As Christmas approaches, we know that there are reunions that are warmer than others. After a five-month break, Iranian nuclear negotiators meet in Vienna on Monday, with an Iranian delegation "determined" to succeed, even if analysts are not very optimistic about the chances of quickly resuscitating the 2015 international agreement. Kick-off is scheduled for around 2 p.m. local time. "The delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in Vienna with the firm determination to reach an agreement and is considering fruitful talks," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzadeh told reporters.

The different parties parted in June on a positive note, saying they were "close to an agreement", but the coming to power in Iran of ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raïssi was a game-changer.

For months, Iran ignored Westerners' call to return to the table, while continuing to ramp up its nuclear program.

Tehran now insists on "the lifting of all sanctions, in a guaranteed and verifiable manner" and Washington does not hide its concern at such demands.

Dragging feet and grinding teeth

Before his arrival in Austria, the American envoy Rob Malley judged that the recent Iranian acts were "not auspicious". And to add: "if they are dragging their feet while accelerating the pace with their nuclear program (...), then, of course, we would not be ready to sit idly by". Since the start of the year, Iran has crossed several lines, raising the uranium enrichment rate to unprecedented levels and restricting access to IAEA inspectors.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, responsible for monitoring the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, lamented last week, after a brief visit to Tehran, the lack of progress on several outstanding issues.

"Iran's refusal to find a compromise with the IAEA casts a shadow over future talks," said Henry Rome, Iran specialist at Eurasia Group, in a note.

The abandonment of the Americans

"The situation is increasingly precarious", abounded Friday Kelsey Davenport, expert of the Arms Control Association, in an exchange with journalists. "If former US President Donald Trump is at the origin of the crisis, Iranian actions are prolonging it," she said. “They act like Washington is going to give in first, but this pressure is a double-edged sword” that could destroy any hope of saving the 2015 accord.

This text, known by its English acronym JCPOA, offered Tehran the lifting of part of the sanctions stifling its economy in exchange for a drastic reduction in its nuclear program, placed under strict UN control.

But the United States unilaterally left the pact in 2018 under President Donald Trump and reinstated punitive measures.

In return, the Islamic Republic has gradually abandoned its commitments.

Israel, the absent anyway present

The Karaj complex near Tehran, which houses a workshop for manufacturing centrifuge components, is of particular concern to the IAEA, which has not had access to it since an attack on the site in June, attributed to Israel.

The "gaps in surveillance are likely to fuel speculation on the existence of a secret program from Tehran" to design the atomic weapon, "proof or not", and to undermine confidence, warns Ms. Davenport.

The negotiations will take place at the Cobourg Palace, where the nuclear agreement of July 2015 was concluded. In front of the large Iranian delegation, diplomats from other states still party to the agreement - Great Britain, will take their seats. France, Germany, Russia and China -, while Joe Biden's United States is participating in the talks indirectly.

It will also be necessary to reckon with Israel, which is not invited to the discussions but whose head of diplomacy Yaïr Lapid is expected Monday in Europe in the hope of influencing the positions of London and Paris.

Iran's number one enemy, the Jewish state says it is "very concerned about the desire to lift sanctions in exchange for insufficient restrictions on the nuclear program".


Nuclear negotiations: Washington calls on Tehran to show "good faith"


Nuclear: Iran demands $ 10 billion from Washington before negotiating

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