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US holds indirect talks with Iran over nuclear deal amid conflicting political pressures

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is participating in high-stakes multilateral negotiations this week that could determine the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States and Iran will not hold direct talks, but the two countries have sent diplomats to Vienna for negotiations which began on Tuesday and could last for the whole week. The talks are facilitated by a senior official from the European Union and other parties to the 2015 agreement, including France, China and Russia.

Enrique Mora, Deputy Secretary General of the EU, said the talks got off to a “constructive” start.

“There is unity and ambition for a joint diplomatic process,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

Ned Price, the State Department’s chief spokesman, declined to characterize the talks, but said the US delegation hopes to leave with a “better understanding of a road map” that would bring Iran back and the United States in accordance with the nuclear agreement.

This photo released on Thursday, July 2, 2020 by the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization shows a building after it was damaged by fire at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, about 200 miles south of the capital Tehran, Iran.

As part of the Obama-era deal, Iran agreed to cap its nuclear enrichment, among other measures, in exchange for relief from international sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, arguing that his “maximum pressure” campaign would force Iran to negotiate a broader deal. But Iran pushed back on Trump’s pleas, and amid a spike in U.S.-Iranian tensions, Tehran began to breach the boundaries of the deal on its nuclear enrichment.

Chronology: How tensions have escalated with Iran since Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal

President Joe Biden has vowed to return to the deal – if Iran comes back into compliance. But Washington and Tehran have been at odds for months over who should take the first step.

Rob Malley, Biden’s special envoy to Iran who heads the US delegation to Vienna, said there was a sense of urgency because of the amount of enriched uranium Iran had amassed in recent times. years.

“They have 10 times more enriched uranium than they do” before the United States left the deal, Malley said in an interview with PBS NewsHour Friday. “So by the simple test, are we better today than we were then? No, we’re worse off.”

Manage expectations

Price said the talks were taking place in two separate “working groups,” one focusing on steps Iran should take to reverse its nuclear violations and a second group looking at what sanctions the United States should lift.

Price repeatedly downplayed the potential for rapid progress.

“We don’t expect an early or immediate breakthrough,” Price told reporters on Monday, even as he called the talks a “healthy step forward.”

Iran’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, said in a tweet friday The goal of Tuesday’s talks was to “quickly finalize the lifting of sanctions and nuclear measures for the choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing corrective measures.”

“No Iran-US meeting. Useless,” Zarif added.

Price said the United States remains open to direct talks with Iran, but for now, negotiations will take place in the working groups.

Progressives in Biden: Hurry

Tuesday’s meeting comes as the Biden administration faces conflicting political pressure in its country due to its relationship with Iran.

Progressives are demanding a swift return of the United States to the deal, arguing that any further delay is dangerous.

Representative Ro Khanna, D-California, suggested that the Biden administration is playing a “pool game” by refusing to go first and lift sanctions on Iran.

“I don’t understand what the delay is,” Khanna said at a March 31 briefing organized by liberal anti-war groups. “Iran had 102 kilograms of enriched uranium when Trump took office. They now have 2.5 tons of enriched uranium.”

Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Said the longer the Biden administration waits, the harder it will be to revive the deal.

“The United States was the first to leave, and therefore, the United States should not be wary of taking a first step back in the agreement,” he said at the briefing. Murphy said he had publicly and privately urged officials in the Biden administration to take a “compliance-to-compliance approach,” in which the United States and Iran synchronize their steps in the deal.

What about ballistic missiles, terrorist support?

But Republicans and some belligerent Democrats want Biden to hold a broader deal that not only curbs Iran’s nuclear program, but also restricts its ballistic missile program, support for terrorist groups, and other malicious activity.

A bipartisan group of more than 40 senators – including the main Democrat and the main Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – recently sent a letter to Biden urging him to address concerns “beyond Tehran’s nuclear program “and to consult with Israel and other American allies as it negotiates with Iran.

US holds indirect talks with Iran over nuclear deal amid conflicting political pressures

Iranian Revolutionary Guards launch a missile as part of an exercise on January 26, 2021.

“Iran continues to pose a threat to US and international security by exporting weapons, including high-precision missiles, supporting Shiite militias that target the US military, and supporting terrorist organizations and other malicious actors throughout. the region, ”said Sen. Bob Menendez, DN. J., the chairman of the committee, wrote in the letter signed by a series of other lawmakers.

“We also remain concerned about Iran’s continued human rights violations against its own citizens and the growing size and capabilities of its ballistic and cruise missile programs,” the letter read.

Iranian diplomat: ‘Window is closing’ for Biden to join nuclear deal

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Iran Nuclear Deal: Biden Administration Holds Indirect Talks With Iran

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