Iran nuclear deal chances more remote after Washington-Tehran talks in Qatar, US official says

Iran nuclear deal chances more remote after Washington-Tehran talks in Qatar, US official says
A senior US official said that the Iranian side made 'vague demands', sought the 'reopening of settled issues' and made 'requests clearly unrelated' to the nuclear deal.
4 min read
The indirect US-Iran talks sought to revive a 2015 nuclear deal [Royce Bair/Getty-file photo]

The chances of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are worse after indirect US-Iranian talks in Qatar's capital of Doha that ended without progress, a senior US official told Reuters on Thursday.

"The prospects for a deal after Doha are worse than they were before Doha and they will be getting worse by the day," said the official on condition of anonymity.

"You could describe Doha at best as treading water, at worst as moving backwards. But at this point treading water is for all practical purposes moving backwards," he added.

The official would not go into the details of the Doha talks, in which European Union officials shuttled between the two sides trying to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement under which Iran had limited its nuclear programme in return for relief from economic sanctions.

Then-US President Donald Trump reneged on the agreement in 2018 and restored harsh American sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start violating its nuclear restrictions about a year later.

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"Their vague demands, reopening of settled issues, and requests clearly unrelated to the JCPOA all suggests to us… that the real discussion that has to take place is [not] between Iran and the US to resolve remaining differences.

"It is between Iran and Iran to resolve the fundamental question about whether they are interested in a mutual return to the JCPOA," the senior US official said.

"At this point, I am not sure if they [the Iranians] know what more they want. They didn't come to Doha with specifics. Some of the things they came with either they knew – or should have known – were completely unsellable to us and to the Europeans," he added.

Speaking at the UN Security Council, US, British and French diplomats all placed the onus on Iran for the failure to revive the agreement after more than a year of negotiations.

Iran, however, characterised the Doha talks as positive and blamed the United States for failing to provide guarantees that a new US administration would not again abandon the deal as Trump had done.

"Iran has demanded verifiable and objective guarantees from the US that JCPOA will not be torpedoed again, that the US will not violate its obligations again, and that sanctions will not be re-imposed under other pretexts or designations," Iran's UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi told the council.

The senior US official said Washington had made clear since the talks began in April 2021 it could not give Iran legal guarantees that a future US administration would stick to the deal.

"We said there is no legal way we can bind a future administration, and so we looked for other ways to give some form of comfort to Iran and… we thought that file had been closed," the US senior official added.

US and Iranian officials said that the ball was in the other's court.

The senior US official disputed Tehran's argument that Washington was to blame for the lack of progress, saying the United States had responded positively to proposed EU changes to the draft text of an agreement reached during wider talks in March while Iran had failed to respond to those proposals.

If the deal is not revived, he said "the Iranian leadership would need to explain why it turned its back on the benefits of the deal for the sake of issues that wouldn't make a positive difference in the life of a single ordinary Iranian".

The US official did not detail those issues. Restoring the deal would allow Iran to legally export its oil – the life blood of its economy.