US, Iran agree to ‘breakthrough’ nuclear deal talks

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Tehran rejects ‘step-by-step’ lifting of sanctions


Washington/Tehran

The Biden administration on Friday hailed a potential breakthrough in deadlocked efforts to revive the Iranian nuclear deal after Tehran agreed to talks through European allies.

Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany will be among those meeting with the US and Iran for negotiations in Vienna next week, marking the first major progress in attempts to return both countries to the 2015 accord.

President Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the agreement on condition Iran first returns to respecting commitments it abandoned in retaliation for Donald Trump pulling out
and reimposing swingeing sanctions.

Tehran, however, has said Washington must end the sanctions before it will make any moves to get back in line.

The US is trying to use Europe as an intermediary with Iran after the Islamic Republic refused to join direct talks with the Biden administration.

The Vienna meeting will aim at drawing up two separate agreements, one with the US and one with Iran on which steps they will take when to return to compliance with the agreement. The two sides will not meet directly.

The US would not insist on retaining sanctions, the Telegraph understands, believing that the previous “maximum pressure” campaign waged by the Trump administration was ultimately futile.

Ned Price, US State Department spokesman, on Friday called the talks a “healthy step forward” and said that Washington “remains open” to a direct encounter with Tehran.

The government of Iran wants the United States to lift all sanctions on its country and rejects any “step-by-step” easing of the restrictions, Iranian state broadcaster Press TV reported on Saturday.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Saturday that Tehran was opposed to any gradual easing of sanctions.

“No step-by-step plan is being considered,” Khatibzadeh told Press TV. “The definitive policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the lifting of all US sanctions.”

The aim of the talks in the Austrian capital is to reach an agreement within two months, according to a senior official with the European Union, the coordinator of the deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif insisted the aim of the talks was to “rapidly finalise sanction-lifting and nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures”.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price called the Vienna talks a “healthy step forward” and said Washington “remains open” to a direct encounter with Tehran.

He cautioned that “these remain early days, and we don’t anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead”.

The deputy State Department spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, said sanctions relief steps will be “up for discussion” but declined to elaborate further.—Agencies