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Negotiators Begin Eighth Round of Iran Talks

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Mideast Iran Nuclear

Diplomats convened in Vienna on Monday for an eighth round of discussions aimed at restoring controls on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relaxed sanctions on the nation's economy, including on its oil sector.

Iran's representative, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Khan, was “optimistic” according to an interview carried on Iran’s state IRNA news agency and demanded “guarantees” for sanctions relief.

It is so far unclear what sort of guarantees could suffice. US officials have said they cannot ensure a future US president wouldn’t repeat former President Donald Trump’s move of abandoning the deal and reimposing sanctions.

Still, others also appeared optimistic. Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov said on Twitter that delegates were meeting for the “presumably final round” of talks to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The head of the European delegation, Enrique Mora, reportedly cautioned that a number of issues still need to be sorted out, with negotiators planning to work for about four days before the New Year holiday and resuming on Jan. 3.

The cautious optimism entering the eighth round of talks stands in contrast to the mood in early December, when US negotiators broke off the first round of talks after Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi came to power amid questions about the seriousness of Iran's negotiating positions.

US officials have been warning for months that Iran’s nuclear developments are advancing close to the point at which the roughly one-year “breakout period” envisioned in the 2015 agreement is no longer possible. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said new negotiations would be necessary if Iran’s program develops too far.

Slow Progress

Iran struck a monitoring deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency after talks resumed, temporarily restoring the UN nuclear watchdog’s monitoring capabilities at the Karaj centrifuge manufacturing plant.

A breakthrough in the months-long, arms-length talks would trigger US sanctions relief, allowing Iranian crude back into the market.

Iran’s oil exports are severely constrained by economic sanctions, but it’s not clear whether Tehran views a return to the JCPOA as providing enough sanctions relief.

After the 2015 deal, French major TotalEnergies signed on to develop the Phase 11 South Pars gas project. But the French company had to abandon the project after the US exited the deal and reimposed sanctions under Trump. Investment from European firms is no longer considered likely, given the uncertainty around sanctions and the degree to which corporate strategies are shifting with the energy transition.

But other countries are conducting outreach with Iran. Russian firms are in advanced talks with Iran over oil and natural gas projects, Energy Intelligence reported last week. Diplomats from the United Arab Emirates — which has historically had a strong trading relationship with Iran — have also reached out, with national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed visiting the country earlier this month.

Topics:
Sanctions, Nuclear Policy, Opec-Plus Supply , Security Risk , Trade
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