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.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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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