Iran presses on oil exports as nuclear talks resume

VIENNA — Negotiators from Iran and five world powers resumed negotiations Monday on restoring Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, with Iran insisting that the United States and its allies promise to allow it to export its crude oil.

The latest round of talks in Vienna, the eighth, opened 10 days after negotiations were adjourned for the Iranian negotiator to return home for consultations. Tensions over Iranian demands were the main theme of the previous round. It was the first following a gap of more than five months due to the arrival in Iran of a hard-line government.

“If we work hard in the days and weeks ahead, we should have a positive result,” Enrique Mora, the European Union diplomat who chaired the talks, said after the opening session. But “it’s going to be very hard — difficult political decisions have to be taken.”

Tehran’s landmark accord with world powers — Britain, France, Germany, the U.S., Russia and China — granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

But in 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal and imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran, including against its oil sector — the lifeline of its economy. Iran saw its crude oil exports drop and many international oil companies ended their deals with Tehran. This led to a weakening of the economy.

The other signatories struggled to keep alive the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This year, the United States participates only in indirect talks to repair the agreement. President Joe Biden indicated that he would like to join.

Speaking in Tehran ahead of the talks’ resumption, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Iran wants the upcoming round of talks to focus on its sanctions-hit oil industry. He stated that the goal is to reach a “point in which Iranian oil can be sold easily without any restrictions and where its money arrives into Iran’s banks accounts.”

Amirabdollahian said Iran wanted to “be able to enjoy full economic concessions under the nuclear deal.”

“Guarantee and verification (of the removal of sanctions) are among topics that we have focused on,” he said.

The new administration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has repeatedly demanded the removal of all economic sanctions before Iran reins in its nuclear advances.

Separately on Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said it would be “intolerable” for the West to demand anything from Tehran beyond compliance with the original deal.

Iran has steadily abandoned all of the accord’s limits since the American withdrawal and is now enriching uranium to 60% purity — a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels. The deal also bars Iran from spinning ever more advanced centrifuges.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful. However, Iran’s nuclear moves have alarmist international foes such as Israel and other world power nations. Diplomats warn that the time to restore the agreement is short as Iran continues to insist on lifting sanctions.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of Israel, which fiercely opposed the 2015 deal, repeated his country’s vow that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.

“Certainly we prefer to act through international cooperation, but if necessary — we will defend ourselves, by ourselves,” he said, a veiled threat of unilateral military action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Diplomats from the three European powers have said that time is running out for a successful conclusion to the talks.

And Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted after the resumption of the talks was announced that “we need to orient ourselves towards successful completion of the talks as soon as possible, preferably by the beginning of February.”

He described Monday’s opening session as “businesslike and result-oriented.”

Mora, the talks’ chair, said the decision to resume discussions between Christmas and the new year was made because “there is a sense of urgency” and it “was not acceptable to lose, let’s say, 10 days more.”

He said he wouldn’t “speculate” on target dates for an agreement, but reiterated that “we are talking about weeks, not about months.”

Moulson reported from Berlin. Associated Press reporter Nasser Karimi from Tehran, Iran contributed.

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