US team leaves Vienna as Iran nuclear talks fail to make progress

Secretary of State Blinken alludes to 'other options' as White House criticises Trump's withdrawal from agreement

A newspaper with a cover picture of Robert Malley, US special envoy for Iran, in Tehran. Reuters

A US team that had been indirectly negotiating with Iran in Vienna has left the Austrian capital with no commitment to return, US officials said on Friday, amid floundering talks aimed at bringing Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord.

“Special Envoy [Robert] Malley and his inter-agency team are returning to Washington now,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “The new Iranian administration did not come to Vienna with constructive proposals.”

A US State Department official told The National that Mr Malley's team had not committed to return to Vienna.

The seventh round of talks, due to resume next week, is the first with delegates sent by Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi aimed at resuscitating the agreement under which Iran limited its nuclear programme in return for relief from economic sanctions.

“The first six rounds of negotiations made progress finding creative compromise solutions to many of the hardest issues that were difficult for all sides,” Ms Psaki said.

“Iran’s approach this week was not, unfortunately, to try to resolve the remaining issues.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said Iran “does not seem to be serious” about returning to the 2015 nuclear accord and alluded to “other options".

“What we've seen in the last couple of days is that Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what's necessary to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna,” Mr Blinken told the Reuters Next Conference.

“We're going to be consulting very closely and carefully with all of our partners in the process itself … and we will see if Iran has any interest in engaging seriously.”

But he added: “If the path to a return to compliance with the agreement turns out to be a dead-end, we will pursue other options.”

The State Department official described Iran’s breaches of the deal since former president Donald Trump pulled out of the pact in 2018 as “unprecedented".

“That cannot continue. It will inevitably lead to a crisis,” the official told The National.

Ms Psaki indicated that the White House also agrees that Mr Trump's bungling of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has contributed to the current quagmire.

“The previous administration decided to withdraw from the JCPOA; that's led to a dramatic and unprecedented expansion of Iran's nuclear programme,” she said.

“The president continues to believe that there is a better alternative. He's committed to returning the United States to compliance with the JCPOA and staying in compliance so long as Iran does the same,” Ms Psaki continued.

“He means it if Iran is equally committed, a solution is at hand, but we did not see that from them this week.”

The talks could resume in the middle of next week. However, speaking on a trip to the Gulf, French President Emmanuel Macron hinted there could be a longer break before negotiators reconvene.

Israel's Minister of Defence Benny Gantz will visit Washington on Wednesday for a one-day trip to discuss and co-ordinate options on Iran.

Updated: December 3rd 2021, 11:17 PM