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Iranians hope for ‘new chapter’ as nuclear talks to continue |

TEHRAN – VIENNA – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that the first talks in Vienna on rescuing a troubled 2015 nuclear deal had opened a “new chapter”.

He told a cabinet meeting in Tehran, “If (Washington) shows it is honest and sincere, that’s all we ask… I think we’ll be able to negotiate in a short time, if necessary, with the (other parties to the deal).”

An Iranian delegation had sat down in Vienna on Tuesday with representatives from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, behind closed doors in the ballroom of a Vienna luxury hotel, as part of the so-called joint commission mandated by the pact.

US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to reverse the decision of his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose unilateral sanctions.

But differences remain over the mechanics of the move as Tehran has since responded by suspending compliance with some of its own obligations under the deal.

The United States was not present at Tuesday’s discussions because Iran has refused to meet the US delegation so long as its sanctions remain in place.  A group of US delegates, led by special envoy Rob Malley, was in an adjacent hotel to take indirect part in the talks, with European coordinator Enrique Mora shuttling between the venues.

Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said that two expert groups have been set up to look into the lifting of sanctions and nuclear issues. These experts are to report back to the delegates, at the next joint commission meeting when it resumes talks on Friday.

An Iranian opposition group protests outside the venue of the meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission, in Vienna. (REUTERS)
An Iranian opposition group protests outside the venue of the meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission, in Vienna. (REUTERS)

Bilateral discussions are also taking place, with some of those participating posting photos and comments on Twitter.

“You have all the consultation formats you can imagine,” a European diplomat familiar with the talks said, while another described them as “marathon” negotiations.

All sides gave a positive assessment of the opening talks with both Washington and Tehran hailing them as “constructive”.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the United States still believed “this is a constructive forum”.

“The talks so far have been business-like and they are doing what we envisioned they would,” Price told reporters, adding “They are affording us a better understanding of Iran’s thinking and we hope that in turn Tehran will leave this round of talks with a better understanding of what we might be prepared to do.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday “we’ll be able to negotiate in a short time”, but several diplomats have said the talks could take weeks.

“It’s off to a good start but it can seize up at any time,” one of the European diplomats told AFP, adding it was hard to say whether the talks could conclude before June 18, when Iran will vote for a successor to Rouhani, who is considered a moderate.

“If we have not managed by the first half of May to really give a decisive impetus, with clear progress, I will be worried about the will or the Iranian capacity to conclude this negotiation before the election,” another diplomat said, though he added it was not impossible to conclude talks even after the presidential vote.

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