Now multiple months into restored nuclear negotiations in Vienna, there's been controversy over what's clearly been stalled momentum and which side is to blame after little to show from six prior rounds. The Associated Press reports Tuesday that "Iran's government spokesman said Tuesday that talks with the United States about a prisoner exchange are still ongoing, two months after Washington denied an Iranian report that deals had been struck."
And Bloomberg in its latest update writes "Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran aren’t likely to resume until after the Islamic Republic installs its new president next month, all but eliminating the chances of an early resurrection of their accord struck six years ago Wednesday and a jump in Iranian oil exports." Further two unnamed insider sources reveal that "A seventh round of negotiations in Vienna is expected to convene around mid-August" - which is likely to further tighten oil markets, sending prices higher through the summer as we've been highlighting, also as the inter-OPEC spat between the Saudis and Emirates over setting crude production levels beyond July intensifies.
Via The Hill: Biden administration officials are also pressing Iran for information on the fate of Robert Levinson, a former American intelligence official believed to have died in Iranian custody following his 2007 disappearance in the country.
Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei was described as saying that the Islamic Republic "many times said it is ready to free all prisoners, in return for the release of all Iranian prisoners in custody in the US." Rabiei said according to Reuters, "Negotiations are underway on the exchange of prisoners between Iran and America, and we will issue more information if Iranian prisoners are released and the country's interests are secured and the talks reach a conclusion."
It's reportedly remained a priority of the Biden administration in connection with Vienna nuclear talks, though the key focus and major hurdle remain the status of US sanctions that were systematically imposed and ratcheted up during the prior Trump administration.
Likely if a significant prisoner swap breakthrough is soon announced, a finalized restored JCPOA deal would quickly follow. Tehran has remained insistent that no deal is possible without an immediate easing and rollback of all sanctions, while gaining the release of Americans in Iranian custody would mark a huge political victory for Biden at home. The Iranians, meanwhile, have affirmed they are interested in prisoner swaps based on "humanitarian interests".
Spanning the last two months, initially overly optimistic reports of being "on the cusp" of a final agreement have been replaced by more dour assessments of perpetual gridlock in indirect negotiations (as the US is not directly at the table, but talks to Iran via intermediary EU partners).
But in a positive sign that the hoped-for deal could be reached, possibly even by August, Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Monday submitted a 264-page report to parliament assessing in a detailed manner the current state of Vienna talks.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh indicated that the talks are near completion. He said, "This report presents the most important achievements and challenges of the implementation of the JCPOA during the last six years and the latest results of the six rounds of the Vienna talks, which stand to reflect the failure of the US government's maximum pressure against the resistance of the Iranian people."
He added on a more positive note, "Taking into account the progress made, we can say that we are approaching the completion of the Vienna negotiations. There are still some unresolved issues, but it is important that the number of resolved issues is much greater than this of unresolved ones."
The US side's perspective has tended to be much more cautious, however, the talks are still alive and importantly pandemic aid out of the West has this week been ratcheted up - in a clear sign of growing desire to see relations open up particularly between Iran and Europe. But the previously hoped-for reaching of a final deal prior to the August 3rd change of Iranian presidents does indeed seem out of reach.