The latest round of talks to save the Iran nuclear deal have neared a final stage, diplomats said, after weeks of intense diplomacy in Vienna.
Diplomats from Germany, France, and Britain, known collectively as the E3, together with Russia and China, have been meeting in the Austrian capital since last spring trying to bring Iran and the United States closer to a deal to restore the 2015 agreement.
The EU’s Enrique Mora, who is coordinating the talks, said on January 28 that participants will go back to their capitals for consultations before coming back next week.
“Political decisions are needed now,” he wrote on Twitter.
In a statement, the E3 said all sides know the talks are reaching “the final stage, which requires political decisions.”
"January has been the most intensive period of these talks to date," they said.
Russia's representative, Mikhail Ulyanov, who is often optimistic about the talks, said: "My instinct tells me that agreement will be reached soon after mid-February."
The pause comes after Iran this week suggested it could negotiate directly with the United States if a “good agreement” can be reached. To date, the EU has mediated indirect talks between Tehran and Washington.
"Our understanding is Iran has not yet agreed to direct talks," State Department spokesman Ned Price said on January 27. "We remain prepared to meet directly."
U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal, after his predecessor, Donald Trump, unilaterally withdrew the United States and reimposed sanctions.
The return of economic sanctions led Iran to start rolling back its commitments and restart some uranium enrichment activity, pushing the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to the verge of complete collapse.
Key issues in negotiations remain the speed and scope of lifting sanctions on Tehran, including Iran’s demand for a U.S. guarantee it will not violate the agreement again.
The talks are also moving slowly over technical details about how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work, which has advanced significantly since the United States withdrew from the accord.