Negotiations on how to bring the US back into compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, will begin in Vienna next week. While US and Iranian officials will attend the talks, there will be no direct communication between the two countries.
The decision to meet in Vienna was decided on Friday during virtual talks between Iran and officials representing the remaining JCPOA participants; Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany.
The EU released a statement after Friday’s talks announcing the plans to meet in person in Vienna. “Participants agreed to resume this session of the Joint Commission in Vienna next week, in order to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures, including through convening meetings of the relevant expert groups,” the statement said.
The US and Iran confirmed the plan. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the negotiations were “a healthy step forward,” but said, “These remain early days, and we don’t anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif confirmed on Twitter that Tehran agreed to meet in Vienna. He said the aim for the talks is to “Rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures.” He added that there will be no “US-Iran meeting,” calling it “unnecessary.”
An unnamed US official told The New York Times that the two countries will negotiate through intermediaries on a road map to synchronize the steps needed to revive the deal. That involves the US lifting sanctions that have been imposed since 2018 and Iran reducing the activity of its civilian nuclear program to the limits set by the JCPOA.
The idea is that Iran will work out a general road map with the remaining nuclear deal participants and then meet directly with the US to hammer out the details. The official told the Times that the US would not seek to maintain some sanctions as leverage and said the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign was a failure.
While the Biden administration has been calling for talks with Iran in recent weeks, it scuttled early opportunities to revive the deal and dismissed Iran’s initial offer to coordinate a return. President Biden could have restored the JCPOA at any time by lifting sanctions but has refused to do so.
The fact that Iran is willing to come to the table while crippling economic sanctions are in place is a concession in itself. The question is whether or not the Biden administration will accept a return to the original agreement in the face of domestic pressure not to, or if it will make demands for a stricter deal that would not be acceptable to Tehran.