Iran, US begin indirect talks on reviving nuclear deal in Austria

Iran began indirect talks with the US on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal in Austria’s Vienna on Tuesday, with Germany, France and the UK helping to broker the talks. Envoys from Russia, China and the three European countries met with Iranian officials ahead of a separate meeting with US officials. Iranian officials ahead of a separate meeting with US officials. Iranian officials said that the meeting had been “constructive”.
The parties to the 2015 nuclear agreement, which placed limits on Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for lifting international sanctions on the country, had said on Friday that they would gather in Vienna for talks. The Trump administration withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and placed sanctions on Iran. In return, Iran has taken steps to breach the agreement and resume nuclear activity. The goal of the Vienna meeting is to produce a road map for the U.S. and Iran to return simultaneously to compliance with the deal. The parties agreed to continue talking in the coming days in two parallel expert meetings, one focused on how the U.S. is to lift sanctions on Iran, the other on how Iran will roll back its nuclear activities to comply with the deal. The dwindling breakout time before Iran is expected to be able to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, alongside approaching elections in Iran that may usher in a more hard-line government less inclined toward diplomacy, have added urgency to efforts to get the deal back on track.
The talks are an important goal for Biden, who campaigned on a pledge to return to the 2015 agreement. But the timing and structure of the meetings represent a disappointment for those who hoped for a quick and muscular U.S. engagement with Iran. Approaching three months in office, Biden has not made any bold gesture to re-join the deal and the United States and Iran remain publicly at odds. He rarely mentions the deal unless asked about it directly. The back-burner approach stands in contrast to Biden’s fast pace in offering legislation and initiatives to address domestic priorities, including blunting the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
Biden’s advisers also appear split about whether re-joining the deal is the best way to contain Iran’s nuclear program, especially since some of its provisions begin to expire soon. Biden has said he wants to leverage the existing deal to get a broader and stronger agreement, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others have not ruled out other options. Iran has pushed back at suggestions of renegotiation or expansion, insisting that Washington instead return to the deal it signed up to.
Biden has not budged from a hard public line that Iran must stop nuclear activities that violate the deal before the United States would drop sanctions that Trump reimposed. Iran though has insisted that Washington should be the first to move and drop its sanctions. But European diplomats say they will negotiate a list of moves for each side in parallel in order to overcome the arguments over which side acts first. The plan is for Tehran and Washington to then implement the steps in coordination.

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