The US is prepared to lift sanctions on Iran that are ‘inconsistent’ with the 2015 nuclear deal

Iran Rouhani capitol
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Western Democracy “fragile.”

  • The US is prepared to lift sanctions on Iran “inconsistent” with the 2015 nuclear deal.
  • The State Department did not offer specifics on what sanctions might be lifted.
  • The US and Iran are involved in indirect talks in Vienna as part of an effort to revive the deal.
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The State Department on Wednesday said that the US is willing to lift sanctions on Iran that are “inconsistent” with the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We are prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. I am not in a position here to give you chapter and verse on what those might be,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, per Reuters. Prince was employing the acronym for the formal name of the 2015 pact – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The White House did not offer comment and deferred to the State Department when contacted by Insider.

Price’s comments came as US and Iranian officials are participating in indirect talks in Vienna – communicating through European intermediaries – as part of an effort to revive the nuclear pact.

In Vienna, the US and Iran agreed to establish working groups with the goal of bringing both parties back into compliance with the deal in a synchronized fashion. This agreement was viewed by experts as a sign of progress in terms of restoring the deal, albeit incremental.

“This is an important positive step but it’s not going to be easy to get back into the JCPOA,” Ilan Goldenberg, Middle East Security Director at the Center for New American Security in Washington, DC, said of the news via Twitter. “It’s going to take time and tough negotiations and it would be better if the US & Iran can talk directly. But still. Important progress.”

“Good news,” Matt Duss, foreign policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders, tweeted in response to the development.

The 2015 nuclear deal was designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Critics of the deal said it did not go far enough to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power, and also contended the pact was weak in terms of addressing Iran’s regional behavior and missile program.

Then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, reimposing sanctions on Iran and setting off a series of events that raised tensions between Washington and Tehran to historic heights – sparking fears of a new war in the Middle East. The Trump administration unsuccessfully sought to squeeze Iran into negotiating a more stringent version of the 2015 deal via harsh economic sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.

Before Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear weapon was roughly a year, but US officials now say it’s closer to a few months. Iran remained in compliance with the pact for nearly a year after the US pulled out, but gradually took steps away from the agreement before effectively abandoning it altogether after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed the country’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, in January 2020.

President Joe Biden on the campaign trail pledged to revive the deal. But Iran has maintained it would not return to compliance until the US lifts sanctions. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has insisted Iran prove it’s complying with the pact before the US moves forward with sanctions relief. The Vienna talks are the first substantive effort in the Biden era at breaking the impasse.

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US and Iran to hold indirect talks on the nuclear deal in Vienna, a first step toward a major goal for Biden

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gestures upon his arrival at the airport in New Delhi, India, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrives in New Delhi

  • The US and Iran will participate in talks in Vienna about the 2015 nuclear deal.
  • But US and Iranian officials will not hold direct talks.
  • Regardless, this is a major step toward restoring the deal – a top priority for Biden.
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The US and Iran will send officials to Vienna next week to participate in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but they will not communicate directly.

“Iran and the US will be in the same town, but not the same room,” a European diplomatic source told Reuters.

The Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the 2015 nuclear deal, held a virtual meeting on Friday and agreed that all parties would participate in talks in Vienna next week “in order to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures,” according to an EU statement.

“In this context, the coordinator will also intensify separate contacts in Vienna with all JCPOA participants and the United States,” the statement added.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement provided to Insider confirmed the US had agreed to participate in talks to “identify the issues involved in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA with Iran.”

“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 added. “These talks will be structured around working groups that the EU is going to form with the remaining participants in the JCPOA, including Iran.”

Price said the primary issues to be discussed will be steps Iran would need to take to return to compliance with the deal, and sanctions relief steps the US would also need to take to return to compliance.

“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.

Iran’s top diplomat, Javad Zarif, in a tweet also said there would be no US-Iran meeting. “Unnecessary,” Zarif said.

Regardless, this marks a major step toward one of President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy goals. Though the US and Iran will not meet directly, the talks will mark the first significant discussions on reviving the deal since Biden took office. The Obama era deal was designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Against the wishes of US allies, President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran. The move saw tensions between the US and Iran escalate to historic heights, sparking fears of a new war in the Middle East – particularly after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran’s top general in January 2020.

On the campaign trail, Biden vowed to restore the deal. But making good on this pledge has proved complicated, with US and Iran at a diplomatic impasse over reviving the pact.

Tehran has called on Washington to lift sanctions before it makes a move, insisting that since the US initially pulled out of the deal it should be the first to return to compliance. Meanwhile the US, has said Iran should return to full compliance with the nuclear restrictions under the agreement before it receives any sanctions relief. Iran remained in compliance with the deal for roughly a year after Trump withdrew from it, but has effectively abandoned the pact in the time since.

The Biden administration has expressed a willingness to hold direct talks with Iran, but Iranian leaders have rebuffed these offers. That said, the agreement to hold talks in the Austrian capital – albeit indirectly – is a sign of progress.

The talks in Vienna are set to begin on Tuesday, and top officials from all participants in the 2015 agreement – Iran, France, Germany, the UK, Russia, China, the US, and the European Union – will be involved.

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