US, Iran Clash on Sanctions; US Sees Possible ‘Impasse’

U.S. and Iranian officials clashed on Friday over what sanctions the United States should lift to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, with Washington predicting an impasse if Tehran sticks to a demand that all sanctions since 2017 be removed.

The two nations laid out tough stances as indirect talks in Vienna on how to bring both back into full compliance with the agreement wound up for the week.

The talks, in which European Union officials are shuttling between the remaining parties to the deal and the United States, aim to restore the bargain at the core of the agreement—restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and other international sanctions.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump imposed “maximum pressure” on Iran after he officially withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran deal in May 2018, calling it “a horrible one-sided deal” and “defective at its core.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said last month that rejoining the Iran deal would make America and the Middle East less secure.

“All Trump sanctions were anti-JCPOA & must be removed—w/o distinction between arbitrary designations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter, referring to the deal by its full name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The Biden administration says it is prepared to lift “sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA”. While it has declined to elaborate, that appears to exclude sanctions formally unrelated to nuclear issues covered by the deal.

Austria EU Iran Nuclear
Snow falls as a police officer stands in front of the Grand Hotel Wien where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, on April 6, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP Photo)

A senior U.S. State Department official told reporters the United States had seen some signs of Iranian seriousness about returning to the nuclear pact but “certainly not enough.”

“If Iran sticks to the position that every sanction that has been imposed since 2017 has to be lifted or there will be no deal, then we are heading towards an impasse,” the senior U.S. official told reporters on a conference call.

Whether the statements are opening gambits or more firm positions remains to be seen. European officials said Iran was bargaining hard at the outset.

The remaining parties to the accord—Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—met again on Friday after talks formally began on Tuesday and they agreed to keep going, Russian and Chinese envoys said.

The remaining parties have formed two expert-level working groups whose job is to draw up lists of sanctions that the United States will lift and of nuclear restrictions Iran will implement. Their work continues between Joint Commission meetings.

Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement diplomats would meet again on Wednesday in Vienna. Talks are expected to drag on for weeks.

Some diplomats hope agreement can be reached before Iran’s June 18 presidential election or else talks risk being pushed back until later in the year.

NTD staff contributed to this report