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US-Iran Diplomacy

News, updates, and analysis on the ongoing negotiations between the US other world powers on Iran's nuclear program and other international issues.

US-Iran Diplomacy
  • The next round of talks between six powers and Iran on resolving a dispute over Tehran's nuclear program will be held in Vienna from June 16 to 20, the European Union said on Tuesday.

    EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held "very long and useful discussions" with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Turkey this week on ways of advancing the nuclear talks, Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann said.

    "The next formal round of (six-power) talks with Iran will be from 16-20 June in Vienna," Mann said, adding that Ashton and Zarif recommended that an expert-level meeting should take place soon.

    [Reuters]
  • Iran, six powers begin drafting text of nuclear deal

    Six world powers and Iran launched a decisive chapter in diplomacy on Wednesday to begin drafting a lasting accord that could curb Tehran's contested nuclear program in exchange for a phased end to sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy.

    This latest negotiating round, which includes the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, in addition to Iran, comes a little more than two months before a July 20 target date for an agreement.

    The six world powers hope to reduce Iran's potential nuclear-weapons-making capacity by negotiating substantial cuts in its atomic program. Tehran says it does not want such arms and is ready for concessions in exchange for an end to all sanctions on its economy.

    A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the six countries, said negotiators held a "useful initial discussion" on Wednesday morning and would hold coordination meetings later in the day.

    "We are now hoping to move to a new phase of negotiations in which we will start pulling together what the outline of an agreement could be. All sides are highly committed," the spokesman said.

    Despite some progress over months of talks, diplomats say substantial differences remain and an accord in two months is far from assured, with Western diplomats warning that divisions could prove insurmountable.

    "Quite frankly, this is very, very difficult," a senior U.S. official told reporters on the eve of the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I would caution people that just because we will be drafting it certainly does not mean an agreement is imminent or that we are certain to eventually get to a resolution."

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Delegations have all landed in Vienna. Coord mtgs today, Lady Ashton-FM Zarif dinner tonight, & plenaries start tomorrow #IranTalksVienna
  • Iran expects to get a fifth installment this week of previously blocked overseas funds, a senior official was quoted as saying, a payment that would confirm Iranian compliance with a landmark deal with world powers to curb its nuclear program.

    Under last year's interim agreement that took effect on January 20, Iran will receive a total of $4.2 billion of such funds in eight payments over six months, if it lives up to its part of the accord aimed at allaying fears about its atomic aims.

    It says it has already received four transfers in February and March, totaling some $2.1 billion. A fifth payment of $450 million was due on April 15, contingent on Iran having diluted half of its most sensitive stockpile of nuclear materials. Diplomats say Iran is meeting its commitments under the accord.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi told the official IRNA news agency on Tuesday that the latest installment "was to be freed today", without giving details. Takht-Ravanchi is a senior member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team. The English-language IRNA report was dated April 16.

    The head of the U.N. nuclear agency, Yukiya Amano, last week told Reuters that the nuclear agreement between Iran and the powers - the United States, France, Russia, Germany, China and Britain - was being implemented as planned.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has inspectors on the ground in Iran, issues monthly updates on whether Iran is complying with the deal. The next update is expected this week.

    Under the November 24 agreement, Iran agreed to halt its higher-grade uranium enrichment work and to dilute and convert its stockpile of uranium enriched to a fissile purity of 20 percent.

    Enriched uranium can be used to power nuclear power plants, Iran's stated goal, but also provide material for bombs if refined to a high degree, which the West fears may be the country's ultimate aim. Iran denies those suspicions.

    The interim agreement was designed to buy time for Iran and the powers to negotiate a permanent deal to resolve the decade-old dispute over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Talks got under way in February with a self-imposed July 20 deadline for an agreement.

    [Reuters]
  • The State Department has released some information that was made public on a phone call with reporters on the nuclear talks that wrapped up Wednesday between Iran and six major powers.

    From the State Department:

    Hello, everyone, and thank you for coming today for this backgrounder. It’s amazing to think that only a few months ago, many of us were in Geneva in the freezing cold finalizing the Joint Plan of Action at 4 in the morning. And today, we find ourselves at the halfway point in these comprehensive negotiations in a somewhat warmer and beautiful Vienna. Geneva was beautiful, just cold. (Laughter.)


    In the past two days, we have continued our substantive discussions about all of the issues that will have to be part of a comprehensive agreement – every single issue you can imagine. These sessions have been in-depth and the conversations have given us important additional insights into where the biggest and most challenging gaps will be as we move forward.


