Four days into restarted nuclear deal talks in Vienna, and Iran's top negotiator, Ali Baqeri-Kani, has issued a rare positive statement Thursday saying that discussions have so far been "fruitful". Despite complaints alleging that outside entities - Israel in particular - are attempting to "poison" the possibility of reaching a restored Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Baqeri-Kani said the Islamic Republic is determined to see a deal materialize.
The top Iranian diplomat said he had "fruitful discussions with Grossi aimed at continuation of technical cooperation between Iran and IAEA" - in reference to the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, Rafael Mariano Grossi. However, he emphasized "now the ball is in the court of the Americans. The Americans must remove the sanctions."
The Iranian side has still stuck firmly to its up-front demand of immediate US sanctions relief, pointing out that it was the US that unilaterally broke the deal under Trump starting in 2018. Baqeri-Kani was cited in state media and international reports further as confirming "the resolute intention of Iran to actively and positively engage in the talks in Vienna."
But Biden administration officials are still expressing deep skepticism, after the recently installed Ebrahim Raisi government was accused of stalling talks which had been off for months since mid-summer, with the charge being it was in order to buy more time to covertly ramp up nuclear development and uranium enrichment.
Israeli leaders especially have charged Tehran with using the Vienna process as a "cover" to make advances toward nuclear weapons - something which Iran has vehemently rejected. On Thursday Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a phone call that the Iranian nuclear talks should be immediately halted.
While Israel has long been on record as opposing any restored JCPOA deal, this is the first time it's openly and directly urged the White House to not even enter talks:
"Iran is engaged in nuclear blackmail as a negotiation tactic — this must lead to an immediate suspension of the talks in Vienna and to harsh retaliation steps by the world powers," Bennett told Blinken, according to a statement from his office.
#Israel's prime minister told @SecBlinken today, "#Iran is carrying out nuclear blackmail as a negotiating tactic, and this should be answered by the immediate halt to negotiations and the implementation of tough steps by the world powers."https://t.co/tgDgEJcNlY— Jason Brodsky (@JasonMBrodsky) December 2, 2021
Perhaps because of this renewed Israeli pressure, Blinken has been cautious in his assessments: "I have to tell you," he began from the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), "recent moves, recent rhetoric, don't give us a lot of cause for optimism."
He added in the fresh statements: "But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course", referencing that Iran remains in breach of uranium enrichment caps and other steps it took after the US pulled out and ramped up the sanctions pressure.
"In the very near future, the next day or so, we will be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith," Blinken added.