On Friday, the U.S. and Iran agreed to hold indirect talks facilitated by European, Russian and Chinese intermediaries, to discuss a U.S return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Iran, setting conditions, said it would not directly meet with the U.S. and that goal of the talks will be to rapidly end sanctions on Iran before it returns to its own commitments under the nuclear deal.
Iran was adamant that there would be no face-to-face meeting with the U.S., calling the measure “unnecessary.”
On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “At virtual JCPOA JC meeting, Iran & EU/E3+2 agreed to resume in-person talks in Vienna next Tues. Aim: Rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures. No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary.”
Reuters reported Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said, “The United States will not attend any meeting in which Iran is present, including the meeting of the joint commission (of the nuclear accord), and that is certain.” He added, “It is their business, whether other parties to the (nuclear accord) seek to consult bilaterally or multilaterally with the United States…, whether in Vienna or elsewhere. The Iranian delegation will not have any talks with the U.S. delegation at any level.”
In a statement provided to Reuters, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “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.”
Price said the talks will be structured around working groups that the European Union is going to form with the remaining participants in the Iran nuclear deal.
“We do not anticipate presently that there will be direct talks between the United States and Iran through this process, though the United States remains open to them,” Price said.
Fox News reported Iran rejected the idea of direct talks and that an unnamed source for Iran’s state-run Press TV also indicated Iran will not accept a “step-by-step” easing of U.S. sanctions. The source said, “In line with the unchangeable guideline of Iran’s [Supreme] Leader, any result of the [nuclear accord commission] which would be based on the idea of a step-by-step removal of the sanctions or indirect negotiations with the U.S. will not be acceptable.”
In May 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. Under Trump, the U.S. subsequently reinstated sanctions against Iran through a so-called “maximum pressure” campaign. Iran has also increased its nuclear activities beyond the limits permitted in the 2015 agreement.
Iran has far exceeded the 3.67 percent uranium enrichment limit under the deal, having recently reached 20 percent uranium enrichment. Iran recently said it would not stop its 20 percent enrichment until the U.S. first lifts all sanctions on Iran.
President Joe Biden made a U.S. return to the Iran nuclear deal a plank of his 2020 presidential campaign platform. Since taking office, some U.S. lawmakers, have called for Biden to maintain Trump’s “maximum pressure” to win new concessions out of Iran, such as limits to its missile program and support for terrorism and other malign activities, before returning to the deal.
In January, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said, “I fear returning to the JCPOA without concrete efforts to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activity would be insufficient.”
During his confirmation hearing, Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration could use the 2015 deal as a “platform” for a “longer and stronger” agreement with Iran “to deal with a number of other issues that are deeply problematic in the relationship with Iran.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has already said Iran’s missile program will not be part of negotiations for a return to the 2015 deal and said, “I have not heard Biden say that we have to reach another agreement in order to return to the nuclear deal.”
In January, Iran announced a Feb. 21 deadline for the Biden administration to return to the Iran deal without new conditions. The Biden administration missed Iran’s deadline.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the goal of the new indirect talks is to make progress on negotiations for the Iran deal before Iran holds new presidential elections in June. The June elections represent a potential new deadline, after which Iran could have a new administration and negotiating team to work with. Under a new administration, Iran could also further expand its nuclear development and limit nuclear inspections.