WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that “hundreds” of U.S. sanctions will remain on Iran even if the United States rejoins a nuclear accord.
President Joe Biden’s administration says it is ready to reverse former president Donald Trump’s exit from the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but it is refusing to remove sanctions imposed on Iran.
“I would anticipate that, even in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration,” Blinken told a Senate hearing.
“If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain unless and until Iran’s behavior changes,” he said.
The discussions in Vienna have been locked in dispute over the U.S. intention to maintain the sanctions as a leverage of pressure.
Iran has insisted on a removal of all sanctions -- while the Biden administration has insisted that some will remain if they were imposed over other pretexts not related to the nuclear program.
A host of barriers to the revival of the nuclear deal remain firmly in place ahead of talks due to resume this week, suggesting a return to compliance with the 2015 accord is still a way off, Reuters said.
Iranian demands about sanctions relief are among questions that may need weeks or possibly months of further negotiations, it cited four unnamed Iranian diplomats and international analysts as saying.
Iran wants all sanctions lifted and no expansion of the terms of the agreement which the Biden administration is reportedly pushing for.
European Union envoy Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator of the talks, said last week he believed a deal would be reached at the upcoming sixth round of negotiations in Vienna, expected to resume on Thursday or Friday.
Reuters said adding to the impetus to make progress is an election in Iran on June 18 to replace President Hassan Rouhani, who promoted the original deal. He is widely expected to be followed by a principlist successor.
The election is not likely to change Tehran’s negotiating stance: regardless of who is
president any deal must be approved by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said last week that barriers to a revival of the deal are complicated but not insurmountable. “Differences have reached a point where everyone believes these differences are not insolvable,” Abbas Araqchi said.
However, none of the remaining sticking points lend themselves to rapid solutions, according to the diplomats, Iranian officials and analysts of Iranian nuclear matters.
“I doubt that the next round will be the final one... The parties are still far apart on core issues,” said Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group.
And when, or if, disagreements are solved, more talks would be needed on so-called sequencing - the delicate question of which side takes which action and when, in return for reciprocal steps by the other side, the diplomats said.
The negotiations have made considerable progress but are now at the hardest part with the key decisions still needed, said a European diplomat briefed on the talks, which began in April.
The talks have arrived at “the heart of the matter on the nuclear dimension”, a second European diplomat said.
A senior Western diplomat said that “of course” he hoped that the next round would result in a deal, but injected a note of caution, saying “until we are able to resolve the important issues that remain, we won’t know.”
An Iranian official said: “Everything depends on Washington. If the American side accepts to lift all sanctions, then Iran will return into full compliance with the deal.”
In addition to seeking the lifting of Trump-era sanctions, Tehran also wants Washington to remove Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) from a terrorism blacklist, which can be used to bar Iranian businesses from the international financial system. It wants Europe to guarantee foreign investors will return, and assurances that Washington will not renege on the deal again.
But from the standpoint of Washington and its European allies, it would no longer be sufficient to return to the nuclear restrictions in the original deal, Reuters said.
The Iranians have acquired knowledge and capabilities they did not have before, said the European diplomat briefed on the talks, citing Iran’s first ever production of uranium metal used in power generation.
Bob Einhorn, a former senior State Department official and nuclear negotiator with Iran, thought it highly unlikely that there would be an agreement before the presidential election.