Serious differences remain between US and Iran on nuclear talks, but deal is 'possible'

Serious differences remain between US and Iran on nuclear talks, but deal is 'possible'
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The U.S. and Iran must overcome serious differences to reach an agreement on returning to the terms of the 2015 international nuclear agreement but a deal remains possible, a senior State Department official said Thursday. 

The two parties are expected to return to Vienna shortly to participate in a seventh round of indirect negotiations, along with diplomats from the European Union, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, as part of efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the Obama-era deal. 

The Biden administration says a return to the JCPOA, which former President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE pulled out of in 2018, is the best way to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and has said it is prepared to lift sanctions on the Islamic Republic that are inconsistent with the terms of the deal. 

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The U.S. expects Iran to take significant steps on reversing its nuclear activity that breach the terms of the agreement. Iranian officials have said it expects the U.S. to lift all sanctions and would not roll back its nuclear activity until sanctions relief is verified. 

The senior official on Thursday played down reports that the U.S. agreed to lifting specific sanctions, particularly on Iran’s oil and shipping industries, saying that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” 

“Since everything is not agreed, we still don't have anything nailed down, and there's still some very important issues that need to be resolved,” the official said. 

“A deal remains possible,” the official continued, but stressed that the talks are not open-ended in the face of Iran’s advancing of its ability to build a nuclear weapon, breaching the terms of the agreement in its technical capacity and knowledge.

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but it has dramatically increased its production of nuclear fissile material, enriching uranium up to 60 percent compared to the JCPOA’s limit of 3.67 percent and adding advanced centrifuges that would speed up uranium enrichment capabilities.  

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Uranium is considered weapons-grade at 90 percent enrichment.

“We understand Iran is continuing to make progress, which is precisely why we believe withdrawing from the deal was a mistake and why we're faced with this situation,” the official said.  

“We're going to try to get them back as soon as possible. Under the terms of the deal, if it's not done quickly and if Iran continues to make progress, of course it's something that we're gonna have to consider in terms of the provisions of the deal that we'd be prepared to accept.”

The official also rejected that the expected August inauguration of hard-line President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who is under U.S.-sanctions for grave human rights abuses, is a complicating factor in the talks. “It does not affect our determination to try to reach a deal or the pace at which we will go about pursuing it.”

But Raisi, in public remarks Monday, rejected the idea of the Biden team’s determination to hold follow-on negotiations of the JCPOA that are meant to address the Islamic Republic’s missile program and support for proxy-fighting forces, calling these issues “nonnegotiable,” according to The Associated Press.

The senior State Department official played down Raisi’s rejection, saying follow-on negotiations are inseparable from the efforts to rejoin the JCPOA and also provide an opportunity for Iran to address issues it has with the U.S.

“There are many issues of concern, concern that we have, but also there's issues that Iran wants to address and they've made that very clear to us, including during these talks,” the official said. “We see the return to the JCPOA as a beginning of a diplomatic process and we believe that we're going to need to engage in these issues with Iran.”