    At this point, we don’t know if we’ll be successful in bridging those gaps, but we are certainly committed, as everyone in the room is, to trying. One thing to keep in mind as we reach this midway mark is that all sides have kept all of the commitments they made in the Joint Plan of Action. That’s given all of us more confidence as we negotiate this even tougher comprehensive agreement.


    In that vein today, we’ve just concluded a meeting of the Joint Commission that was announced when we implemented the Joint Plan of Action. Given it’s the halfway point, we thought it would be an appropriate time to check in on implementation progress, and as I said, the report out of that meeting which I just received is everyone acknowledged that everything was going well. This meeting took place at the experts level, not at the political directors level.


    The next step in this process is to begin actually drafting text, which we have all said would happen after this round. This round and the last round was used to review all of the issues and understand each other’s positions at the beginning of this negotiation. I would caution everyone from thinking that a final agreement is imminent or that it will be easy. As we draft, I have no doubt this will be quite difficult at times. And as we’ve always been clear and as we said explicitly when we were negotiating the Joint Plan of Action – and it is even more so for the comprehensive agreement – we will not rush into a bad deal. We just won’t do it. No deal – as Secretary Kerry has said many times, as the President of the United States has said, no deal is better than a bad deal.


    So now, we’ll move forward to begin drafting actual language. We’ll meet back here in Vienna at the political director level in May. As always, our experts and political directors will be working in the meantime on all of the technical issues that are a part of these talks. And we are all very focused on that special date, July 20th, because we believe that it should give us sufficient time to reach a comprehensive agreement if an agreement is indeed possible.


  • A senior U.S. official says the Russian delegation played its usual 'constructive, focused role' in the Iranian nuclear talks, Reuters reports.

    The senior U.S. official says 'now we are set to start drafting' a long-term Iran nuclear deal, according to Reuters.
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif says 'nothing can be imposed' on the Islamic state over its nuclear activities, Reuters reports.
  • EU High Representative Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif have released the following joint statement on the recently concluded round of nuclear talks:

    "Minister Zarif and I, together with the Political Directors of China, France, Germany, Russia, 
    the United Kingdom and the United States, just finished a third round of talks in our ongoing 
    diplomatic effort to seek a Comprehensive Agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue as 
    envisaged in the Joint Plan of Action. 

     
    We would again like to thank the Austrian Foreign Minister and his staff as well as the United 
    Nations for their support in hosting these negotiations in Vienna. 



  • European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif smile at the start of talks in Vienna on April 8, 2014 (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)  


  • Iran and six world powers began a new round of talks on Tuesday aimed at settling the dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme by late July, despite wide differences on how to attain that goal.

    The powers want Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment activity to deny it any capability to quickly produce an atomic bomb, if it decided on such a course. Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and wants them to lift sanctions.

    Chief negotiators from Iran, the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia started a two-day meeting around 9:45 a.m. at the U.N. complex in Vienna, where they have held two previous such sessions since February.

    "We are involved in very detailed and substantial negotiations and we are trying as hard as we can to drive the process forward," the spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates the discussions on behalf of the powers, told reporters.

    Both sides say they want to start drafting a comprehensive agreement in May, some two months before a July 20 deadline for finalising the accord. Western official say, however, that the parties are still far apart on key issues.

    "What matters most to us is that there is a good agreement. Clearly we want to make progress as fast as possible but the most important thing is the quality of the agreement," Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann, said.

    "It has to be a good agreement that everyone is happy with. So we will work as hard was we can to achieve that."

    Iranian and U.S. negotiators are wary that any deal will face criticism from conservative hardliners at home wedded to confrontation since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

    The six nations have agreed internally to have a draft text of an accord by the end of May or early June, one diplomat from the powers said, adding however: "We're still in an exploratory phase ... In the end, things will happen in July."

    Tuesday's opening session was chaired by Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, but their deputies later took over.

    ENRICHMENT, ARAK

    The Islamic Republic says its enrichment programme is a peaceful bid to generate electricity and has ruled out shutting any of its nuclear facilities.

    The United States and some other Western countries have accused it of working on developing a nuclear bomb capability. Israel has threatened to attack its long-time foe Iran if diplomatic efforts fail. Iran says it is Israel's assumed atomic arsenal that threatens peace and stability in the Middle East.

