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Russia, China say Iran talks to resume next week

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Envoys from China and Russia to the Iran nuclear talks said on Friday there had been progress in efforts to bring Iran and the US back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and that all sides would reconvene next week.

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal, which lifted economic sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program. He reimposed US sanctions, prompting Iran in turn to violate the accord’s atomic limits.

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“The #JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) participants took stock of the work done by experts over the last three days and noted with satisfaction the initial progress made,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to the UN atomic watchdog, said on Twitter.

“The Commission will reconvene next week in order to maintain the positive momentum.”

Neither the US nor Iran expect fast breakthroughs in the talks that began in Vienna on Tuesday, with European and other diplomats acting as intermediaries because Iran rejects face-to-face talks for now.

The deal’s remaining parties - Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - agreed on Tuesday to form two expert-level groups whose job is to marry lists of sanctions that the US could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet.

“All parties have narrowed down their differences and we do see the momentum for gradually evolving consensus,” Wang Qun, China’s ambassador to the UN atomic watchdog, told reporters after the meeting, adding that the working groups and senior diplomats would intensify their discussions next week.

‘Iran is the pace car’

Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement diplomats would meet again on Wednesday in Vienna. Working groups, which are chaired by the European Union and exclude the US, will continue their work in the background.

Western diplomats have suggested they would know in a matter of weeks whether several rounds of talks would bear fruit before Iran’s June 18 presidential election.

“Given the technical complexity of the nuclear aspects and legal intricacies of sanctions lifting, it would be very optimistic to think a few weeks,” a senior European diplomatic source said.

US officials have said they are being briefed on the meetings.

“At this stage, Iran is the pace car for progress. If Tehran decides to push forward swiftly before the June presidential elections, the US will almost certainly be receptive,” Henry Rome, an analyst with the Eurasia Group research firm said in a note.

“That would require Iran to compromise on its sanctions and sequencing demands. If Tehran is unsatisfied with the US position, or if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is wary about the political consequences of a diplomatic breakthrough in the midst of a presidential campaign, Tehran will tap the brakes.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters, has opposed any gradual easing of sanctions.

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