Wednesday, March 22

Iran Nuclear Deal Disagreements Spur ‘Moment of Truth’ in Munich

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(Bloomberg) — Efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers are still bogged down over disagreements despite high-level diplomacy on Saturday, with Germany’s chancellor warning that it’s now or never to save the accord.

Negotiations in Vienna to rekindle the 2015 deal — which traded sanctions relief for limits on Iran’s nuclear work — are in their 10th month, with diplomats suggesting talks should wrap up by the end of February.

Energy traders have been closely watching the talks, since an agreement could usher in a return to the world market of supplies from the Persian Gulf nation. Iran holds the world’s second-largest reserves of natural gas and the fourth-biggest oil reserves.

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“Now is the moment of truth,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at the Munich Security Conference, which was attended by many world leaders and high-level diplomats. “If we do not succeed in this very soon, the negotiations risk failing.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian also attended the talks, meeting with European counterparts and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He urged Western parties to the negotiations to stop playing “double games” over the text and terms of a revived accord.

“We are ready to achieve a good deal at the earliest possible time if the other side makes the needed political decisions,” Amirabdollahian said. “The ball is in their court.”

Parties to the accord abandoned by the US nearly four years ago had signaled a growing optimism that an agreement could be reached — a mood reflected by oil markets. Yet it’s clear that major differences remain on what’s required to roll back Iranian nuclear advances, which have allowed it to enrich uranium closer to weapons grade.

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Amirabdollahian said his negotiators are still demanding legal, political and economic guarantees that the US won’t again scupper the accord, as then-President Donald Trump did in 2018. It’s up to the other side to show flexibility and build goodwill, including through the release of some $10 billion of Iranian funds frozen by US sanctions, he said.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi similarly stressed the importance of guarantees on Saturday.

“Any agreement in Vienna should include the removal of sanctions, credible guarantees, and an end to political issues and claims,” he said after a phone call with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

In the absence of an agreement, Iran has reduced international monitoring of its atomic program, even as its engineers have raced forward in their production of advanced uranium-enrichment technologies and nuclear fuel. Those advances mean that the terms of the original accord, known as the JCPOA, could soon become obsolete, according to Scholz.

“We’ve come far in the negotiations in Vienna in the last 10 months” but “the point will soon be reached when we must decide whether a return to the JCPOA is still reasonable,” Scholz said.

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