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Iranian press review: Nuclear talks stall as Raisi waits in the wings

Meanwhile, disputes heat up among local Covid-19 vaccine developers, and Iran and the Taliban become neighbours again, 20 years after the US invasion of Afghanistan
Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is pictured during his first press conference in the Islamic republic's capital Tehran on 21 June 2021 (AFP)

Nuclear talks stall

Negotiations taking place in Vienna between the US and Iran over the resumption of the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled pending the formal accession of President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, with local media reporting that Raisi's foreign policy team was effectively taking charge of Iran's negotiating committee.

Raisi's inauguration is due to take place in the first week of August.

The reformist-aligned Shargh newspaper carried a piece arguing that the reason behind the current deadlock in Vienna talks was the power shift in Tehran, as the hardline opponents of the 2015 nuclear deal will be in control of Iran's next foreign policy team.

'On paper, Ebrahim Raisi is still president-elect, but in reality - at least in terms of foreign policy - his team with his [conservative] viewpoints, has already begun to work'

- Rouhollah Nakhaei, Shargh

"On paper, Ebrahim Raisi is still president-elect, but in reality - at least in terms of foreign policy - his team with his [conservative] viewpoints, has already begun to work," Rouhollah Nakhaei, a columnist for the daily, wrote on Monday.

"We can confidently say that the main obstacle to reaching agreement [over the return to the nuclear deal] is not in Washington, Brussels, London, Berlin, Paris, Beijing, or Moscow. The main obstacle is in Tehran," Nakhaei concluded.

Reuters has subsequently reported that talks have stalled pending Raisi's accession.

Other media reported that two members of Raisi's team had been added to the negotiating committee, bringing its membership to seven, with the resulting political balance unclear.

On Tuesday, Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a letter attached to a 262-page report to parliament about the nuclear deal, wrote that he was "now on the verge of handing over responsibility to new brothers and sisters". He urged the incoming administration to find a path back to the terms of the 2015 deal and reach an agreement with world powers in Vienna.

"If the US restores the nuclear deal, a successful outcome from the current talks in Vienna would be achieved," Zarif wrote in this letter.

Vaccine dispute simmers

Competition has intensified between the seven Iranian state-owned pharmaceutical companies working on manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines as Iranians face a severe vaccine shortage, local media reported.

Last week, a war of words escalated between health officials supporting rival companies after a senior member of Iran's National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus, Minou Mohraz, said collaboration between Iran and Cuba to produce a vaccine had failed and been halted.

A team headed by Mohraz developed Iran's first domestically produced Covid-19 vaccine, COVIran Barekat.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour quickly rejected Mohraz's comments, saying: "These comments are pure lies, and we don't know what the motivations are behind them," Donya-e-Eqtesad daily reported

Amid the disputes between local vaccine producers, experts criticised the lack of collaboration between various pharmaceutical companies, asking why officials wasted the country's resources by inducing competition among state-run firms.

"It is not clear why we are working on the production of seven different vaccines," the Jomhoury Eslami daily wrote in an editorial.

"If the aim was to help people and save their lives, we could concentrate all means, forces and expenses in two or three institutes."

Iran and Taliban neighbours, again

video went viral on Farsi social media on Friday showing Afghan soldiers seeking refuge on the Iranian side of the Islam Qala border crossing, after Taliban fighters captured Afghanistan's border customs office there, the main crossing between the two countries.

An unnamed military source told Iran's official news agency IRNA that officials in Kabul asked Tehran to facilitate the return of Afghan soldiers through a direct flight to Kabul.

With the Taliban's advances towards the west and the collapse of the Islam Qala crossing, Iran and the Taliban are again controlling two sides of the border, nearly 20 years after the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.

Amid the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and the Taliban's lightning attacks in the north and west of the country, Tehran hosted a two-day summit last week between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The meeting reached no conclusion, but the summit was said to show Iran's increasing influence in Afghanistan as the US military presence nears its end.

Meanwhile, Iranian outlets warned about the political and economic impact of the Taliban's presence at the border with Iran.

"Iran hosted the Afghan soldiers who escaped, and at the same time, held meetings with the fighting sides to bring back peace to Afghanistan, but it seems that the Taliban has no will to end the war, as they advance in Afghanistan," reported Etemad Daily.

Iran and the Taliban have had troubled relations in the past. In 1998, 11 Iranian diplomats were killed in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif when the Taliban controlled most parts of Afghanistan.

During the US invasion of Afghanistan, Tehran provided intelligence to Western forces and let the western coalition use its air space to attack the Taliban.

But in recent years, and especially as it became clear that a US withdrawal was imminent and a subsequent Taliban victory likely, Iran has sought to rebuild relations with the Afghan movement.

* Iranian press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.