With the US and Iran set to hold indirect talks in Vienna on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington expects negotiations to be “difficult.”
“These are early days. We don’t anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough, as these discussions we fully expect will be difficult,” Price told reporters on Monday. He also said that the US was ready to discuss a mutual “return” to the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
While Price said the US is willing to coordinate with Iran the steps needed to revive the JCPOA, he made it clear the US has no plans to lift any sanctions unless it gets concessions from Tehran. “We certainly will not entertain unilateral gestures or concessions to get Iran — to induce Iran to a better place,” he said.
Price confirmed that Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, will be attending the talks. Iran is meeting with the remaining participants of the JCPOA — Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany. Any communication between Iran and the US will be carried out through intermediaries, and no direct talks are expected.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on Monday that the success of the talks hinges on the ability of the other remaining nuclear deal participants, known as the P4+1, to convince Washington to lift sanctions. “If we can reach an agreement on the comprehensive lifting of sanctions with the P4+1 and they can guarantee US commitments, the path will be opened,” he said.
Iran has been clear that it is ready to return to the limits set by the JCPOA after the US lifts sanctions that have been imposed since 2018. In that time, the US has slapped an enormous number of sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Some are related to the country’s nuclear program, while others were imposed for other reasons, like alleged human rights violations.
It’s not clear if the Biden administration is willing to lift non-nuclear-related sanctions. When asked about this issue, Price said, “I will leave it to the negotiators to detail positions.”
Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, President Biden has the power to revive the deal at any time by lifting sanctions. The fact that Iran is willing to negotiate 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 unreasonable demands and waste the opportunity Tehran has presented.