Russian diplomat: Things are 'on the right track'

Iran, US to meet nuclear deal members in Vienna Tuesday, but no direct talks

Washington says it is open to direct negotiations, but scenario unlikely; Tehran continues to insist US must remove sanctions before it will stop breaching the accord

The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flutters in front of the IAEA building in Vienna on July 10, 2019. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)
The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flutters in front of the IAEA building in Vienna on July 10, 2019. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

World powers and Iran agreed Friday to meet for talks next week in Vienna on the nuclear deal with Tehran, with mediators to hold “separate contacts” with the US, the EU said.

Participants will meet in the Austrian capital “to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures, including through convening meetings of the relevant expert groups,” a statement said.

“The coordinator will also intensify separate contacts in Vienna with all JCPOA participants and the United States,” the European Union said, referring to the deal by its initials.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington did not “anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead. But we believe this is a healthy step forward.”

He added that the US was “open” to holding direct talks at the meeting, though he noted this appeared unlikely to happen.

The announcement came after a video conference of signatories to the 2015 accord, as they look to bring Washington back on board following former leader Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the meeting would take place Tuesday and insisted the aim was to “rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures.”

“No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary,” he wrote on Twitter.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses in a conference in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

New US President Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the agreement on condition Iran first returns to respecting the commitments abandoned in retaliation for Trump pulling out.

But Tehran says Washington has to lift international sanctions that were reimposed by Trump before it will make any moves to get back in line, and is refusing to hold direct negotiations with the US.

Senior EU diplomat Enrique Mora, who chaired the talks due to Brussels’ role as coordinator, described Friday’s virtual meeting as “positive,” but warned there was much left to do to revive the deal.

“Substantial work ahead for a key opportunity to bring JCPOA back to life,” he tweeted.

Russia’s ambassador to the nuclear deal, Mikhail Ulyanov, said that things were “on the right track.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, then head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s arms control and non-proliferation department, speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, November 2, 2017. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

“Discussions were quite businesslike and will continue. The impression is that we are on the right track but the way ahead will not be easy and will require intensive efforts. The stakeholders seem to be ready for that,” Ulyanov said.

Ahead of the meeting, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was “ready to pursue a return to compliance with our JCPOA commitments consistent with Iran also doing the same.”

The US is speaking to partners “about the best way to achieve this, including through a series of initial mutual steps,” Price said.

Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have already begun voicing opposition to the Biden administration’s desire to rejoin the deal, putting Jerusalem and Washington at odds on the issue. Some leading Israeli officials in recent months have warned of military action to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

In March, Israeli and US officials held the first session of a bilateral strategic group aimed at collaborating in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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