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Gaps remain in Iran nuclear talks, but deal still possible, US official says

State Department official denies delaying return of Vienna talks to consult with new Israeli government, says US looks forward to positive talks with Israel, despite disagreements

Iran's Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, and Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora stand in front of the ‚Grand Hotel Vienna' where where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)
Iran's Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharib Abadi, Political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Abbas Araghchi, and Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora stand in front of the ‚Grand Hotel Vienna' where where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

NEW YORK — A senior US diplomat denied a report that Washington was seeking to delay a seventh round of talks on restoring the Iran nuclear accord to consult with Israel, but said key disagreements with Tehran were continuing to stymie an agreement.

The State Department official also said that Washington believes talks to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and world powers will not be derailed by the election of sanctioned hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as president.

“We still have serious differences that have not been bridged,” the official said in a phone briefing with reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official said that the sides remained apart on central issues including what steps Tehran needed to take to get back into compliance with the original 2015 JCPOA, which former US president Donald Trump withdrew from three years ago, leading Iran to ramp its enrichment up to its highest ever-levels.

Also still under discussion was what sanctions relief Washington would offer Iran, and the precise sequence of actions to be taken if an agreement is reached.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the official said.

Ebrahim Raisi, who went on to win Iran’s presidential elections, waves after casting his vote at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, on June 18, 2021. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

“But we wouldn’t be going back for a seventh round if we didn’t think a deal was possible,” the official said. He said a date for the seventh round had not yet been scheduled.

Speaking to the Times of Israel earlier in the day, the official pushed back against a report claiming that the US wanted more time before the next round of negotiations in order to more closely coordinate its position with Israel.

“We’re always happy to consult with the Israelis, and are working with the new government to find mutually convenient opportunities to do so, but it is false that we are trying to postpone the next round of talks for this or any other reason. We’ll be happy to go back to Vienna when the Iranians finish their internal consultations,” the senior official told The Times of Israel.

Both the new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the previous one headed by Benjamin Netanyahu oppose a US return to the nuclear accord. However, in a change from a previous policy mandating that Israeli officials not even entertain talks on the deal, Bennett this week allowed IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi to discuss the matter with American counterparts during a visit this week.

The senior official later noted disagreements with Jerusalem but said, “we expect to have extremely positive and productive discussions with the new Israeli government and we look forward to as close coordination as possible.”

The official also speculated that the Iranian nuclear file would be raised during Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome on Sunday.

US President Joe Biden pledged to return to the deal after succeeding Trump in January, and Washington believes that Iran wants that as well.

Negotiations resumed in April in Vienna with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, all also part of the original JCPOA.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Opposition chairman Yair Lapid. (AP/Collage)

EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were “closer” to saving the Iran nuclear deal but that sticking points remained.

But the election of Raisi last week has raised questions over whether Tehran’s stance will change.

Raisi, who succeeds relative moderate Hassan Rouhani in August, gave lukewarm backing to the talks on Monday, but also ruled out discussions on Iran’s missile program or support for proxy militias abroad, including terror groups like Hezbollah. Israel and others had criticized the original deal for not addressing ballistic missile development of support for terror.

Raisi’s election “does not affect our determination to try to reach a deal,” the US official said.

“The Iranians have been serious in the talks so far.”

The official indicated that missiles, support for terror and human rights could be discussed outside the framework of the nuclear talks.

“Some of them will be negotiated in some formal way, others will be dealt with through other means,” he said.

The official stressed that though there was no deadline, the US did not think the talks could continue indefinitely, especially as Iran continues to advance on its nuclear program.

“Certainly time is not a positive factor. This process won’t be open indefinitely,” the official said.

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