18:33 GMT16 April 2021
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    Washington announced Friday that it would be sending negotiators to Vienna for this week’s meeting of the signatories to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. The talks, expected to start Tuesday, will include the JCPOA’s remaining members, but US negotiators aren’t expected to be allowed in the same room.

    Tehran has downplayed reporting about ‘direct or indirect’ Iran-US talks on the JCPOA at the upcoming Vienna meeting.

    “We will not have any direct or indirect talks with the United States in Vienna,” Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araghchi told the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network on Sunday.

    The diplomat specified that the talks, which will include representatives from Iran, Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany and the European Union, will see the Iranian side reiterate its conditions for the Islamic Republic’s return to the nuclear agreement, namely the demand that Washington lift its illegal sanctions.

    After verifying that the sanctions have been lifted, Iran would immediately return to its commitments, Araghchi stressed.

    He added that the talks will be “purely technical”, and ruled out any proposal of a “step-by-step” approach toward resolving the nuclear spat.

    “In our opinion, there is only one step. All of the US sanctions which were reimposed after [President Donald] Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, or which have been imposed recently, or have been relabelled, must be defined and the United States must remove them, then we will verify and return to our commitments,” Araghchi said.

    The deputy foreign minister’s comments come following Friday’s virtual meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission, and the announcement of face-to-face talks in Vienna starting 6 April.

    State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed Friday that the US would be joining the upcoming meeting in Vienna, and that Washington was “open” to direct talks with Tehran on the JCPOA. Price characterised the upcoming talks as a “healthy step forward,” and said the US expects “difficult discussions ahead”.

    A European diplomatic source told Reuters that US negotiators would not be present in the same room where the talks take place, and that a shuttle diplomacy approach would be used (i.e. an intermediary used to convey the two sides’ positions without direct face-to-face interaction by the disputing parties).

    Tit-for-tat Nuclear Spat

    After the Trump administration unilaterally pulled out of the JCPOA in May 2018, Iran gave its remaining signatories one year to facilitate a workaround to crushing US banking and energy restrictions. In 2019, with no progress made in this direction, Tehran began ramping up uranium enrichment levels beyond the 3.67 percent purity limits outlined in the JCPOA, with enrichment reaching 20 percent by January 2021. Despite the enrichment, Iran has maintained that it has no intention to pursue nuclear weapons, and has publicly rejected weapons of mass destruction of all kinds on religious grounds.

    On the campaign trail, Joe Biden promised a speedy US return to the JCPOA. After stepping into office, however, he has tied a US return to the nuclear pact to Iran first returning to full compliance with its terms. Tehran has rejected these demands, saying it is up to Washington to return to compliance first – because it was the US side which violated the agreement’s terms in the first place by unilaterally withdrawing in 2018.

    On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the Biden administration of “dragging their feet” and failing to take advantage of a “golden opportunity” to return to the JCPOA, which he said would be a “win-win bargain for the region and the entire world,” including the United States.

    Also last week, Rouhani called that US claim that it would take “2 to 3 months” for Washington to return to its commitments under the nuclear deal a “lie,” and suggested that in reality “it can be done with one decree and in one hour”.

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