France sees progress in Iran nuclear talks, Russia trying to bypass EU

epa09642970 French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the Elysee Palace. EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT

Progress has been made regarding the Iran nuclear talks, although time is running out, France’s foreign minister said on Friday (7 January). Indirect negotiations between Iran and the United States on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed on Monday.

Western diplomats have indicated they hope to have a breakthrough by the end of January or early February, but sharp differences remain, with the most challenging issues still unresolved. Iran has rejected any deadline imposed by Western powers

“I remain convinced we can reach a deal. Bits of progress has been made in the last few days,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV and RMC Radio.

“We have been heading in a positive direction in the last few days, but time is of the essence because if we don’t get an accord quickly, there will be nothing to negotiate.”

The eighth round of talks, the first under Iran’s new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, resumed on Monday after adding some new Iranian demands to a working text.

Western powers have said progress was too slow, and negotiators had “weeks, not months” left before the 2015 deal became meaningless.

Iran refuses to meet directly with U.S. officials, meaning that other parties – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, must shuttle between the two sides.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian also suggested the situation was positive but repeated Tehran’s position that all sanctions must be lifted and that Washington should provide guarantees that it will not pull out again.

Little remains of that deal, which lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its atomic activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of it in 2018, re-imposing U.S. sanctions, and Iran later breached many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions and kept pushing well beyond them.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this week that those nuclear deal talks with Iran in Vienna had shown modest progress and that the United States hopes to build on the progress that had been made.

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its atomic activities, but former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal in 2018, a year after he took office.

On the topic of Russia

When it comes to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Le Drian said Moscow is trying to bypass the European Union by holding talks directly with the United States over Ukraine while moving some 100,000 troops close to its border with its neighbour.

“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin want to bypass the European Union (…) he wants to put dents in the EU cohesion, which is solidifying”, Le Drian said in the radio interview.

Talks between U.S. and Russian diplomats will begin in Geneva on Monday after a week’s long stand-off over Russian troop deployments near its border with Ukraine, with veteran envoys on each side trying to avert a crisis.

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