Iran, U.S. to Hold Indirect Talks on Nuclear Deal Next Week

The U.S. and Iran will take part in indirect talks next week on how to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, the State Department said Friday, in what it said was a step forward in stalled efforts to revive diplomacy.

“We have agreed to participate in talks with our European, Russian, and Chinese partners to identify the issues involved in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA with Iran,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“These remain early days, and we don’t anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead. But we believe this is a healthy step forward,” he added.

U.S. officials will not hold direct talks with Iran but be present in Vienna during meetings scheduled for April 6 between the Islamic Republic and the remaining world powers in the deal, Price said.

Those talks aim “to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures,” the European Union said after chairing a video conference on Friday with Iran, Russia, China, Germany, France and the U.K.

The bloc will intensify “separate contacts” between the participants and the United States, the EU added.

“The U.S. will not attend any meeting in which Iran is present,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said in a statement, adding that the Iranian delegation would not negotiate with U.S. officials “at any level.”

Tehran has repeatedly rebuffed direct talks with the Biden administration on reviving the accord, known as the JCPOA, that former President Donald Trump abandoned. After Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement, Iran breached some of the limits that it placed on its nuclear program.

‘The right track’

China on Friday called for the U.S. to lift all “illegal” sanctions on Iran, saying the country’s nuclear issue was at a “critical stage.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying blamed Washington’s unilateral exit from the Iran deal as the “root cause” of the problem, while saying China welcomes the return of the U.S.

Russia’s envoy to the UN’s atomic agency, Mikhail Ulyanov, wrote in a tweet: “The impression is that we are on the right track but the way ahead will not be easy.”

“There’s no time to lose,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement. “A fully respected agreement would be an advantage for the security of the region, and the best basis for talks about other important aspects of regional stability.”

Price told reporters on Thursday that Washington was ready to return to compliance with the 2015 agreement “consistent with” Iran doing the same, and said it has been exploring “the best way to achieve this, including through a series of mutual, initial steps.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in March that his country was in “no hurry” to revive the nuclear deal and said U.S. policy was doomed to fail unless sanctions against Iran were first removed.

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