WASHINGTON - Talks about reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed Monday in Vienna after a five-month break and for the first time since Iran's new hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi took office.
Like six previous rounds of negotiations that began in April, the United States is participating indirectly in the talks aimed at restraining Tehran's nuclear arms development.
Iran, which contends its nuclear program is used for peaceful purposes, will talk directly with the remaining signatories of the 2015 deal - Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany - with European diplomats shuttling back and forth to consult with the U.S. side.
At stake is the resumption of the international pact that brought limits to Iran's nuclear program lasting from 10 to 15 years in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.
Former President Donald Trump, claiming the agreement was weak and favored Iran, withdrew the United States from the pact in 2018, after which Iran began stepping away from its commitments.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 29, 2021.
To date, Iran has exceeded its agreed limits on the amount of uranium it stockpiles, while enriching uranium to higher levels and utilizing more advanced centrifuges in its nuclear facilities.
The original agreement came in response to fears that Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran has denied, saying its nuclear program is for other uses, such as research and power generation.
Tehran is demanding that all U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017 be dropped, but Western diplomats say they consider the demands unrealistic.
In addition, the U.N. atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said its inspectors have been treated roughly and were refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it considers essential to reviving the deal.
U.S. negotiator Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday, 'If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won't work. We and our partners won't go for it.'
If a new deal cannot be reached, Malley warned that the U.S. would be prepared to increase pressure on Tehran.
But Iran took a defiant stance in the lead-up to new talks.
Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said in a column in the Financial Times on Sunday, 'To ensure any forthcoming agreement is ironclad, the West needs to pay a price for having failed to uphold its part of the bargain.'
'As in any business, a deal is a deal, and breaking it has consequences,' he wrote. 'The principle of 'mutual compliance' cannot form a proper base for negotiations, since it was the U.S. government which unilaterally left the deal.'
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.