Fifth Round of Iran Nuclear Talks Wrap Up

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Diplomats negotiating a possible return by Washington and Tehran to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement wrapped up a fifth round of talks in Vienna on Wednesday (IOD Jun.1'21). The talks "reached a stage when a number of participants need to consult with their capitals," Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov announced via Twitter. Ulyanov said negotiations would resume "at the end of next week." Iran's President Hassan Rouhani struck an optimistic note, saying that the "main problems with the US have been settled," according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency. But US officials have consistently been more cautious when talking about negotiations. Earlier on Wednesday, a US State Department spokesperson said that US negotiator Robert Malley would be returning to Washington later this week, but did not provide further details. The end of the latest round of talks came against the backdrop of ongoing tensions in the Mideast Gulf. Iran's largest warship caught fire during a naval training exercise and sank early on Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman, Iran's state media reported. The incident follows months of tit-for-tat strikes by Iran and Israel on each other's ships, and once again highlights the danger of escalating hostilities putting Middle East oil flows at risk. However, there has been no suggestion that this latest incident was the result of an attack (IOD Apr.26'21). The fire on the Kharg, an auxiliary ship used to provide logistical support, broke out in the engine room on Tuesday morning, and efforts to extinguish it failed to prevent the fire from spreading and engulfing the ship, Iran’s Press TV reported, citing a navy spokesperson. The vessel sank near the southern port of Jask after all 400 crew members had disembarked. Separately, a fire broke out at the Shahid Tondgooyan Oil Refinery outside Tehran, according to Iran's PressTV. Officials said it was the result of a leak in a transmission pipe and not an act of sabotage. Iran has increased its military capabilities over the past decade. But while the elite Revolutionary Guard has become more assertive, years of sanctions and isolation have also left much of the equipment used by Iran's regular forces prone to failure and in need of replacement. The British-built Kharg was launched in 1977, joined the Iranian navy in 1984 and took part in the Iran-Iraq War. A day before it sank, two Iranian fighter pilots died when their ejector seats activated before takeoff, state TV reported. In May of last year, 19 sailors were killed in another naval training exercise in the Gulf of Oman, when an anti-ship missile accidentally hit a support vessel. But covert maritime attacks have also escalated across the Middle East this year, as talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed. The Saviz, a vessel belonging to the Revolutionary Guard, was struck below the waterline on Apr. 6 in the Red Sea, with Israel widely thought to have been behind the attack (IOD Apr.16'21). Simon Martelli, London, and Emily Meredith, Washington

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