Latest Round of Iran Talks Faces Challenges

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A sixth round of negotiations about whether to revive the Iran nuclear agreement is slated to begin over the coming weekend, a US official said Wednesday. Whether Tehran and Washington agree to a deal that paves the way for a surge in Iranian oil exports remains a largely political question (IOD Jun.1'21). But as the talks drag on the details are becoming more complex. And the hurdles to a straightforward "compliance for compliance" deal involving a simple return of both countries to the original 2015 agreement are becoming more apparent. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday that talks would resume over the weekend. Election Complicates Matters Sherman -- a key negotiator of the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- said Iran's upcoming presidential election "complicated" the talks. The conservative head of Iran's judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, is the apparent front-runner in the Jun. 18 election. Several observers believe a deal could be struck after the elections but before a new president takes office in August. Iran has deployed advanced centrifuges far beyond JCPOA limits and has enriched uranium past 60%. That not only exceeds the 3.67% limit set in the JCPOA, but is also far above levels necessary for power generation. One apparent area of disagreement is whether Iran can maintain those centrifuges, dismantle and store them, or must destroy them. Hawkish US lawmakers, meanwhile, are pushing for tighter restrictions on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and to keep control over how Iran spends money returned to it from overseas if a deal is agreed. Meanwhile, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned this week about a lack of trust after Iran drastically cut back JCPOA inspection commitments in February. The IAEA is responsible for verifying that Iran meets its commitments under the JCPOA. Temporary Arrangement Set to Expire Although the agency secured a temporary understanding that provided some transparency about Iran's nuclear activity, that deal had to be extended last month and now runs only to Jun. 24 (IOD May24'21). "What's going on is serious ... we cannot limit and continue to curtail the ability of the inspectors to inspect and at the same time pretend there is trust," the IAEA's Director General Rafael Grossi said on Tuesday. Both US and Iranian officials sounded cautious notes this week. It "remains to be seen" whether the US is willing to remove sanctions on Tehran, said Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran's representative to the IAEA, on Wednesday, according to Iran's Press TV. Iranian officials have intermittently called on the US to remove "all" sanctions imposed after the agreement -- which would include some measures related to terrorism and human rights -- rather than just restore the sanctions relief that was extended in the original JCPOA. US officials on the other hand have said they will only remove those sanctions that were addressed in the JCPOA and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that he expects "hundreds" of other measures to remain in place. Emily Meredith and Stephanie Cooke, Washington

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