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WSJ: Differences divide US team in Vienna, pro-sanction officials leave

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Hotel Palais Coburg is reflected in a window as journalists wait outside ahead of the resumption of talks aimed at removal of the US’s sanctions against Iran, in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The American negotiating team in Vienna has been split with internal differences over how best to proceed with the talks intended to revive a landmark 2015 agreement with Iran, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

Citing people familiar with the talks, the American daily reported on Monday that members of the American delegation in Vienna are at loggerheads with one another “over how tough to be with Tehran and when to walk away.”

The Austrian city has been hosting many rounds of talks between Iran and the P4+1 group of nations, which features the UK, France, Russia and China plus Germany.

The five countries are the remaining members of a 2015 agreement with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US left the deal three years after its conclusion, returning the sanctions that the accord had lifted.

Now, the Vienna negotiations are seeking to have the US remove its anti-Iran sanctions and return to the agreement.

Due to its withdrawal, the US is currently not allowed to directly join the negotiations.

Recounting the internal differences within the US team, the WSJ said the issues included “how firmly to enforce existing sanctions and whether to cut off negotiations.”

“Some in the team urged leaving the talks in early December” after the structure of the Iranian negotiating team was overhauled with the change of the Iranian administration, the paper added.

The other moot points “included whether to get the United Nations’ atomic agency to censure” Iran over the nuclear countermeasures that the Islamic Republic has been implementing since 2019 in exchange for the US and the European sides’ breach of their obligations under the agreement.

Tehran has invariably insisted that the reprisal fits well within the deal that entitles each signatory to take retaliatory measures in case of counterparty non-commitment to the agreement.

Departure of pro-sanction officials

The frictions within the American delegation, The Journal reported, have caused several pro-sanction officials to leave the negotiating team.

“US officials confirmed over the weekend that Richard Nephew, the deputy special envoy for Iran, has left the team,” it said.

Nephew has played a key role in designing the web of illegal and inhumane sanctions that have been targeting Iran.

Two other members of the team, which is led by the US’s point man on Iran Robert Malley, have also stepped back from the talks “because they also wanted a harder negotiating stance,” noted the paper.

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