    The diplomat said issues to be discussed at the April 8-9 meeting included how the United Nations nuclear watchdog would verify whether Iran was meeting its end of any deal, suspected past atomic bomb research by Tehran, and how to deal with U.N. Security Council resolutions on Iran adopted since 2006.

    A senior Iranian negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, said major issues discussed in previous meetings - Iran's level of uranium enrichment and a heavy-water nuclear reactor project at Arak - would also be debated.

    Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's stated purpose, but can also provide material for a bomb, which the West suspects may be Tehran's ultimate aim. The Arak reactor, once operational, can yield plutonium - another weapons-usable fissile material - but Iran says it only intends to use it for medical and agricultural research ends.

    The goal of the negotiations begun almost two months ago is to hammer out a long-term deal to define the permissible scope of Iran's nuclear programme in return for an end to sanctions that have hobbled the OPEC country's economy.

    In November, the two sides agreed an interim accord curbing some Iranian enrichment activities in exchange for some easing of sanctions. This six-month deal, which took effect on January 20, was designed to buy time for talks on a final accord.

    The talks can be extended by another half-year if both sides agree to do so, and negotiate the content of an extension deal.

    [Reuters]
  • According to monthly IAEA data, Iran continues to implement the six-month deal with world powers, Reuters reports.
  • US Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman: no indication Russia shifting on Iran. Worked with Ryabkov before he said that & he was focused as ever
  • New E3+3 plenary session begins chaired by DSG Schmid and DFM Araghchi: #irantalksvienna
  • While Putin continues to speak in Moscow, the European Union says no impact has been seen from the Crimea tension on nuclear talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran, Reuters reports.
  • First plenary session of E3+3/Iran nuclear talks concluded. New session chaired by Schmid/Araghchi now beginning to drill down into detail
  • As senior-level talks on Iran's nuclear program resume in Vienna this week, Mark Fitzpatrick — the director of the IISS non-proliferation and disarmament program — says negotiators are going to need a lot of luck.

    From Fitzpatrick's blog post:

    Senior-level talks on the Iran nuclear issue resume in Vienna this week amid a generally upbeat mood. The parties are rolling up their sleeves, staffing their teams and getting to grips with key issues.


    Long gone are the trying talks of the past: the frustrating spring 2012 meetings in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow during which Iran’s chief negotiator, the dreary Saeed Jalili, began every session with a sanctimonious sermon. President Hassan Rouhani’s team gets right to the point. The negotiating parties still do not have mutual trust, said an insider at a recent IISS workshop, but they have mutual respect.


    The issue is no longer whether Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium; it is how much, based on Iran’s practical need for enriched uranium. Questions concerning quantity are inherently negotiable.


    Similarly, on the issue of the Arak research reactor, Iran has already agreed, in principle, that the design could be adjusted to reduce the amount of weapons-grade plutonium that could be produced. Lowering the power of what is now designed to be a 40 megawatts (thermal) reactor won’t be enough to satisfy policymakers in key Western capitals. They want the reactor converted to use light water (which is to say, regular water) as a moderator and coolant, though they may be willing to allow heavy water to be used as a reflector. Making use of Iran’s heavy water could be a face-saving compromise. Again, such details are negotiable.


    The greatest convergence between the parties is over verification. Since the days of his election campaign, Rouhani has been ready to accept greater transparency. The increased tempo and scope of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections spelled out in the 24 November Joint Plan of Action is one reason I called it a surprisingly good deal.


    The comprehensive deal that is supposed to be negotiated by 20 July will require yet more transparency. If the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ever decides to reverse his fatwas against nuclear weapons and to break out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the production of highly enriched uranium would more likely take place at a clandestine facility rather than at a declared site that is visited near-daily by inspectors. This is why the IAEA needs to be able to visit undeclared sites that it has reasonable grounds to suspect.



    Click here to read more of Fitzpatrick's blog post.
  • Iran has pursued a longstanding effort to buy banned components for its nuclear and missile programs in recent months, a U.S. official said on Sunday, a period when it struck an interim deal with major powers to limit its disputed atomic activity.

    Vann Van Diepen, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation, said Iran was still "very actively" creating front companies and engaging in other activity to conceal procurements.

    The reported supplies do not contravene last year's breakthrough agreement between Tehran and six world powers to curb its most sensitive atomic activity in exchange for some limited easing of sanctions damaging its economy.

    But such trade would breach a 2006 U.N. embargo banning the provision by any nation to Iran of materials related to its nuclear and missile development work. Western experts say such low-profile procurement efforts by Iran date back many years, perhaps decades in the case of its nuclear activity.

