On Tuesday, high-level Israeli and US delegations met at the Israeli Embassy. Ambassador Gilad Erdan, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and his deputy Reuven Azar represented Israel, while the US was represented by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Barbara Leaf, senior director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council, and Brett McGurk. On Tuesday, Iran and the United States began round three of indirect talks in Vienna.
Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen and IDF officials are expected to hold separate talks with their peers over the coming days.
“We are having a broad range of discussions, not only about the Vienna talks,” Ambassador Erdan told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the meeting. “We made our clear opposition to the return to the JCPOA,” he added. “We said that it is a flawed and bad agreement, and returning to the same deal makes it less likely to reach a better one in the future. We also made our position clear about maintaining Israel’s freedom of operation in any scenario.”
Erdan added: “But with that being said, we share the same goal: preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. However, our conversation today is not only about Iran, but also about regional issues such as Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians.”
Meanwhile, US Special Envoy to Iran Rob Malley held a virtual meeting with representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council. “Good discussion this morning with our GCC partners regarding the status of JCPOA talks and regional security,” Malley tweeted. “Heading back to Vienna for the next round of talks toward our objective of a mutual return to JCPOA compliance.”
Among the challenges for the United States will be convincing its key Gulf Arab allies that any deal will open the door for a stronger nuclear accord with a longer duration, and addressing Tehran’s ballistic missiles program and wider regional behavior.
The main differences are over what sanctions the United States will need to remove, what steps Iran will need to take to resume its obligations to curb its nuclear program, and how to sequence this process to satisfy both sides.
Since Iran has refused direct talks with the Americans, the US delegation is working from a different location in Vienna, allowing members of the five world powers – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China – who oversee the talks to shuttle between both sides.
According to Russian and Chinese delegates, both parties have decided to “speed up” the operation.
The negotiation parties hope to have something specific in hand by mid-May, until a monitoring deal between Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog expires later that month, and before an election in Iran on June 18.
“We hope all parties will sustain the momentum we have already reached in their efforts towards an earliest resolution of this issue before us,” Wang Qun, China’s envoy to the UN watchdog, told reporters after a meeting of senior diplomats, adding that they would reconvene on Wednesday to take stock.
Three expert working groups have been tasked with unraveling the most important issues and drafting solutions.
At the end of talks last week, the United States and its European allies said serious differences still persisted despite some progress in their latest indirect talks.
“We are on the right path but hard challenges and difficult details remain,” Iran’s top negotiator Abbas Aragchi told state television.