‘Time is running out,’ new German FM warns as Iran talks deadlocked

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday that Tehran was serious in its nuclear talks, as indicated by the very proposals that European negotiators said were unrealistic.

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani wait for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, December 3, 2021. (photo credit: EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani wait for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria, December 3, 2021.
(photo credit: EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Negotiations between world powers and Iran are at a deadlock and cannot continue indefinitely, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said on Saturday.

"Time is running out,” Baerbock, who was sworn in last week, warned.

Iran “has shown in the last days that we do not have any progress... due to the offer of the Iranian government, negotiations have been thrown back six months," Baerbock told reporters on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in Liverpool, England.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss similarly said last week, ahead of Thursday and Friday’s talks, that they are “really the last chance for Iran to sign up” to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.

In those negotiations, Iranian officials insisted on sticking to a tough stance from last week, while the E3 – as European parties to the talk Britain, France and Germany are called – were working from texts discussed five months ago, before Iran left the talks.

Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, national security advisor of the United Arab Emirates, meets with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, in Tehran (credit: Marziyeh Mousavi/IRNA)Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, national security advisor of the United Arab Emirates, meets with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, in Tehran (credit: Marziyeh Mousavi/IRNA)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday that Tehran was serious in its nuclear talks, as indicated by the very proposals that European negotiators said were unrealistic.

"The fact that we presented the text of Iran's proposal to the negotiating parties shows that we are serious in the talks, and if the other side is also serious about the removal of sanctions, we will achieve a good agreement. We are definitely after a good agreement," IRNA quoted Raisi as saying.

The talks resumed on Thursday with the United States and Israel - which is not a party to the 2015 deal - piling rhetorical pressure on Tehran about the possible economic or military consequences if diplomacy fails.

Asked whether new draft proposals that Iran had put forward last week were being discussed, Iran's top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani told Reuters: "Yes, the drafts we proposed last week are being discussed now in meetings with other parties."

Bagheri said last week that "all the issues that had been drafted during the previous negotiations until June can be negotiated."

"Iran backs result-oriented talks and we are determined to reach a deal that guarantees our nation's interests," Bagheri told reporters in Vienna.

A European source, speaking on condition of anonymity, appeared to suggest that Iran had agreed to continue talks from where they left off in June. This would be put to the test in the next couple of days, the source said, but made no mention of Iran's new proposals. Iranian officials denied it.

"We will definitely agree to nothing less than the JCPOA and this will certainly be a red line for Iran," Bagheri Kani told Iran's Press TV on Saturday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a "productive" meeting with counterparts from the E3 in Liverpool on Friday, discussing the way forward for talks on the Iran nuclear deal, a State Department spokesperson said on Saturday.

The JCPOA restricted Iran’s uranium enrichment until 2030 in exchange for gradual sanctions relief from the US, EU and the UN. The US left the deal in 2018, under former president Donald Trump, while current US President Joe Biden seeks to return to it.

Israel opposes the JCPOA because it insufficiently limited Iran’s uranium enrichment, and, in fact, legitimizes further enrichment after the agreement expires, which paves the way for an eventual nuclear bomb. In addition, the JCPOA did not address Iran’s other malign actions in the region.

The indirect US-Iranian talks, in which diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China shuttle between them because Tehran refuses direct contact with Washington, aim to get both sides to resume full compliance with the accord.

The talks resumed on November 29 after a five-month hiatus caused by the June election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi as Iran's president.

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday that the US remains focused on diplomacy “to see if it can deliver a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

According to Price, the US continues to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is possible.

He went on to say that “Iran’s escalations of its nuclear activities, the intransigence that it has shown, including most recently in Vienna last week, will put to the test whether diplomacy can be able to achieve that mutual return to compliance.”

Speaking about international sanctions on Iran, Price said that, “all of our current sanctions remain in effect. They will remain in effect until and unless we’re able to reach a diplomatic agreement.”

He also addressed a question about reports which indicate that the Iranians are using the negotiations as a tactic to gain more time in moving ahead with enriching uranium.

“It is a concern that we share,” said Price. “It’s a concern that we have as well as a concern that our P5+1 partners have. It is precisely why we have been very clear that Iran will not be able to play for time, that Iran’s nuclear escalations and its provocations won’t give Iran any additional leverage in these negotiations. The only thing these provocations and these escalations will do is to bring us closer to the point of a potential crisis. And we are not looking for a crisis.”

“We certainly hope the Iranians aren’t looking for a crisis,” he continued. “We are looking, at the moment, to diplomacy and the possibility that it still has - we believe – to deliver a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, which, as we’ve said, is the best approach to ensure on a durable, permanent basis, verifiable basis, that Iran is not able to acquire a nuclear weapon. So if that’s Iran’s strategy, it’s a strategy that will fail.”

Asked what he had to say to critics that are saying that this a policy of appeasement or weakness, Price said: “If the Iranian regime suspects the United States of weakness, they will be sorely surprised.”