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Ministers say latest round of talks went well as both sides find common ground in complex problems
Iran agrees to resume nuclear talks before the end of November
Iran has agreed to discuss its nuclear programme before the end of November, hours after foreign ministers from both sides concluded a long-awaited, three-day ministerial meeting.
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who led the US delegation, announced the news while laying out details of the nuclear deal on Friday.
He said: “We hope to see Iran implement the agreements in good faith and will be prepared to take additional action if the Iranians do not fully implement them.”
Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi has said Tehran intends to stick to the agreement, despite mounting US hostility and reluctance to keep other parts of it.
In his closing statement, Pompeo cited “complex challenges” that lay ahead and indicated that Washington was prepared to work with other countries if Tehran does not comply.
“Iran must demonstrate it is living up to its commitments and we must hold Iran accountable for its bad behaviour,” Pompeo said.
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The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was upbeat about the talks.
“We had good rounds of talks today,” he tweeted. “This is better than the outcome of any previous dialogue between Iran and the US. We have more common ground now than ever before.”
How would Zarif and Pompeo, who had starkly different attitudes to the Iran agreement under President Barack Obama, forge a new, better consensus?
Elliott Abrams, a Bush administration official and analyst, believes that US officials have already resolved the fundamental question of Iran’s intentions.
“We are dealing with a fundamentally unrealistic player here,” he said, “one who wants so badly to beat the other side that they even abandoned a previously stated view to achieve it.”
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But a second US official told Reuters that another point of dispute between the two sides is Iran’s ballistic missile programme, a part of the nuclear agreement that falls within the obligations of the deal.
But a third US official pointed to different disagreements that remain unresolved and said they will have to work through “a very difficult set of issues”.
As a result, he said, the two sides will likely continue to disagree, sending negotiations to a third phase.
That suggests the discussions will likely descend into positions at odds with common ground they found in Tehran – a problem that Pompeo said Washington was prepared to work with.
But other officials involved in Iran negotiations said the tone was different. One said Zarif clearly outlined what would be “good for the Iranians”, which one US official described as pushing for more sanctions relief and a “special category” of inspections.
The disagreement over missile tests underpins a belief in Washington that Iranian officials will only return to the table if the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gives the go-ahead.
In the meantime, US and European officials privately question whether the accord, reached in 2015, can be enforced.
Trump has insisted the deal is fatally flawed, notably because it did not address Iran’s ballistic missile programme or sunset clauses under which some of its nuclear capabilities would be allowed to resume.
But it remains unclear whether Trump can win support from other partners in the deal, including European countries like Britain, France and Germany.