By all accounts, the round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 that concluded yesterday in Vienna was another productive one. The New York Times reports, “Both Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief and the chief negotiator for the six powers, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, described the talks as ‘useful and substantive.’” This may seem like the usual boilerplate, but it’s also worth underlining that it was delivered by Ashton and Zarif appearing together at the closing press conference. The P5+1 and Iran also released a joint statement, which has been the practice since talks resumed last year under the administration of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani. In previous rounds of talks, Ashton and Iranian negotiator Said Jalili conducted separate press conferences, and issued separate statements. Ashton and Zarif appearing together signals a level of comity that, even if it doesn’t mean that negotiations are going easily, there’s at least a mutual sense of serious and constructive engagement.
Further, in its latest report (pdf), the U.N.’s nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has determined that Iran is complying with its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) signed in Geneva in November, and implemented in January.
Several months ago, supporters of new sanctions measures claimed that the new measures — which the Obama administration opposed — were needed to help negotiations. “The proposed legislation is a clarifying action,” wrote Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the main advocates of new sanctions. “It allows all sides to negotiate in certainties and provides one year of space for the parties to continue talking. It spells out precisely the consequences should the agreement fail. This should motivate Iranians to negotiate honestly and seriously.” For now, it appears that the Iranians are so motivated, even without those sanctions having been passed, perhaps because they understand that new sanctions could and would be passed quickly if they were judged to be in violation of their JPA commitments.