The Vienna nuclear negotiations, intended to restore Iran to the 2015 “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) nuclear deal, have slowly continued since late November. Although some progress has allegedly been made, the most recent round of negotiations has ended. The next round is slated to begin again in a week.
The delay has raised frustrations in the Austrian capital, particularly by Western representatives. “We don’t have months but rather weeks to reach an agreement,” claimed Enrique Mora, who coordinates the JCPOA talks for the European Union. “There’s a sense of urgency that’s absolutely important if we want to really have success in these negotiations.”
The negotiations have taken place between Iran and the P5+1, a bloc of nations composed of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. The United States, which withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, is also conducting indirect negotiations with Iran.
In spite of the perceived early deadlines, some negotiators remained optimistic. Mikhail Ulyanov, Moscow’s representative at the talks, indicated that they would resume “soon” and proclaimed a victory in earlier talks, arguing that the P5+1’s previous conversations with Iran had led to the groundwork for “more intensive negotiations.”
Iranian diplomat Ali Bagheri Kani, who leads the nuclear negotiations, agreed, claiming that they had made “good progress” during the initial weeks of talks.
While Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi has voiced his intention to make returning to the JCPOA a priority, some U.S. officials and security experts have expressed frustration that Iran has demanded an end to all sanctions as part of the negotiations, even sanctions imposed on it for its ballistic missile program and regional interventionism—two areas that the JCPOA negotiations do not cover. This demand is greeted as a nonstarter by the P5+1, creating an impasse, although it appears that negotiations have since proceeded.
Many of those sanctions were imposed under the administration of President Donald Trump, who vowed to institute a policy of “maximum pressure” against Tehran. While this led to significant negative economic consequences for Iran, it appears to have been broadly unsuccessful at destabilizing the regime. For the future, Tehran has also pursued a concession from the United States guaranteeing that a future administration could not undo any progress made in Vienna— a concession that President Joe Biden cannot realistically provide.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.