Negotiations between Iran and world powers on how to revive the 2015 nuclear accord will resume over the coming weekend, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday.
Biden administration officials had hoped to conclude an agreement with Iran before the June 18 Iranian presidential election, which could complicate the talks, said Sherman.
“I know that the negotiation will start again over this coming weekend,” Sherman said during a virtual event organised by the German Marshall Fund.
“I think there’s been a lot of progress made, but out of my own experience until the last detail is nailed down, and I mean nailed down, we will not know if we have an agreement,” said Sherman, who was part of the Obama administration team that negotiated the original agreement with Iran.
The talks seek to revive the landmark pact under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions and which had opened the way for a brief thaw in decades of US-Iranian confrontation.
A host of barriers to the revival of Iran’s nuclear deal remain firmly in place ahead of talks, suggesting a return to compliance with the 2015 accord is still a way off, four diplomats, two Iranian officials and two analysts told the Reuters news agency.
“This is complicated, of course, by the Iranian presidential election, which is happening in just a few days,” Sherman added.
President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who promoted the original deal, is widely expected to be followed by a hardline successor.
Among six candidates dominated by conservatives and hardliners, Iranian chief justice Ebrahim Raisi is considered to be the frontrunner in the upcoming election, Al Jazeera has reported.
Former US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 claiming it would allow Tehran an eventual path to become a nuclear power.
Trump reimposed US sanctions and embarked on a “maximum pressure” campaign. Iran responded by violating the agreement’s limits and reinvesting in its uranium enrichment capabilities.
Biden has sought to restore the deal’s nuclear limits and, if possible, extend them to cover issues such as Iran’s regional behaviour and missile programme.
Iran wants all sanctions lifted and no expansion of the terms.
Appearing before a US Senate committee on June 8, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was very unlikely to remove all of its sanctions from Iran.
If Iran were to return to the 2015 agreement, which prevents it from developing nuclear weapons, the US would lift sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme but not those imposed by the US for alleged aggressive actions, Blinken said.
“I would anticipate that even in the event of a return to compliance … hundreds of sanctions would remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration,” Blinken said.
“If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain unless and until Iran’s behaviour changes,” he said, using the formal name of the 2015 agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Blinken said Iran’s trajectory after leaving the agreement puts it on a path to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb within a few months.
In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, resigned to a revival of a nuclear pact with Iran, have been engaging with Tehran to contain tensions while lobbying for future talks to take their security concerns into account.
“The Gulf countries have said ‘fine, the US can go back (to the nuclear deal), this is their decision we cannot change it, but … we need everybody to take into account regional security concerns’,” Gulf Research Center’s Abdulaziz Sager, who has been active in past unofficial Saudi-Iran dialogue, told Reuters this week.