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Russia’s Lavrov announces real progress in Iran nuclear deal talks

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TEHRAN – Real progress has been achieved at the Iran nuclear deal talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced during a press conference on Russian diplomatic activities in 2021, TASS reported on Friday.

“There has been real progress […] on the Iranian nuclear program; there is a real desire, between Iran and the U.S., first and foremost, to understand concrete concerns and understand how these concerns could be accounted for in the general package,” the minister said.

Lavrov underscored that “it could only be a package solution,” just like the nuclear deal itself.

“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was a package solution,” he noted.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was the official name of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

According to Lavrov, the experienced negotiators in Vienna “have already penetrated minute details of this negotiation matter” and “are making good progress.”

“I am knocking on wood, but we expect the agreement to be achieved,” he added.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki blasted Donald Trump’s decision to “recklessly” pull out of the deal in 2018 “with no thought as to what might come next.”

As a result, “Iran’s nuclear program was no longer in a box, no longer had the most robust inspection regime ever negotiated, no longer had the tight restrictions on nuclear activity,” Psaki said during a press briefing on Wednesday, according to Politico.

The Iran deal lifted many U.S. and international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for severe curbs on the country’s nuclear program. After Trump left the agreement, saying it wasn’t strong or broad enough, he reimposed the U.S. sanctions and heaped on new ones, hoping to force Iran back to the table for what Trump promised would be a better deal. Iran at first abided by the terms of the deal as European countries, furious with Trump, sought ways to help its economy, but as that help failed to materialize, Iran began breaching parts of the agreement.

Biden took office pledging to revive the nuclear deal, but since then, Iran has had a change in its government. It now has a new leadership.

International talks in Vienna about returning to the Iran nuclear deal have dragged on, with a five-month break thanks to Iran’s leadership change, since last spring. The discussions, which have European officials mediating between Iranian delegates and Biden envoys, have yet to bridge some major differences, such as the sequencing of steps back toward a deal, analysts say.

Tehran wants the United States to lift sanctions first, allowing it to access billions of dollars in frozen funds. Washington is reluctant to lift any sanctions until Iran reverses the advances it has made on its nuclear program, Politico said.

In December, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed Trump for leaving the nuclear deal and failing to keep his promise to come up with a better one, calling Trump’s decision “one of the worst decisions made in American foreign policy in the last decade.”

Writing in the New York Times on November 30, opinion columnist Thomas Friedman said, “The judges have voted and the results are in: President Donald Trump’s decision to tear up the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 — a decision urged on by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — was one of the dumbest, most poorly thought out and counterproductive U.S. national security decisions of the post-Cold War era.”

Psaki touched on Blinken’s point while also highlighting U.S. efforts under Biden to rebuild the relationships with Europe and other countries that were damaged by Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal.

“We’re eager to see the diplomatic path move forward,” she added.

Experts agree that the original sin that led to the tense situation today was Trump’s withdrawal from a deal that international inspectors said Iran was upholding. But there’s also a sense that the Biden administration moved too slowly last year to reach out to Iran, and its then more-moderate government, to jump-start talks about restoring the nuclear agreement.

In any case, it’s still worth talking, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“While President Biden and his team should have moved earlier and faster last year to re-engage with Iran on the steps necessary to restore mutual compliance with the JCPOA, it is still possible — and necessary — for the Iranian and U.S. negotiators to reach a win-win arrangement that heads off a major nuclear crisis,” Kimball said.

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