This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani says the broad outline of a deal to end major sanctions on his country has been reached during talks with world powers aimed at restoring a 2015 troubled nuclear deal, although some difficult issues remain.
Tehran and the United States have engaged in indirect talks in Vienna since April to renew the 2015 deal, which was put on hold three years ago after then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the pact and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.
The U.S. moves prompted Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear program designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb — an ambition Tehran denies.
Negotiators in the Austrian capital have taken a “major step,” Rohani said on May 20 during a ceremony at the Oil Ministry in Tehran, adding that “a main agreement has been made.”
He said that the deal would see the lifting of U.S. sanctions on sectors such as oil, shipping, insurance, and Iran’s central bank.
Diplomats are still discussing “minor issues” before there’s a “final agreement,” according to the Iranian president.
After the latest talks between Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain, and Iran ended in Vienna on May 19, Iran’s delegation head, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, said that “the framework and structure of the agreement has been defined and many clauses of the agreement are being negotiated.”
Araqchi also said that some “key issues” needed to be discussed further.
Enrique Mora, the European Union’s envoy who chaired the negotiations, said he was “quite sure” of a “final agreement, not far from here.”
European diplomats were quoted as saying that they were “beginning to see the contours of what a final deal could look like,” but that “success is not guaranteed.”
The state-run Xinhua news agency cited Chinese diplomat Wang Qun as saying “there is still some distance away from the goal of reaching an agreement.”
The Russian diplomat involved in the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Twitter on May 19 that a deal was “within reach.”
The next day, the Russian envoy tweeted that it “is obvious now that the Vienna talks…will not be completed by May 21 as the participants hoped,” and described the situation as “regrettable but not dramatic.”
Diplomats agreed to resume the talks in Vienna next week.
The negotiations come as Iran prepares for a June 18 election to determine who will replace Rohani, a relatively moderate cleric, who cannot seek reelection after having served two consecutive four-year terms.
Oil prices were on course for a third day of losses on May 20 after Rohani and diplomats reported progress toward an agreement to restore the 2015 pact and lift sanctions on Iran, which could boost crude supply.
Also on May 20, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was still in talks with Iran to extend their monitoring agreement that expires the next day.
The IAEA and Iran announced in February that, although Tehran would reduce cooperation with the Vienna-based UN atomic agency, including by ending snap inspections, the sides had struck a three-month accord on continuing “necessary” IAEA monitoring and verification activities in Iran.
The arrangement is important for keeping nuclear negotiations between Tehran and world powers on track.