The U.S. and Iran said Friday they’ll participate in indirect negotiations aimed at resurrecting an Obama-era deal that limited Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, marking a major turning point for the Biden administration’s diplomatic outreach to the Islamic republic.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told The Associated Press that the talks are a “healthy step forward,” and that the initial meeting will take place in Austria next Tuesday.
“These remain early days, and we don’t anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead,” he said.
The U.S. and Iran will have no direct bilateral meeting, officials said. Instead, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran will engage directly with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — the other nations that signed on to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limited Iran‘s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions and renewed access to previously frozen bank accounts.
“Aim: Rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures,” Mr. Zarif wrote in a tweet Friday. “No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary.”
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018 and quickly reimposed crushing economic sanctions on Tehran. Since then, Iran has stopped abiding by the terms of the deal and has begun to ramp up its uranium enrichment to near weapons-grade levels.
While President Biden has expressed a clear desire to reimplement the pact, or another like it, the administration has stressed that Iran must first pull back uranium enrichment. Iran has countered that the U.S. must act first by lifting sanctions, as Mr. Zarif reiterated in his tweet Friday.
Next week’s meeting presumably will focus on how to resolve that impasse.
The talks also come against the backdrop of renewed military tensions between the two nations. Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria have been blamed for a string of rocket attacks against U.S. troops in the region over the past several months.
Mr. Biden in February retaliated by ordering U.S. airstrikes against the Iran-backed militia Kait’ib Hezbollah in Syria.