US ‘open’ to direct talks with Iran at meeting on nuclear deal

US and Iranian officials will be in the same city for the meeting, but there are currently no plans to meet directly.

State Department spokesman Ned Price has confirmed the US will attend an Iran nuclear deal meeting in Vienna next week [File: Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press]

The United States has confirmed it will take part in a meeting in Vienna next week on the Iran nuclear deal and said it was “open” to sit down directly with Tehran.

The European Union announced Friday the in-person meeting of all parties to the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, instead imposing a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign.

The European parties to the accord said they would have “separate” contacts in Vienna with the United States and Iran, which has already rejected a direct meeting with the US, with a European diplomat telling Reuters news agency that, “Iran and the US will be in the same town, but not the same room.”

Still, the presence of US and Iran in the Austrian capital represents a step forward in bringing all sides back to the agreement.

“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,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday of the meeting in Vienna.

“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,” he said.

While Biden has made returning to the deal a priority since taking office, Iran and the US have been stuck in a holding pattern since he took office in January, with Tehran saying Washington should first remove sanctions before negotiations can start and Washington saying Tehran must first return to compliance with the agreement before sanctions can be lifted.

Price said that the “primary issues” for discussion in Vienna will be “the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to return to compliance with the terms of the JCPOA, and the sanctions relief steps that the United States would need to take in order to return to compliance as well”.

On Friday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted the “aim” of the meeting would be to “rapidly finalise sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures”.

“No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary,” he added.

The Vienna talks will also include the governments of Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia which all remain parties and supporters of the nuclear deal negotiated under former US president Barack Obama.

In a statement, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was good that talks were resuming, but time was of the essence.

“An agreement that is once again fully respected would be a plus for security for the entire region and the best basis for talks on other important issues of regional stability,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies