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Here's what's holding up talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement with world powers have had an up and down year, and currently they're stalled. NPR's Peter Kenyon has more on what is holding things up.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The goal - to get the United States back into the deal and providing sanctions relief to Iran in return for Iran restoring previously agreed limits on its nuclear program - is something all sides, including both Iran and the U.S., have said they agree on. And yet months of diplomacy have yet to get it done, and America's top diplomat doesn't see it happening soon. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking last week, said Iran's rejection of the latest proposal suggests Tehran is unwilling or unable to reach an agreement.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: What we've seen over the last week or so in Iran's response to the proposal put forward by the European Union is clearly a step backward and makes prospects for an agreement in the near-term, I would say, unlikely.

KENYON: One key problem, Western negotiators say, is Tehran's unwillingness to explain traces of nuclear material found at sites Iran had never declared to the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Analyst Sanam Vakil at the London-based Chatham House think tank says after a flurry of diplomatic activity, with each side making proposals and offering responses, the talks are once again looking quite stagnant. And those unexplained nuclear traces are a big reason why.

SANAM VAKIL: Iran is insisting on a timeline to resolve their lack of response and compliance with the IAEA on the particles that have been found and is holding any progress on the nuclear agreement hostage to a resolution with the IAEA.

KENYON: Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanani emphasized that demand in a recent news conference. He said Tehran must not only receive guarantees that it will benefit economically from the restoration of the deal, but also insist that the questions about nuclear traces at undeclared sites has to be dropped.

NASSER KANANI: (Through interpreter) The other issue is the nuclear issue and banning the IAEA from political behavior and games. Political accusations in Iran's relations with the IAEA should not cause disruptions in the implementation process of the agreement.

KENYON: In addition, the Iranian negotiators are continuing to seek stronger guarantees that another U.S. president won't suddenly walk away from the deal as then President Donald Trump did in 2018, when he reimposed sanctions that the deal had lifted and added new ones. Critics, including U.S. ally Israel, say the agreement isn't tough enough on Tehran, doesn't last long enough and should not be revived. Analyst Sanam Vakil says domestic U.S. politics is also playing a role. She says Iran would be less inclined to return to the nuclear agreement if the Republicans have a strong showing in the November midterm elections, while a strong showing by the Democrats could strengthen support for the deal.

VAKIL: Should the Democrats win, that would give a big boost to President Biden, and that would suggest that the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear agreement as it's known, could be more sustainable.

KENYON: On the other hand, should Donald Trump run in 2024 and win, analysts say the future of the deal, and perhaps nuclear diplomacy in general, could be very much in jeopardy. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.