“It will not be easy, but we have overcome the procedural obstacle,” he said during a conversation with reporters before the meetings.
The Trump administration withdrew in 2018 from a deal designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program, imposing hundreds of sanctions and restrictions that are expected to complicate US efforts to return to compliance. Complaining that it could not reap the economic benefits of the deal, as promised, Iran has also gradually broken its commitments, in particular by increasing uranium enrichment levels and limiting inspections.
The declining breakthrough time before Iran is expected to produce enough fissile material for nuclear weapons, along with the upcoming elections in Iran, which could lead to a firmer government less inclined to diplomacy, added urgency to efforts to reach a deal back on track.
Negotiations are an important goal for Biden, who is committed to returning to the 201
Approaching three months in office, Biden made no bold gesture to rejoin the deal, and the United States and Iran remain in public disagreement. He rarely mentions the deal unless asked directly about it. The feedback experience contrasts with Biden’s rapid pace of proposing legislation and initiatives to address domestic priorities, including blunting the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences.
Biden’s advisers also appear divided over whether re-joining the deal is the best way to curb Iran’s nuclear program, especially as some of its provisions begin to expire soon. Biden said he wanted to use the existing deal to reach a broader and stronger agreement, but Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and others did not rule out other options.
Iran has given in to proposals for renegotiation or enlargement, urging Washington to return to the deal it signed instead.
Speaking to reporters in Tehran on Tuesday, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Iran was “not optimistic or pessimistic” about the outcome of the talks. “But we are confident that we are on the right track,” he said. “And if America’s will, seriousness and honesty are proven, that could be a good sign for a better future for this agreement and ultimately for its full implementation.”
The United States, he added, “finally acknowledges that the maximum pressure has failed and there is no other way but to return all parties to their commitments.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called for patience when asked if Biden was disappointed that the talks had not come sooner and were not face to face.
“Diplomacy can take time and sometimes not at the pace everyone would prefer,” she said Monday. “And we certainly have experience, as he did – from being in the Obama-Biden administration – from the time it takes to work through the diplomatic process.”
Psaki will not predict how long the talks will last or whether they could be concluded before Iran’s June elections, which could change the landscape for Iranian participation. Biden’s special envoy for Iran, Robert Mali, will lead the US delegation.
The Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) said the Tehran delegation was led by Abbas Arachi, the country’s deputy foreign minister, and included representatives of the Iranian central bank, the oil ministry and Iran’s atomic energy organization. Amid “intensive consultations” with other delegations, Aragchi met with Chinese officials on Monday and with Russian and European negotiators early Tuesday, the agency said.
“The indirect structure in which European forces serve as intermediaries is, in our view, still a step towards diplomacy, and that remains our first goal,” Psaki said.
Biden has not backed down from a firm public line that Iran must stop nuclear activities that violate the deal before the United States lifts sanctions imposed by Trump. Iran insists Washington must be the first to drop its sanctions.
The agenda of the meetings is “the removal of all harsh US sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Hatibzadeh said at his weekly news briefing on Monday, according to Iranian Press TV. “The road is clear,” he said, adding that only then would Iran return to its commitments.
But European diplomats say they will negotiate a list of moves for each country in parallel to overcome arguments over which country acts first. The plan is for Tehran and Washington to take steps in coordination.
“We certainly expect that the main issues that will be discussed in the coming days are the nuclear steps that Iran will have to take in order to return to compliance with the terms of [nuclear deal] and steps to ease sanctions that the United States must take to return to compliance, “Psaki said.
The sometimes overlapping layers of economic sanctions imposed during the Trump administration’s transition to a “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran make the task particularly difficult.
“Both Trump administration officials and the regime change lobby here in Washington have been, and still are, adamant that the goal was to make it as difficult as possible for a successor administration to lift sanctions – to make it more bureaucratic and political.” said Countryman, a former Obama administration official.
State Department spokesman Ned Price also denied expectations of a quick breakthrough.
“We do not underestimate the scale of future challenges. These are early days. We do not expect an early or immediate breakthrough, as these discussions, which we fully expect, will be difficult. But we believe that these discussions with our partners and, in turn, our partners with Iran are a healthy step forward. “