US Says Serious Differences Remain In Nuclear Talks With Iran
On Thursday, a senior U.S. State Department official briefed reporters on the sixth round of talks on the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) in Vienna. The official said “we still have serious differences that have not been bridged, serious differences with Iran over the host of issues, whether it’s the nuclear steps that Iran needs to take to come back into compliance, the sanctions relief that the U.S. will be offering, or the sequence of steps that both sides would be taking. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And since everything is not agreed, we still don’t have anything nailed down.” The official warned that this process is not going to be open forever.
Commenting on the election of President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, the official called the contest “a pre-manufactured process that did not reflect the will of the Iranian people. And we also have said what we thought about the background of the president-elect. That said, from our point of view, it does not affect our determination to try to reach a deal or the pace at which we will go about pursuing it.” Despite Raisi’s conservatism, the official reiterated “we know that the president in the Iranian system is not the sole and not even the chief decision-maker. It’s a leadership in which the supreme leader has the ultimate word, and that position, that person has not changed as a result of the Iranian elections.”
On the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s temporary bilateral technical understanding with Iran which expires on June 24, the official said that the United States had not heard that there has yet been an understanding to extend the agreement. But if one isn’t reached, “it will be that much more complicated to get back into the JCPOA, because we’re going to have to know what the baseline of their nuclear program is. And if the IAEA is blind for a certain amount of time and we don’t know what that baseline is, it’s going to be much more difficult to find a way back into the deal.”
On the question of follow-on talks once the nuclear deal is restored, the official said “we think—we believe it has to be part of what—of the process that we’re discussing right now, and we’re in the middle of discussing the nature of what those talks could be.” The official believes Iran is making demands from the United States that go beyond the four corners of the JCPOA, and thus Tehran would have an incentive to engage in follow-on talks despite the public comments by its leadership to the contrary.
Iran has also been demanding guarantees the United States wouldn’t withdraw from the JCPOA again. But the official said “there is no such thing as a guarantee, and I think Iran knows it and we know it. We have no guarantee; they have no guarantee. That’s the way the JCPOA is built, that if one side violated, the other side would – its remedy would be to take countermanding steps. But what we do think is that the best guarantee is to get back into the deal and to implement it faithfully, and that’s – and we think that there’s a – that’s the best answer, because there is no such thing as a guarantee.”
The official also spoke about the cases of the U.S. hostages currently imprisoned in Iran, and indicated that indirect talks are taking place separately from the nuclear talks. The official said progress has been made but “we’re not there yet.”