Photo Credit: Tehran Times
Uranium enrichment centrifuges at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility.

Nuclear talks in Vienna between Iran and world powers were suspended Friday, with European Union foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell saying a “pause” in the talks was needed “due to external factors.”

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in 2015, limited Iran’s nuclear activities to civilian purposes in return for relief from international economic sanctions. The United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, citing violations of the agreement.

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In response, Iran abandoned its compliance with the deal with began to accelerate its enrichment of uranium, reaching 60 percent purity last year – just a short step from the 90 percent enrichment required to create an atomic weapon.

Last week, inspectors for the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran’s stockpile of 60 percent-enriched uranium rose by more than 80 percent in the past three months, making it clear the window for negotiation of a deal to block Tehran’s achievement of a nuclear weapon is rapidly closing.

The current deal being negotiated would dial back Iran’s uranium enrichment to a maximum five percent level.

Borrell added in a tweet, “A final text is essentially ready and on the table. As coordinator, I will, with my team, continue to be in touch with all JCPOA participants and the US to overcome the current situation and to close the agreement.”

No date was set for resumption of the talks.

Among the “external factors” were new demands by Russia for written guarantees that sanctions imposed against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine would not impact its future dealings with Iran, although Borrell did not say those were the “external factors.”

Russia’s envoy to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov claimed at a briefing that conclusion of the talks “does not depend on Russia only. There are others that need to settle their issues among themselves.”

The EU envoy in charge of coordinating the negotiations, Enrique Mora, told reporters in Vienna that the talks were being paused to “maintain a good spirit,” adding, “It’s better to pause and I will be working obviously with all delegations to overcome this situation, the sooner the better, and come back and end our negotiations successfully.”

UK negotiator Stephanie Al-Qaq expressed “deep disappointment” with the suspension. “Fair and comprehensive deal on table – ready for conclusion,” she wrote in a tweet. “Iran + US have worked hard to resolve final issues. E3 ready to conclude this deal now. External factors must be resolved in next few days or agreement likely to unravel.”

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a news briefing on Friday, “As we’ve said before, these are complex negotiations. We’re still working through a number, a very small number, of what are undoubtedly difficult issues.

“There will need to be decisions made in places like Tehran and Moscow, and if that political will is there, if that seriousness of purpose is there, we remain confident that we can achieve a mutual return to compliance in fairly short order.”

Price added that the US has been clear “That we have no intention of offering Russia anything new or specific as it relates to these sanctions, nor would that be required.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said in a tweet, “No single party can determine the end result; a joint endeavor is needed. Reason should prevail.”

Representatives from Iran, Russia, China, Germany, the UK and France have been negotiating directly for nearly a year. The United States has been participating indirectly in the talks at the insistence of Iran.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.