The U.S. special envoy for Iran says Washington has started to question whether Tehran is still willing to return to full compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal, which imposed significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions.
“We don’t know if Iran’s intent remains to come back into compliance with the JCPOA as the U.S. comes back into compliance with the JCPOA,” Robert Malley said in an August 24 interview with Hannah Kaviani of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, referring to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
He added that Washington is concerned Tehran could take a harder line in talks aimed at salvaging the nuclear deal, which former U.S. President Donald Trump exited in May 2018 while reimposing tough sanctions that have wreaked havoc on Iran’s economy.
Tehran has reacted by gradually decreasing its commitments under the deal and intensifying its sensitive nuclear work, including production of weapons-grade uranium to 60 percent purity.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said that Washington will rejoin the accord if Tehran first returns to full compliance.
Malley said the two sides could still reach an agreement for a mutual return to compliance with the accord, adding that Washington is prepared to make “difficult compromises.”
Washington and Tehran have conducted six rounds of indirect talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the deal. But the talks were put on hold amid a change of government in Iran and the coming to power of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, who has said he would seek a diplomatic solution to end the sanctions against his country.
“But what we’re saying is, if that remains Iran’s intent, it is our intent we should be able to negotiate in short order a mutual return to compliance in which the U.S. would reverse those sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA and Iran would reverse its nuclear steps inconsistent with the JCPOA,” Malley said in his interview with Radio Farda.
He said the two sides had made “substantial progress” during the Vienna talks, while warning a tougher stance by Tehran would be a “miscalculation. “
“We made substantial progress in the six rounds of talks, but we hadn’t closed all the gaps. And if Iran comes back with a more hard-line position, it’s going to be very difficult to close because we hadn’t closed before, even under the preceding government. So our hope remains that Iran will come back with a realistic position.”
The United States has called on Iran to return to the negotiations.
Speaking earlier this month, State Department spokesman Ned Price warned that "the opportunity to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA won't last forever.”
Raisi called for a lifting of the sanctions during his inauguration speech earlier on August 5.
“The sanctions must be lifted,” Raisi said. “We will support any diplomatic plan that supports this goal.”