Are direct nuke talks between Washington, Tehran possible?

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Though the thorniest points persist between the US and Iran in the ongoing indirect negotiations in the Austrian capital of Vienna to restore the 2015 nuclear pact, the latest developments have brought fresh attention to the possibility of direct meetings between the two main parties in the international talks.

Iran on Monday hinted that direct talks with the US are possible, and the US State Department reaffirmed later in the day that the US side is prepared to hold direct negotiations with Iran, Xinhua news agency reported.

The months-long diplomatic endeavours in Vienna have yet to find a way to break the impasse between Washington and Tehran, which have complained repeatedly about each other’s foot-dragging in the negotiations on the fate of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Monday that Iran did not rule out the likelihood of talks with the US in the run for a “good agreement.”

Americans have occasionally sent messages to negotiate directly with Iran, however, “we have not yet reached this point in our conclusions,” Amir Abdollahian added at the National Conference of Iran and Neighbours in Vienna.

“If we reach a stage in the negotiation process where a good agreement requires to have a dialogue with the US, we will not ignore it,” he said.

In response, “we have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” a US State Department spokesperson said Monday.

So far, in the Vienna negotiations, Iran and the US have had to exchange their opinions through a third party, which is not flexible enough, said Fan Hongda, a Professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University in China.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman on Monday ruled out the possibility of an “interim deal” in the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers.

“Iran is looking for a stable and reliable agreement and will not accept anything less than that. The quality of the agreement is important to us, nothing less and nothing more,” Saeed Khatibzadeh made the remarks at his weekly press conference.

The response came as US media NBC News network reported on Saturday that Russia has discussed a possible interim nuclear deal, which includes limited lifting of anti-Iran sanctions and re-imposition of certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, with Iran in recent weeks.

“The interim deal is a code name designed by the (US President Joe Biden) administration to evade fulfillment of JCPOA commitments, while at the same time, notching up a dramatic achievement within the framework of Democrats’ slogans in the 2020 Presidential election,” wrote Nour News, a website close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, in reaction to the NBC report.

Commenting on the status of the talks in Vienna, Khatibzadeh said Monday that “good progress” has been made in some areas, and it is important that all parties in Vienna have agreed that the US should not leave a possible agreement again.

As has been agreed by various parties, progress has accelerated in less complex issues of dispute, yet disagreement on thorny matters, like guarantees and verification measures, still remains.

Elaborating on Tehran’s stance, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a previous interview with Xinhua that Iran demands “objective guarantees that the US is not going to mock international law” by violating the deal again, and wants to “verify that this time they are not going to cheat as previously they did their best to actually make enough obstacles” for Iran’s economic relations with other countries.

However, US officials have said the current administration is not in a position to provide such legal guarantees because it views the nuclear pact as a non-binding political understanding, not a legally-binding treaty.

Notably, there remains resistance to direct Washington-Tehran negotiations, Fan said, the most outstanding issue is that there have been voices within both countries against improving bilateral ties over the past four decades.

While US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken has said “we are indeed at a decisive moment,” Nour News also said that “the Vienna talks have reached a very critical and decisive stage,” and urged the US to make “political decisions,” otherwise Washington has to “accept responsibility for the failure of the negotiations.”

–IANs

int/khz/

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