WASHINGTON – The United States and Iran could each return to compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal within weeks, a senior State Department official said on Thursday, on the eve of what could be a final round negotiations before an agreement is negotiated.
Significant obstacles remain. But the comments were an optimistic signal from the Biden administration that a U.S. return to the deal between Iran and the world powers might be within reach.
Informing reporters on the condition of anonymity, the senior official described the likelihood of a deal before Iran’s presidential elections in mid-June as both possible and feasible. He does not exclude that it could intervene within the framework of the negotiations which will open Friday in Vienna.
Nonetheless, the official warned that the United States and Iran continued to disagree on the extent to which each party should comply with the initial terms of the 2015 agreement – namely, lifting Washington’s economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran’s reduction of its nuclear program.
The official did not describe the specific sticking points and said it was not clear if they could be addressed.
The Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018 to pressure Iran for a broader deal that would also have limited its missile program and military activities across the Middle East. Later that year, the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran’s major financial sectors, including its lucrative oil industry, to tighten its economy and try to force Tehran back to the negotiating table.
Instead, Iran has resisted the pressure campaign by ramping up its nuclear program and increasing its prospects for building a weapon.
President Biden pledged to join the nuclear deal – but also called for negotiating a “ longer and stronger ” deal afterwards to curb Iran’s missile program and its support for forces by power of attorney in places such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where they threaten US allies. , including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
While U.S. negotiators have warned in recent weeks that a deal to relaunch the 2015 deal may ultimately be thwarted, Iranian officials have cast the negotiations in a much rosier light.
In a twist on Thursday – and as the senior State Department official predicted a possible breakthrough on the horizon – Iran’s chief negotiator called for caution.
“We agree on the way forward, although we have some serious challenges ahead. We have a long way to go. It is impossible to determine or predict a timetable, ”Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said in Vienna on Thursday. “The remaining issues are serious and must be resolved through negotiations.”
Iranian state media reported on Thursday that one of the disputes in the talks was over Iran’s installation of advanced centrifuges last month.
The centrifuges shorten the time it takes to enrich uranium, the fuel for nuclear bombs, and Western negotiators have demanded they be destroyed, Iranian state media reported. Iran, however, wants to keep the centrifuges, but would allow them to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog.
Asked about the centrifuges during his briefing to reporters, the senior State Department official did not discuss them directly, except to suggest that their uranium enrichment capabilities would exceed the terms of the 2015 deal.
Iranian state media have also reported that Tehran negotiators want the United States to drop its terrorist designation against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful weapon of the Iranian military. US officials have made it clear that they have no intention of lifting the sanctions or resolving any issues in the ongoing nuclear negotiations that go beyond the boundaries of the 2015 agreement. The terrorism designation was imposed in 2019.
The senior State Department official has left open the possibility of an unrelated but parallel deal with Tehran to immediately release four US detainees held in Iran, regardless of the timing of the nuclear deal. Iranian officials have also been pushing for a prisoner swap of its citizens held in the United States.
The official also noted a fifth American – Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in 2007 off the Iranian island of Kish and who is presumed dead – describing intense and ongoing discussions through intermediaries to release detainees.