    Asked if he had seen a change in Iranian procurement behavior in the past six to 12 months, a period that has seen a cautious thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations after decades of hostility, Van Diepen replied: "The short answer is no.

    "They still continue very actively trying to procure items for their nuclear program and missile program and other programs," he told Reuters in an interview.

    "We continue to see them very actively setting up and operating through front companies, falsifying documentation, engaging in multiple levels of trans-shipment ... to put more apparent distance between where the item originally came from and where it is ultimately going."

    Asked for reaction to the allegation, a senior Iranian official replied: "No comment".

    Van Diepen did not say what sort of components Iran had sought to obtain or which part of a government known for having competing hardline and moderate factions was responsible. In the past, Western officials said Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and the Defence Ministry - both hotbeds of opposition to any rapprochement with the West - were believed to control clandestine nuclear procurement efforts.

    Iran denies Western allegations that it has long sought covertly to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying its uranium enrichment program is solely a peaceful endeavor to yield electricity as well as isotopes for medical treatments.

    DETERRENT

    Diplomats have said that Iran is meeting its commitments under the November deal, under which Iran suspended its higher-grade enrichment and stopped increasing its capacity to produce low-refined uranium, among other steps. Uranium forms the core of a nuclear bomb if enriched to a high fissile purity.

    The six-month agreement, which took effect on January 20 this year, was designed to buy time for talks on a final settlement defining the overall scope of Iran's nuclear work to end fears that it could be diverted to military ends.

    Those talks got under way in Vienna last month and a second round at the political director level will be held on March 18-19, also in the Austrian capital. The aim is to reach an agreement by late July, although that deadline can be extended by another half year if both sides agree.

    Iran has one of the biggest missile programs in the Middle East, regarding such weapons as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against U.S. and other adversaries - primarily Gulf Arabs - in the region in the event of war.

    Its efforts to develop, test and field ballistic missiles, and build a space launch capability, have helped drive billions of dollars of U.S. ballistic missile defence expenditure, and contributed to Israel's threats of possible pre-emptive military action against Iranian nuclear installations.

    Since Iran is not a self-sufficient manufacturer of missiles, the expansion of its inventory depends on the import of goods and materiel sourced abroad.

    Van Diepen said that while there was no direct link between the level of Iranian illicit procurement and the negotiations on a settlement to the nuclear dispute, "obviously if the negotiations succeed then there should therefore be a corresponding decrease in Iranian proliferation activity."

    [Reuters]
  • Opening Iran talks end with smiles

    Iran and six world powers ended the opening round of nuclear talks on an upbeat note Thursday, with both sides saying they had agreed on a plan for further negotiations meant to produce a comprehensive deal to set limits on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

    In a joint statement, they said the next round of negotiations would begin in Vienna on March 17, continuing a process likely to take at least six months and probably longer.

    Expectations had been modest as the talks started Tuesday, and the upbeat tone on a framework for future talks appeared aimed in part to encourage skeptics inside and outside Iran that the negotiations had a chance to succeed despite huge gaps between the Iranians and the six powers.

    The six want Tehran to agree to significant cuts in its nuclear program to reduce concerns it could be turned quickly to weapons use.

    Iran opposes cuts, saying its program is not aimed at building weapons. The U.S. and its partners say that Iran must come to an agreement if it wants a full end to sanctions crippling its economy. But a unilateral U.S. oil embargo on Iran is expected to remain in place even if a long-term nuclear agreement between Tehran and the six powers is reached, a U.S. official told Reuters.

    "We have ... identified all of the issues we need to address for a comprehensive and final agreement," said Catherine Ashton, the EU's top diplomat who convened the talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

    "It won't be easy, but we've gotten off to a good start," she said in a statement read later in Farsi by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • According to a U.S. official, the U.S. domestic oil embargo on Iran is expected to remain in place even if there is a comprehensive nuclear deal with Tehran, Reuters reports.
  • According to the State Department, Wendy Sherman, the head of the U.S. delegation at the Iran nuclear talks, is slated to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia, and UAE on Feb. 21-25 to discuss Iran and other issues, Reuters reports.
  • According to The Associated Press, Iranian nuclear talks have adjourned until March 17.
  • State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is briefing reporters in Vienna and appears optimistic about the nuclear talks thus far.


    So far, very little news has leaked from the talks. All reporters on the ground have really been able to ascertain is that an agreement on a framework for the talks has not yet been reached but parties are trying to reach such an agreement.
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