German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Saturday that “now is the moment of truth” to determine whether Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers can be salvaged, and the Iranian leadership needs to make a choice.
Iran’s foreign minister, though, said that it’s up to Western countries to show flexibility and “the ball is now in their court.”
Negotiators from Iran and the remaining parties to the agreement — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — are working in Vienna to restore life to the accord, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
The United States has participated indirectly in the talks because it withdrew from the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.
Under Trump, the U.S. reimposed heavy sanctions on Iran. Tehran has responded by increasing the purity and amounts of uranium it enriches and stockpiles, in breach of the accord — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
Scholz told participants at the annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday that Iran nuclear talks have come a long way over the past 10 months and “all elements for a conclusion of the negotiations are on the table.” But he also criticized Iran for stepping up its enrichment and restricting inspections by monitors from the U.N. nuclear agency.
“We now have the opportunity to reach an agreement that makes it possible for sanctions to be lifted,” Scholz said. “At the same time, it’s the case that if we don’t succeed very quickly in this, the negotiations threaten to fail.”
“The Iranian leadership now has a choice,” the chancellor said. “Now is the moment of truth.”
Speaking a few hours later at the same Munich conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said that “we are ready to achieve a good deal at the earliest possible time — if the other side makes the needed political decision.”
Amirabdollahian insisted that “we are in a hurry” to reach a deal. But he made clear that the issue of guarantees from the U.S. about a restored deal’s future remains a sticking point.
“We have never been this close to a deal,” he said. “It is the Western side that has to present its initiatives and show flexibility … they have not shown any flexibility so far.”
Iran so far has declined to talk directly to the United States. The foreign minister suggested that direct talks would only make sense if the U.S. lifts some sanctions or releases some Iranian assets frozen in foreign banks.
Iran long has insisted its nuclear program is peaceful. But the country’s steps away from its obligations under the 2015 accord have alarmed its archenemy Israel and world powers.
Tehran has since started enriching uranium up to 60% purity — a short technical step from the 90% needed to make an atomic bomb, and spinning far more advanced centrifuges than those permitted under the deal.