Amid uncertainty, Iran and US showing ‘willingness’ in deal talks

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, says ‘all sides’ are willing to talk ‘seriously’ about a pathway back into the nuclear deal.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a US security conference it remains 'unclear' whether the US and Iran can return to the 2015 nuclear deal [Frederic J Brown/Pool via Reuters]

Indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran on a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are focused on what US sanctions will need to end and the steps Iran must take to resume its obligations, a senior Biden White House official said on Friday.

“We’ve seen willingness of all sides, including the Iranians, to talk seriously about sanctions relief restrictions and a pathway back into the JCPOA,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said on Friday.

Sullivan’s comments to a US group followed the start this week of a third round of talks in Vienna in which representatives of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union shuttle between US and Iranian delegations.

“I’m not going to characterise the substance of the negotiations at this point because they are in … an unclear place,” Sullivan told an Aspen Security Forum webinar.

“It is still uncertain as to whether this will culminate in a deal in Vienna,” he said.

The JCPOA is an acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is the formal title of the 2015 United Nations-backed deal between Iran and world powers banning Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the accord in 2018 and reimposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran. In response, Tehran has begun to enrich uranium at higher grades approaching weapons levels.

President Joe Biden has pledged to return to the deal. Iran refused direct talks on resuming compliance in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions.

Sullivan was asked whether the Iranians are negotiating in good faith.

“I guess good faith is always in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “The Iranians have come in a serious way to have serious discussions about details and the teams are working through those details now.”

The talks have revolved around “how to sequence the process” of the US lifting sanctions and Iran stopping its enrichment work, Sullivan said.

In recent days, top Israeli officials met in Washington with Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to convey Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns about advancements in Iran’s nuclear programme.

The Aspen Security Forum is an annual non-partisan conference held in the US state of Colorado that focused this year on Biden’s first 100 days in office. In addition, speakers included Biden’s Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, former Trump Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun, and former Obama National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

The US can use “sticks and carrots” to influence the protection of human rights in Afghanistan after US and NATO troops and foreign contractors are withdrawn on Biden’s orders later this year, Deputy Secretary Hicks said.

Sullivan added the Biden Administration believes the US will have “sufficient capability” to “disrupt threats” in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the White House is continuing to make plans for a summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin to be held sometime in the next few months in a European nation.

And China is noting renewed US economic growth and reinvigorated alliances in the Indo-Pacific, Sullivan said. “It is making them think twice about whether the US is on its way down,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies