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Iran welcomes ‘promising’ US comments on sanctions ahead of nuclear talks

Washington and Tehran set to begin indirect discussions in Vienna with hopes of salvaging 2015 nuclear deal

FILE - This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo shows the heavy water nuclear facility near Arak, Iran. (AP Photo/ISNA, Hamid Foroutan, File)
FILE - This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo shows the heavy water nuclear facility near Arak, Iran. (AP Photo/ISNA, Hamid Foroutan, File)

Iran on Tuesday welcomed “promising” recent comments by US officials explicitly suggesting that the United States will lift sanctions in order to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We find this position realistic and promising. It could be the start of correcting the bad process that had taken diplomacy to a dead end,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told journalists in Tehran.

The United States joins talks Tuesday in the Austrian capital Vienna — where the 2015 agreement was struck — aimed at salvaging the deal.

US president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, imposing a policy of “maximum pressure” against cash-strapped, isolated Tehran.

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Since then, Iran has been steadily violating the restrictions of the deal, like the amount of enriched uranium it can stockpile and the purity to which it can enrich it.

But Trump’s successor Joe Biden has said he is ready to reverse the decision.

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei speaks at a regular news briefing, on July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

At Tuesday’s press conference, Rabiei was asked to respond to comments by US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley.

Malley had told PBS Newshour on Friday that “the United States knows that, in order to get back into compliance, it’s going to have to lift … sanctions that are inconsistent with (the 2015 deal).”

Rabiei said: “We salute these comments.”

Friday’s announcement that Washington and Tehran would begin indirect talks through intermediaries was one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to return both nations to the terms of the accord, which bound Iran to restrictions in return for relief from US and international sanctions.

Tehran’s moves have been calculated to put pressure on the other nations in the deal — Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain — to do more to offset crippling sanctions reimposed under Trump.

US President Joe Biden during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Biden came into office saying that getting back into the accord and getting Iran’s nuclear program back under international restrictions was a priority. But Iran and the United States have disagreed over Iran’s demands that sanctions be lifted first.

Senior foreign ministry officials from the countries still in the accord, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, are holding a European Union-chaired meeting Tuesday in Vienna.

Also due in the Austrian capital is a US delegation headed by Malley. State Department spokesman Ned Price said talks will be structured around working groups that the Europeans will form with the other parties to the accord.

In this July 20, 2015, file photo, members of the Security Council vote at United Nations headquarters on the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers. (AP/Seth Wenig, File)

Price said on Monday the talks are a “healthy step forward” but added that “we don’t anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough as these discussions, we fully expect, will be difficult.”

“We don’t anticipate at present that there will be direct talks with Iran,” he said. “Though of course we remain open to them. And so we’ll have to see how things go starting early this week.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter Friday: “No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary.”

A statement issued after parties to the accord met virtually on Friday said the aim of their meeting Tuesday is to “clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures, including through convening meetings of the relevant expert groups.”

People and rescue teams amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers that was accidentally shot down by Iranian forces near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran, January 8, 2020. (Rouhollah Vahdati/ISNA/AFP)

Also, ahead of Tuesday’s talks, an Iranian prosecutor said 10 officials have been indicted over last year’s military shooting-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in which 176 people died.

Iran faced withering international criticism last month for releasing a final report that blamed human error but named no one responsible.

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