Talks for US, EU-Iran nuclear deal stumble, amid US sanctions

Negotiators for U.S. and European allies sounded a more pessimistic note Friday as five days of nuclear talks in Vienna appeared to stall.

Talks were held as top European Union officials traveled to the United States in the aftermath of the imposition of harsh new U.S. sanctions on Iran. The stepped-up penalties aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions were announced just a day earlier.

The West will need to reach an agreement over “political concerns” about Iran’s nuclear program in the next few weeks, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told broadcaster ZDF.

“I think the assessment after five days is that we would like to have considerably more progress,” Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Jeremy Hunt told reporters in Vienna.

Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said cooperation was slowing down, but that also did not appear on the table for immediate action.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency has had access to the facility at Fordow that produced its first nuclear bomb in 2003, Novak said.

The hard-liners on Iran are searching for excuses to back the negotiations off. That’s what the Iranians want. – Alexander Novak, Russian Energy Minister

“The hard-liners on Iran are searching for excuses to back the negotiations off,” Novak said. “That’s what the Iranians want.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini returned late Friday after meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whom she had visited in Tehran last week.

Europe fears that new U.S. sanctions imposed Thursday will hurt the prospect of resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute peacefully.

Although Mogherini left the talks early Thursday, she spent the rest of the day negotiating with Zarif’s team.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian issued a statement Friday saying European governments “advise patience” and “undeterred by the recriminations to our American partners.”

The Swiss government, whose capital is in the thick of the talks, said it urged Iranian authorities to recognize the European Union’s right to take legal action against Iran if its economic interests are harmed by the new sanctions.

Switzerland is acting as an intermediary between Iran and the six world powers that are negotiating the nuclear accord.

The nations involved include the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Their progress was being monitored by one of the country’s main nuclear inspectors, a Mexican diplomat who was in Vienna on a two-week visa.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Saturday criticized the French and British plans to block shipments of crude oil from Iran.

“This is against international agreements,” ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was quoted as saying by IRNA. “If France and Britain really want to resist foreign companies, Iran welcomes them.”

The diplomats have yet to announce any concrete progress toward easing a decades-old standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. The 2015 accord saw Tehran limit its nuclear program in exchange for easing Western economic sanctions.

But the U.S. withdrew from the accord last year, accusing Iran of breaking the terms of the pact by continuing to test ballistic missiles and destabilizing other parts of the Middle East.

European leaders have remained committed to it and have tried to reassure Washington that European businesses will not be hurt by what Washington is likely to do.

On Thursday, EU President Donald Tusk said some European leaders were thinking of the European Union’s next steps if the new sanctions are carried out. He said in a speech to his EU parliamentary group that the European Commission should appoint a new envoy to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and to take further steps in response to the sanctions.

On Thursday, IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen, a veteran of nuclear talks who once led the agency’s investigation into alleged research into nuclear weapons, said Iran is unwilling to stop its nuclear activities that can be used to produce such arms.

Iran says its nuclear activities are peaceful and purely for peaceful purposes.

“The Iranians are hard-liners, after all, and they have been playing a lot of games,” Heinonen said. “I do think there is a pragmatic leadership in Iran, so I think there will be a way out of this if there’s a chance.”

Reach reporter Howard Kurtz at [email protected] or 202-824-8229.

Iran officially in violation of nuclear deal, Tillerson says, adding tough actions will take place…… —

Howard Kurtz (@HowardKurtz) March 12, 2018

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