Taking up Tehran’s offer, US says ‘prepared to meet directly’ with Iran

State Department asserts face-to-face talks will be more ‘efficient’ for communication, warns time running out to save 2015 nuclear deal

Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber, File)
Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber, File)

WASHINGTON — The United States is prepared to hold direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the State Department reaffirmed Monday, after Tehran said it would consider such an option.

“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.

“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.

The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.

“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.

The comments came after Iran said Monday that it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.

“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.

“But, if during the negotiation process, we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.

In 2018, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, banned any negotiations with the US, saying negotiations with the US would harm Iran.

Earlier this month, however, Khamenei indirectly gave the green light to the Iranian negotiation team to talk with the US and said negotiating and interacting with the enemy does not mean surrender.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is seen before meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, on October 6, 2021. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/ Pool/ AFP)

Iran and world powers have begun another round of nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria aimed at salvaging the tattered 2015 nuclear deal. The meetings include all the deal’s remaining signatories — Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The US has participated indirectly in the ongoing talks because it withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump. US President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.

Trump later reimposed crushing sanctions on Iran. Tehran has since started enriching uranium up to 60-percent purity — a short technical step from the 90% needed to make an atomic bomb.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that talks with Iran over its nuclear program are at a “decisive moment,” and warned that Washington and its allies may change tactics if a deal isn’t reached in the coming weeks.

Blinken said that the longer Iran fails to comply with the 2015 accord — intended to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program — the closer it would get to being able to build an atomic weapon.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful. But the country’s steps away from its obligations under the 2015 accord, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have alarmed Israel and other world powers.

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