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Iran Talks Enter Fourth Round in Vienna

A U.S. official has downplayed the idea that this is the final round of talks as differences over sanctions relief and Iran’s nuclear program remain.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi speaks at Iran nuclear talks.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi speaks with other participants at the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna on April 27. EU delegation Vienna/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran talks resume in Vienna, the European Union debates a COVID-19 vaccine waiver, and Somalia restores diplomatic relations with Kenya. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran talks resume in Vienna, the European Union debates a COVID-19 vaccine waiver, and Somalia restores diplomatic relations with Kenya. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Iran Talks Resume in Vienna

A fourth round of talks begins in Vienna today over a U.S. return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as differences over sanctions relief and the status of Iran’s nuclear program threaten to prolong discussions.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday on the condition of anonymity, a senior State Department official played down the prospect of this being the final round of talks before an agreement is reached, saying the ball is ultimately in Iran’s court. “Is it possible that we’ll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks or an understanding of a mutual return to compliance? It’s possible, yes. Is it likely? Only time will tell,” the official said.

Russia’s lead representative in Vienna, Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, teased the possibility that this weekend’s talks could be the last. On April 20, Ulyanov said that text was already being drafted and all sides “have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps towards” returning to the deal.

Iran’s top negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, told Iranian television that the timing of a deal was “unpredictable,” but Iran was pushing for it to happen “as soon as possible.”

A European diplomat speaking to Reuters said U.S. negotiators have put forward a proposal that includes sanctions relief on key sectors, such as oil, gas, and banking, and has signaled a willingness to ease others related to terrorism and human rights.

The United States may be prepared to entice Iran’s cooperation by freeing $1 billion in frozen Iranian funds, according to a CNN report, although U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price has denied that possibility.

Nuclear advances. A major sticking point seems to surround the progress Iran has made in its nuclear capabilities since the United States left the deal under former U.S. President Donald Trump. Iran recently installed new, more advanced centrifuges that potentially cut down the time necessary to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels; the question of whether to mothball or move them out of the country is a key issue in the talks. Both U.S. and European negotiators want a “breakout time” of at least one year before Iran could enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon.

The hawks at home. As talks progress, a recent leak of a confidential interview featuring Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif decrying the military’s influence on Iranian foreign policy has been used as fuel for U.S. hawks to question Iran’s sincerity in Vienna. “Zarif’s comments certainly at least complicate the picture. You’ve got to wonder: What is it that they can agree to and execute on?” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez told Politico. As Saturday marks the third anniversary of Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement, Iranians in Vienna may be asking similar questions of the United States.


What We’re Following Today 

Biden’s patent waiver makes waves. The European Union is set to discuss U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to endorse a proposal to waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines at a summit in Portugal today. Any conclusions the bloc reaches during the two-day meeting could be an indicator of whether Biden will get the international support he needs to make his plan a reality.

So far, Europe has been divided on the move: Although French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his support and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen seemed open to the proposal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposed it outright. “The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation, and this has to remain so in the future,” said a spokesperson for the German government.

Police raid shocks Brazil. Human rights groups have condemned a deadly police raid on suspected drug traffickers in a Rio de Janeiro favela. The operation killed 25 people, including one police officer, police said. The death toll from the raid is the highest since 2005, when 29 people were killed in northern Rio. Amnesty International condemned the reprehensible and unjustifiable” loss of life while Human Rights Watch has called for an independent investigation, citing the 453 people killed by Rio police in the first three months of 2021. A Supreme Court ruling has prohibited such police actions during the COVID-19 pandemic except in absolutely exceptional cases.”

Somalia restores ties with Kenya. Somalia said it has restored diplomatic relations with neighbor Kenya, six months after it cut ties over alleged political interference. In announcing the move, Somalia’s deputy information minister, Abdirahman Yusuf, acknowledged the help of Qatar in patching up differences between the two sides. The move comes as Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, continues a 10-day trip to the region, visiting Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan.


Keep an Eye On

East Jerusalem clashes. Palestinians and Israelis clashed in East Jerusalem on Thursday night in the latest violent incident between the two groups in recent weeks. The violence occurred in Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood where a controversial court case could lead to the eviction of dozens of Palestinians who have lived there for decades. Thursday’s confrontation happened after Israeli extremists, joined by hard-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, set up a table and awning across the street from Palestinians eating their nightly iftar meal. The Middle East Institute’s Khaled Elgindy, writing in Foreign Policy, outlines how Washington can do more to combat growing far-right extremism in Israel.

Energy transitions. The International Energy Agency has warned that rising mineral prices caused by a supply shortage could impact the transition to cleaner energy. The agency’s new report also highlighted the risk posed by the high geographic concentration of mines in Australia, China, and African countries, all of which are subject to water shortages and climate change impacts. “Today’s mineral supply and investment plans fall short of what is needed to transform the energy sector, raising the risk of delayed or more expensive energy transitions,” the report said.


Odds and Ends

Employees of a pharmaceutical company in Indonesia have been arrested for their alleged role in a nasal swab reselling operation. Police say up to 9,000 passengers at Kualanamu International Airport in Medan, North Sumatra may have been tested for COVID-19 with reused nasal swabs as part of the scam. Passengers, who must obtain a negative test before flying, had filed complaints over false positives, prompting an undercover investigation that allegedly uncovered the use of used test kits. Local media say the scammers made almost $124,800 by repackaging the swabs for resale.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn