The US on April 5 said it was ready to review key sanctions on Iran if it comes into compliance with a nuclear deal ahead of European-led indirect talks aimed at salvaging the accord.
The Department of State confirmed that Rob Malley, the new point man on Iran named by President Joe Biden’s administration, was travelling to Vienna to lead the US delegation but that he did not expect to meet with his Iranian counterpart.
The meetings starting on April 6 aim to break a logjam as Biden supports a return to the 2015 nuclear deal but has insisted that Iran first reverse nuclear steps it took to protest sweeping sanctions imposed by former US president Donald Trump when he walked out of the accord.
“There’s no denying that we are approaching this with urgency,” department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, saying the “breakout time” if Iran decides to pursue a nuclear bomb had diminished under Trump.
Price reiterated that the US was ready to look at lifting sanctions – but only those related to the nuclear issue.
He said: “We certainly will not entertain unilateral gestures or concessions to induce Iran to a better place.
“The original formulation is one that still holds today – it’s the limited lifting of nuclear sanctions in return for permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear programme,” he added, referring to the accord’s text.
Upon exiting the agreement, Trump imposed sweeping sanctions including a US ban on any other country buying Iran’s oil, a crucial export for the country.
Successive US administrations have imposed other sanctions including on human rights grounds that have also irritated Iranian leaders, but Washington has not put those on the table in nuclear talks.
Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are also participants in the deal and are eager to see the return of the US.
Iran said the meeting of the so-called “Four Plus One” countries was to “talk about the path of lifting sanctions”.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in Tehran: “Whether the joint commission’s agenda produces a result or not depends on the Europeans and the Four Plus One reminding the US of its obligations and the Americans acting on their commitments.
“How and where the Four Plus One talk to the US is their own business,” he told reporters in Tehran.
The EU has said its mediator will hold “separate contacts” with the US in Austrian capital Vienna.