US: Iran talks unlikely to lead to an ‘immediate breakthrough’

The US and Iran are planning indirect talks on Tuesday in what is expected to be a long, difficult process to revive nuclear deal.

Iran flag
The US and Iran are set for indirect talks in an effort to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers plus the EU [File: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

The United States has said on Monday it expects indirect talks with Iran about both sides resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to be difficult, adding it did not foresee any early breakthrough. The talks begin on Tuesday.

Iran and the United States said on Friday they would hold indirect talks in Vienna on Tuesday as part of a wider effort to revive the nuclear deal between Tehran and global powers, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Tehran has ruled out face-to-face bilateral discussions and State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters at his daily briefing on Monday that the United States did not expect any “at present” but remained open to the possibility.

“We don’t underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead,” Price said. “These are early days. We don’t anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough as these discussions, we fully expect, will be difficult.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki added, “diplomacy can take time, and sometimes it is not at the pace that everyone would prefer.”

Psaki and Price said that the issues expected to be discussed include the steps Iran would need to take in order to return to compliance with the deal as well as potential relief from US sanctions imposed on Iran for violating the agreement.

US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, will lead the US delegation to the talks, Price said.

Iran and the other members of the accord – minus the US – will also meet on Tuesday in Vienna, beginning what is expected to be a long process to save the pact.

Complicating factors

Under the 2015 deal struck by Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, plus the European Union – US and other economic sanctions on Tehran were removed in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme to make it harder to develop a nuclear weapon – an ambition Tehran denies.

US President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions, prompting Iran, after waiting more than a year, to violate some of the pact’s nuclear restrictions in retaliation.

Trita Parsi, executive vice president at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told Al Jazeera that while it’s “a very positive step that the parties are getting closer to direct diplomacy,” the more difficult part is the parties defining what needs to be done for Iran to return to full compliance.

“On the Iranian side, this is relatively simple. On the American side, it is complicated by the deliberate efforts by the Trump administration to make a return as difficult as possible,” Parsi said.

One other complicating factor for a quick resolution, University of Denver professor Nader Hashemi told Al Jazeera, are the political concerns within both the US and Iran.

“In the US, Iran is viewed as public enemy number one. Lifting of sanctions will invoke criticism by the GOP that Joe Biden has capitulated to Iran and is weak on national security issues,” Hashemi said.

“Within Iran, hardliners do not desire a quick return to the JCPOA. They hope to benefit politically in the coming presidential elections by dragging out a diplomatic resolution of this crisis,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies