US, Iran say progress made in nuclear negotiations

After weeks of doubts concerning Iran, the US State Department said there had been "moderate progress" in nuclear talks.

 Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani and delegations wait for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria December 17, 2021. (photo credit: EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani and delegations wait for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria December 17, 2021.
(photo credit: EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

The US and Iran said that there has been progress in the indirect negotiations in Vienna for the sides to return to compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.

After weeks in which the US and E3 – France, Germany and United Kingdom – expressed doubts that Iran was taking the talks seriously, and even Russia lamented “maximalist demands” by the Islamic Republic, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said steps have been taken towards a restoration of the JCPOA.

“What we can say at this point is that there was some modest progress in the talks last week; we hope to build on that this week,” Price said at the State Department press briefing on Tuesday. “What is clear is that if we do not soon reach an understanding on a mutual return to compliance, Iran’s accelerating nuclear steps will increasingly diminish the nonproliferation benefits of the JCPOA.”

He said that the US will “be watching very closely,” to determine “whether the Iranians are as sincere and as steadfast as we have been in seeking a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.”

“But even if there has been some progress, the fundamental situation really remains,” Price added. “Iran needs to exercise restraint in its nuclear program and pursue negotiations in Vienna seriously.”

 A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021 (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021 (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Iran Chief Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said on Wednesday that the talks are moving forward.

“The more serious the other side is in being prepared to lift sanctions and accept Iran’s mechanisms for lifting sanctions, especially on verification and guarantee issues, the sooner we can reach an agreement,” Bagheri Kani stated.

Price said that sanctions relief would come in tandem with steps taken by Iran to limit its nuclear program, and that matter is “really at the heart of the negotiations that are ongoing in Vienna right now.”

“We have made the point repeatedly that it remains in our national interest to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, because at this moment, on this day, the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA entails are the best outcome when it comes to what’s in our national interest,” Price said.

However, he added, “that will not be true for long, as Iran continues with nuclear steps that only diminish the utility of the guarantees that the 2015 deal would bring back into effect. That’s why our priority remains reaching and implementing a rapid mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA.”

Also Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both State Department statements mentioned “regional security issues,” but not Iran specifically.

South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jung Kun was in Vienna this week to try to “resolve the issue of frozen Iranian assets in Korea on the sidelines of the JCPOA negotiations,” in meetings with the delegations from Iran, the US, EU and E3 – France, Germany and the UK – the Korean foreign ministry stated.

Iran has $7 billion in assets in South Korea, which it cannot use due to US sanctions. In July, the US allowed Iran to use some of its funds in South Korea to pay debts to Japan.