Sunday, 20 Jun 2021

The U.S. could return to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in weeks, a senior official says.

The United States and Iran could each come back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal within weeks, a senior State Department official said on Thursday, on the eve of what could be a final round of negotiations before an agreement is brokered.

It was the most optimistic signal yet by the Biden administration that an American return to the accord between Iran and world powers was within reach.

Briefing journalists on condition of anonymity, the senior official described the likelihood of an agreement before Iran’s presidential elections in mid-June as both possible and doable. He said it potentially could come in the round of talks that begin on Friday in Vienna.

Still, the official cautioned that the United States and Iran continued to diverge on the extent to which each side needed to comply with the original terms of the 2015 deal — namely, unwinding economic sanctions by Washington in exchange for Tehran scaling back its nuclear program. He would not describe specific sticking points.

The Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018 to pressure Iran into a broader agreement that would have also limited its missile program and military activities across the Middle East. Later that year, the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran’s key financial sectors, including its lucrative oil industry, to squeeze its economy and try to force Tehran back to the bargaining table.

Instead, Iran resisted the pressure campaign by accelerating its nuclear program and raising its prospects for building a weapon.

President Biden has pledged to rejoin the nuclear accord — but also has called for negotiating a “longer and stronger” deal afterward to curb Iran’s missile program and its support for proxy forces in places such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where they threaten U.S. allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As American negotiators have warned in recent weeks that an agreement on reviving the 2015 deal may ultimately be thwarted, Iranian officials have cast the negotiations in a far rosier light.

In a twist on Thursday — and as the senior State Department official predicted a possible breakthrough on the horizon — Iran’s chief negotiator urged caution.

“We are in agreement on the path we have to take although we do have serious challenges. We have a long way ahead of us, it’s impossible to determine or predict a timetable,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi of Iran said in Vienna on Thursday. “The problems that remain are serious and must be resolved through negotiations.”

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