April 6 (UPI) — The United States and Iran begin indirect talks Tuesday in Austria to discuss a potential U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal, but U.S. officials say don’t expect an immediate breakthrough.
The meetings in Vienna, hosted by the European Union, will work toward two separate agreements on how the United States and Iran can both return to compliance with the deal’s terms. The State Department called the indirect talks a “healthy step forward.”
At a virtual meeting among the remaining parties to the deal last week, the United States and Iran agreed to meet through intermediaries on Tuesday.
Though no face-to-face meeting is planned, the United States remains open to direct talks. Special envoy for Iran Rob Malley will lead the U.S. delegation, which will meet with European, Chinese and Russian counterparts. Iran’s delegation will have its own separate meetings with those teams.
Tehran and Washington would meet to finalize the details of any agreement once Iran and other participants produce a general proposal. The Iranian government had rejected direct U.S. talks offered in February.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, calling it a “bad deal,” and reimposed economic sanctions that were lifted as part of the original agreement. New U.S. President Joe Biden, however, has said he wants to return to the Obama-era accord.
Under the deal, Iran agreed to international inspections and certain time-limited restrictions on its nuclear program. In exchange, sanctions were lifted by the United Nations, United States and other countries that signed on to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
The Biden administration has said it wants to lengthen and strengthen the original agreement.
“We don’t underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead. These are early days. We don’t anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing Monday, according to ABC News.
Iran’s main goal in negotiations is the removal of all economic sanctions, Tehran said Monday. The sanctions should be removed in a single step, it said, and Iran will provide negotiating countries with a path that should be taken by the United States and a comprehensive list of sanctions to be lifted.
Biden has vowed to keep sanctions in place until Iran returns to compliance. But which of Tehran’s frozen assets could be thawed, even with compliance, are not yet known. The State Department indicated Monday that the United States will only lift those related to Iran’s nuclear program.
“We certainly will not entertain unilateral gestures or concessions to get Iran — to induce Iran to a better place,” Price added.
Iranian state-run Press TV reported the U.S. delegation will “leave Vienna empty-handed” if the Tuesday meeting results in anything other than the removal of all U.S. sanctions,” citing an an informed source close to the Iranian negotiating team.