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Progress Made at Iran Nuclear Talks    06/20 10:33

   Top diplomats said Sunday further progress had been made at talks between 
Iran and global powers to try to negotiate and restore a landmark 2015 
agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that was later abandoned by 
the Trump administration. They said that it was now up to the governments 
involved in the negotiations to make political decisions.

   VIENNA (AP) -- Top diplomats said Sunday further progress had been made at 
talks between Iran and global powers to try to negotiate and restore a landmark 
2015 agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that was later abandoned 
by the Trump administration. They said that it was now up to the governments 
involved in the negotiations to make political decisions.

   It was the first official meeting since Iran's hard-line judiciary chief won 
a landslide victory in the country's presidential election last week.

   Some diplomats expressed concern that Iran's election of Ebrahim Raisi as 
president could complicate a possible return to the agreement.

   Enrique Mora, the European Union official who chaired the final meeting of 
the sixth round of talks between Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and 
Iran, told reporters that "we are closer to a deal, but we are not still there."

   "We have made progress on a number of technical issues," Mora added. "We 
have now more clarity on technical documents -- all of them quite complex -- 
and that clarity allows us to have also a great idea of what the political 
problems are."

   He did not further elaborate on the nature of the technical issues.

   Top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov said the members of the Joint 
Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, "took stock of the significant progress 
made at the Vienna talks, including at the sixth round, and decided to make a 
break to allow participants to consult with their capitals in preparation for 
what is supposed to be the final round of negotiations."

   "There are a few controversial points which require political decisions. 
Apparently diplomatic efforts to find common language have been almost fully 
exhausted. So the time has come for political decisions," Ulyanov added.

   The nations involved in the negotiations have been trying to resolve the 
major outstanding issues on how to return the U.S. into the landmark agreement, 
which then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of unilaterally in 
2018. Trump also restored and augmented sanctions to try to force Iran into 
renegotiating the pact with more concessions.

   Ulyanov said that after heading back to report on the talks' results to 
their respective governments, he expected the diplomats to return for the final 
round of talks in Vienna in 10 days or by mid-July.

   Iran's deputy foreign minister for political affairs had already said Sunday 
before the meeting that, "we are now in a situation that we think almost all 
the agreement documents are ready," according to semi-official Iranian news 
agency Mehr.

   "Of the main issues that remain disputed, some have been resolved and some 
remain, but it has taken on a very precise form and it is quite clear what the 
dimensions of these disputes are," Seyyed Abbas Araghchi said.

   The U.S. does not have a representative at the table in Vienna. However, the 
administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled willingness to rejoin 
the deal under terms that would broadly see the United States scale back 
sanctions and Iran return to its 2015 nuclear commitments. A U.S. delegation in 
Vienna is taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the 
other world powers acting as go-betweens.

   Sunday's meeting was overshadowed by the election of Raisi in Iran, which 
puts hard-liners firmly in control of the government at a time when Tehran is 
enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of 
weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which 
is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear 
sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic 
program decades earlier.

   Raisi is the first Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even 
before entering office, over his involvement in the 1988 mass executions, as 
well as his time as the head of Iran's internationally criticized judiciary -- 
one of the world's top executioners.

   In Jerusalem, new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Sunday that 
Raisi's election as Iranian president was "the last chance for the world powers 
to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who 
they're doing business with."

   "These guys are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal hangmen must 
never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not 
kill thousands, but millions," he said.

   Israel has long stated that it opposes arch-enemy Iran's nuclear program and 
said it would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists its 
nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.

   The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said earlier 
Sunday he hoped the election of the new Iranian president would not be an 
obstacle to reaching a deal in Vienna.

   "We are very close. We have been working for two months," Borrell told 
reporters during a visit in the Lebanese capital Beirut. "We have invested a 
lot of political capital on that. So I hope that the results of the elections 
is not going to be the last obstacle that will ruin the negotiation process."

 
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