The Iranian view on the Vienna talks

Mohammad Ali Shabani

LONDON: The outcome of talks this week in Vienna could determine the path of U.S.-Iran diplomacy for the next six months.

Driving the news: Officials from Iran, France, Germany, the U.K., Russia and China are meeting in Vienna to try to revive the Iran nuclear deal. U.S. envoy Rob Malley is also in town for parallel talks with his European, Russian and Chinese counterparts, but he’s not currently expected to meet the Iranians.

Iranian sources tell me Tuesday’s meetings were “positive” and “constructive,” with “mainly generalities” discussed.

Working in parallel, the two groups will now address the list of sanctions to be lifted by the U.S. on the one hand and nuclear-related measures to be taken by Iran on the other.

What they’re saying: The first step is to reach clarity on what exactly both sides are prepared to do, Iranian sources said.

“The choreography then comes into play,” one senior Iranian official told me, referring to the sequencing of action. “In that case, the timing is not that important.”
The senior official added that “a good and principled understanding” that takes some time is “better than a hasty and immature one.”

“The only timeline we need to bear in mind is the understanding reached during Mr. [Rafael] Grossi’s visit to Tehran last month,” the official said.

Grossi, the International Atomic Energy Agency chief, negotiated a deal to preserve nuclear inspections inside Iran for another three months. That arrangement expires in late May.

Between the lines: If the current nuclear talks prove fruitful, that could pave the way for a radical shift in the public mood in Iran, which is distinguished by broad voter apathy ahead of the presidential elections in June.

Hardliners have been ascendant in recent years, and while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is mired in controversy and rare public infighting over the electoral activities of some of its members, the prospect of a “military president” is real.

Such a scenario could complicate future diplomacy with Iran. But progress in Vienna could boost the more moderate faction.

What’s next: The working groups will continue their work until Friday, when the Joint Commission will meet again to decide the future course of action. The working groups may continue beyond Friday depending on their progress, sources in Tehran say.

What to watch: Iran is set to unveil 133 “new ac-hievements” on its National Nuclear Technology Day this weekend.

Local outlets reported Tuesday that one of the advances is “the beginning of the mechanical test of the IR-9 centrifuge,” with 50 times the output of the current IR-1 centrifuges.

If an agreement is reached in the coming weeks, stockpiles of enriched uranium can be shipped out and centrifuges dismantled. But the know-how behind each technological advance cannot be reversed.