WASHINGTON: Iran said for the first time on Monday that it was willing to engage in direct nuclear talks with the United States, with the United States announcing its readiness for “urgent” talks – in what could be a turning point in efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal.
Since last year, Tehran has been negotiating with five other world powers that remain part of the deal, which provides sanctions relief in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
After its unilateral withdrawal under then-President Donald Trump in 2018, Washington has been indirectly involved in the Vienna talks aimed at returning the United States to the nuclear deal and ensuring Iran returns to its commitments.
But Washington has repeatedly said it would prefer direct talks, and Iran’s foreign minister said on Monday that his country would consider doing so if it proved the key to a “good deal” to salvage the troubled deal.
“If during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” said Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
A US State Department spokesperson reiterated after the Iranian comments that the United States is “prepared to meet directly.”
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“Given the pace of Iran s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official added.
Iran is currently negotiating directly with the deal s other signatories: Germany, France, China and Britain. The talks, which started last April, were suspended two months later as Iran elected ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, resuming in late November.
US-Iran ties have been severed since April 1980, just months after the fall of the shah and the occupation of the American embassy by Islamist students loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Relations between the two countries have soured markedly after Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal and reimposed draconian economic sanctions, prompting Tehran to start backtracking on its own commitments.
Iran has previously said the United States must “change course” and return to the nuclear deal before any direct talks.