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World powers test Iran's commitment to talks, Iran stays firm

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By Reuters

By Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish

VIENNA -World powers and Iran were locked in talks about renewing their 2015 nuclear deal on Friday, with a European source saying they were working from texts discussed five months ago, while Iranian officials said they were keeping to a tough stance from last week.

The talks on reviving the nuclear accord resumed on Thursday with the United States, as well as Israel which is not a party to the deal, ramping up rhetorical pressure on Tehran about the possible economic or military consequences if diplomacy fails.

Iran’s top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, said Tehran was sticking to the stance it laid out last week, when the talks broke off with European and U.S. officials accusing Iran of making new demands and of reneging on compromises worked out earlier this year.

When asked whether new draft proposals Iran has put forward last week were being discussed with major powers, Bagheri Kani told Reuters: “Yes, the drafts we proposed last week are being discussed now in meetings with other parties.”

Bagheri said last week that “all the issues that had been drafted during the previous negotiations until June can be negotiated”.

A European source, speaking on condition of anonymity, appeared to suggest that Iran had agreed to continue talks from where they left off in June and added this would be put to the test in the next couple of days, but made no mention of Iran’s new proposals.

Under the original deal that fell apart when the United States pulled out in 2018, Iran limited its nuclear programme – which the West feared would be used to develop weapons, something Tehran denies – in return for relief from U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions.

The indirect U.S.-Iranian talks, in which other diplomats from the remaining parties – France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – shuttle between them because Tehran refuses direct contact with Washington, aim to get both sides to resume full compliance with the accord.

Working groups to discuss sanctions Washington might lift and the nuclear curbs Tehran needs to observe convene on Friday.

“Iran’s seriousness is obvious. See who has cancelled other meetings and is in Vienna and who is not,” Bagheri Kani said.

His comments suggested he was alluding to the United States’ chief negotiator Rob Malley, who is not expected to arrive in Vienna until the weekend.

Last week’s discussions followed a five-month hiatus caused by the election of a new hardline president in Iran, Ebrahim Raisi.

Western officials have said Iran has abandoned any compromises it had made in the previous six rounds of talks, and demanded more last week.

Iran wants all sanctions imposed by Washington after it left the deal to be lifted in a verifiable process. Iran began violating the deal’s nuclear restrictions about a year after the U.S. withdrawal.