks quickly, and to engage constructively so that talks can move at a faster pace,” the E3 negotiators said.
“There are weeks not months before the JCPOA’s core non-proliferation benefits are lost. We are rapidly reaching the end of the road for this negotiation.”
Speaking to a U.S. Council on Foreign Relations webinar, Sullivan said the negotiations have “proven more difficult over the course of this year than we would have liked to have seen” as Iran has “raced” its nuclear program forward.
Washington has conveyed through the Europeans and directly to Iran its “alarm” over the “forward progress” it has made, he continued, declining to elaborate on the details of those messages.
Iranian officials did not explain why they had requested a break other than to say there would be consultations in Tehran.
“If the other party accepts Iran‘s logical views, the next round of talks can be the last round,” Iran‘s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy and Parisa Hafezi in Vienna, John Irish in Doha and Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)